Devil’s Advocate: From ambition to acceptance – revisiting Maldini’s words from May

By Oliver Fisher -

The January transfer window closed on Tuesday night with AC Milan having done no notable business for the second straight year.

In the end 24-year-old goalkeeper Devis Vasquez was the only player to arrive, signing from Club Guarani in the Paraguayan league to be either the eventual second, current third or possibly even fourth choice behind Mike Maignan, we’re not really sure yet.

Sometimes it is important to revisit previous statements made by people that are attached to the club, particularly when they pertain to offering a clear vision for Milan moving forward, and especially when they come from someone like the technical director Paolo Maldini.

He gave an interview to La Gazzetta dello Sport back in May to discuss his emotions after seeing the Rossoneri hoist the Scudetto for the 19th time, and for the first time we really saw Maldini on the front foot trying to fight his corner.

“Our deals are about to expire and we have not renewed. I must say that for our path and for what has happened in the past even during the period of crisis with Rangnick, I find it disrespectful that to date the CEO and Elliott have not even sat down to talk to us,” he said.

“I’m just saying to talk. Because they might also tell us ‘your work was not good enough to continue’. Or it may be that I say ‘I don’t like your strategy’. As I said at the time, I like to be a sort of guarantee for the AC Milan fans.

“I’m not the right person to do a project that doesn’t have a winning idea. I could never do that. The reality is that the owners have never sat down at the table and this is not good.”

Picking apart the first few comments from the interview, it was clear that Maldini wanted to send a message to those higher up that he felt he deserved clarity over his own future, also acknowledging that while ever he is in some kind of operational role at Milan supporters should rest easy knowing the project is a good one.

Then, he went on to talk about the decision not to sign a new centre-back in the 2022 January window after injuries decimated that department, with Marko Lazetic being the only signing in the end.

“I would like to add that the enthusiasm we registered in the fans was also due to the game that the team showed and the courage we showed. Even in the market choices. This winter we had Kjaer out with an injury and Tomori injured his meniscus,” Maldini said.

“There was no budget. We could have loaned a player to plug the hole. Instead we trusted our young people. Because we know they can guarantee us a lot.”

The next passage seemed to be aimed at reminding everyone – especially those in the leadership – that he has been able to construct a talented young squad with a lower net spend.

“The 21 players that under my direct management we have signed outright have resulted in a net expenditure of 75 million between signings and sales. When I decided to stay after Leonardo’s farewell, I had a higher budget in mind.

“Then the idea of ​​doing things, but of doing them not necessarily but because you are convinced must prevail over that of spending what you have. If I can save the club money I will. And this has meant that my vision has completely changed.

“I understood that young players must be given opportunities. But it is necessary to make them feel trust especially in difficult moments. Something that never happened to me as a boy.”

Going into the 2022 summer mercato, fans and the media knew it was a big one given the next step for the club is not only to defend the title but also to go further in the Champions League, and Maldini also spoke then about the ambition that the club must have.

“Today Milan with a high-level strategic vision can go on to compete next year with the biggest clubs. If, on the other hand, we chose a vision of maintenance, without investments, without a Milan-worthy idea we would remain in limbo among the best six or seven teams in Italy to try to win back the Scudetto and qualify for the Champions League,” he said.

“This is why it is time for the owners, Elliott or the one that might arrive, to close the three-year period and understand what strategy they want for the future. With two or three important signings and the consolidation of the players we have, we can compete for something bigger in the Champions League.”

So there we have it. Back in May we saw a driven and almost combative version of Paolo Maldini; one who was determined to remind those above him of the work he has done so far and how that laid the foundations for the Scudetto and that in order for him to perform in his role as technical director he needs guarantees, just as supporters get guarantees by his mere presence.

However, we also saw a call to action. Maldini knew that through careful and targeted recruitment the platform had been built for something special, and that ‘two or three important signings’ could push the club not only forward in their project but also back into the upper echelons of Europe’s top sides again.

Going into the January transfer window not everything was perfect, but it certainly had not been a disastrous first part of the season for Milan either. The team sat second in Serie A behind only Napoli who were (and still are) on record-breaking pace, while qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League had been secured for the first time in nine years.

What was worrying though was the lack of contribution from the summer market, one which saw a net spend below €50m – the highest in the league but low for a champion side and not helped by a lack of sales – and so far had produced little yield.

Charles De Ketelaere was the flagship signing and he was struggling with no goals to his name, Divock Origi had only one, Sergino Dest had more bad than good games while Malick Thiaw, Aster Vranckx and Yacine Adli barely saw the field.

Three worrying friendly results also preceded the new year, namely the defeats to Arsenal and Liverpool’s second teams in Dubai and the 3-0 loss against PSV in Eindhoven.

This was compounded by gradually worsening results upon returning to competitive action. A 2-1 win over Salernitana was followed by a 2-2 draw against Roma that featured a late collapse from two goals up, a Coppa Italia defeat to 10-man Torino, a 2-2 draw with Lecce after an awful first half, a 3-0 defeat to Inter in the Supercoppa, a 4-0 loss to Lazio and most recently a 5-2 hammering by Sassuolo just prior to the window closing.

The notion of ‘sustainability’ was already already explicitly and implicitly announced in the early part of the January mercato, with Maldini even confirming that there would be no new signings, unless opportunities emerged that were too good to turn down.

Before the game against Torino he was asked about the idea of signing a new back-up goalkeeper or strengthening other areas of the pitch.

“We have faith in Tatarusanu who has played excellent games, we have Mirante and we have signed Vasquez. There is no other operation in sight. We won’t make large investments and we won’t do anything in the winter transfer market,” he said.

Then, Maldini faced the cameras after the 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico to clarify that such a sharp dip in form would not see any intervention come from the market.

“Origi has a four-year contract, De Ketealere five, we don’t judge them after the first few months. Joining a team that works perfectly is easier than a team that isn’t working. Charles is young, he has great skills, it’s a matter of time. Massara has said everything about Zaniolo, we evaluate the opportunities, we don’t hide and we don’t deviate from our plans,” he said.

“We are not the Milan of the nineties that signs the great champions already established, but we need to follow a strategy that has led us to settle the club’s accounts and to be protagonists. We will certainly not deviate from that.”

Admittedly, it can be hard to do efficient business during the January window and it is one where Milan have not had much luck in recent years (see Paqueta, Piatek, Meite and Mandzukic among others), but it did feel like there were some areas of the squad to be addressed where opportunities could have been sought.

A reliable deputy to Mike Maignan could have served, a right winger to upgrade on Junior Messias and Alexis Saelemaekers would have been a huge boost, and a midfielder to help Sandro Tonali and Ismael Bennacer catch their breath would have been ideal, especially now the Algerian is injured.

Moreover, the squad is missing an experienced central defender more physically reliable than Simon Kjaer, as well as a deputy to Theo Hernandez and a centre-forward who guarantees goals but above all appearances.

One of the opportunities could have been Nicolò Zaniolo, for whom the Rossoneri went as far as a loan with option to buy deal, but Roma were not willing to accept. A move was also made late in the window for Dario Osorio of Club Universidad de Chile as a signing for the future, but again a deal did not get over the line.

With the presence of 31 players in the squad, this does not allow for large movements and there were never likely to be any big sales, so in the end Stefano Pioli must stick with what he has.

Multiple sources reported that the call was made by Maldini to Gerry Cardinale about securing extra funds for the January window, an idea that was rejected by the owner as he believed the summer budget for 2022-23 was enough for the entire season.

Even if there was not any up-front funding, were there not still the margins for loan deals to be pursued? Any loan with option to buy or even obligation to buy would mean expenses incurred in the 2023 summer window and therefore counting towards next year’s budget.

Yes there would have been the added salary costs but while there is an offer on the table for Rafael Leao to go from €1.5m net per season to a potential €7.7m net per season – along with the other key renewals completed last year – it would be fair to presume there is a common acceptance that the wage bill must increase.

Who exactly could have fit the bill? Hakim Ziyech – a player long courted by Milan – was heading for Paris Saint-Germain on a dry loan until the end of the season. That would have been fine. Even Keylor Navas was allowed to leave PSG for Nottingham Forest on a loan, another player that would have served well.

Instead, another January window passes with basically no meaningful move from Milan. Everybody expected it after the rather bleak statements from Maldini, and while it is clear there was no budget made available and rivals didn’t really strengthen that much either, it does not help an environment that is already on a knife edge.

There is yet more understandable frustration too about Milan’s inability to sell or offload fringe players. Tiemoue Bakayoko’s €2.5m gross will have to be paid as he has stayed, no players departed on loan to free squad spots while the idea of getting another cashflow-boosting sale like Paqueta to Lyon for €20m or Hauge to Eintracht Frankfurt for €12m seems a long way off.

A reminder of what Maldini said in May compared to what he became the preacher of earlier last month.

“I like to be a sort of guarantee for the AC Milan fans. I’m not the right person to do a project that doesn’t have a winning idea. I could never do that.

“If we chose a vision of maintenance, without investments, without a Milan-worthy idea we would remain in limbo among the best six or seven teams in Italy to try to win back the Scudetto and qualify for the Champions League.

“With two or three important signings and the consolidation of the players we have, we can compete for something bigger in the Champions League.”

The man with the fire in his belly who was ready to demand the best for a club he sees as his own, and one who was supposed to offer assurances to fans regarding the ambition of the project, has for some reason become accepting.

To Maldini’s defence, it may be that he is aware of plans for a 2023 summer window where the pursestrings will be loosened more and further flexibility will be allowed. It might also be that he applied all of his judgement together with Massara and decided there really was nothing worth doing in January. After all, the best deals can sometimes be the ones you opt not to pursue.

However, to give the squad no help in such a delicate moment is rightly a decision that will be scrutinised in the coming months. Top four – and therefore tens of millions of revenue – is what the team are currently fighting for.

Sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate, to bring planned expenses forward to not jeopardise the immediate. Was it the right call? Will the project ever take that ‘next step’? Time will tell.

Tags AC Milan Paolo Maldini


  1. I can only assume that there is an acceptance that we are fighting for 2 objectives so there was no need to invest now. There must be a belief that we can turn this blip around in time with injuries coming back in time to compete with Spurs.
    We have relinquished the scudetto but have the resources to compete for top 4 already at our disposal with a championship winning team still largely untouched.
    The objectives for the season at this point remain to progress as much as we can in champions league and secure top 4. Boring and short sighted. I have to believe this is just the decision taken at this stage because we are already in this position and that the takeover in the summer thwarted plans to invest. I have to believe this to remain as invested next season as I have done recently. My family deserve more time from me, not this current shower of sh*te

  2. It was a right call not to bring anyone.. Doing fast, focred transfers is bad bussines. Navas and Ziyech are big salary players.
    Furthermore there is no gurante, in bringing in new players, that they will click and have insta effect in the team. Just look at Dest, last minute loan and he is pooooop.
    We’ll see what they have in mind for the summer but one thing tho. If a stadion is gonna be build there are gonna be a lot more tight budget transfer funds in the future.. new stadion costs money, new players cost money. Cant have both unless you’re from premier. Or if they sell Leao and use that cast to rebuld the team (I would if I was Maldini)

    1. So you compare Dest to Ziyech lolllll. Ziyech would bully the whole serie a with his passes that’s for sure. Some people still think Ziyech isn’t that much of a upgrade on Messias and Saelemakers, you are simply deluded

    2. building stadiums or other infrastucture like training grounds doesnt affect ffp so i wouldnt bet my money on that we will have a tighter budget for that reason.

    3. Lol. Navas and Ziyech were lower cost options considering we would only be paying HALF their salaries -not full. Not doing ANYTHING is not reasonable at all. Shame on these owners.

      1. Čelsi dindt want to loan out Ziyech without the obligation to buy or straight out sell him. Thats why he is still there, even his PSG transfer failed. Navas, i didnt even know he was looking to switch, doubt Maldini did. He shoul’ve tho. Still half Navas pay is 4.5M€. Thats 9M for the club brah… Ziyech gets 5.2M€ half of that is 2.7M and costs the club 5.2M€ in the end.. the new tax reduction only works for 2+ year contracts btw

      2. ” we would only be paying HALF their salaries -not full.”

        Based on what? The calls you received from their owning clubs where they said “sure, we’ll still pay half of the salary” or your delusional thing where you think the Growth Decree magically halves the salary of the player paid by the club? 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

    4. Your comparing Dest to Navas and Zyech?

      Those 2 would be a huge upgrade on the current options.
      In regards to their salary, are you kidding?
      We pay bakayoko for nothing!

      Never mind the fact if we lose tens of millions from cl qualification, saving a few euro on 2 loan players for 6 months will look seriously stupid

  3. “Our deals are about to expire and we have not renewed. I find it disrespectful that to date the CEO and Elliott have not even sat down to talk to us”.

    It’s not disrespectful, they didn’t like your work. Elliott is a vulture fund, they don’t take lightly their managers losing their assets worth over 100 mil for nothing.
    He talks about 2,3 important signings. Well could have Milan afford those 2,3 important signings if you are good at your job and sold any of those 4 players we lost for free.
    IMO, Elliott only wanted Maldini for his name, not for him to have any significant role.
    1st he was Leaonardos assistant,
    Then, Boban’s, and after Boban got fired, Elliott wanted to hire Igli Tare from Lazio to be their sporting director, not Maldini, but Tare and Lazio turned them down.
    Elliott allowed his contract to expire, and it took the new owner a whole month to negotiate a new contract with M&M and they only gave him a 2 year contract. The new owner didn’t want Maldini either IMO, they just felt obligated to keep him because the team have just won the title and didn’t want to get on the wrong foot with the fans by firing the club biggest legend right off the bat. That’s why they didn’t give him any money for the winter mercato. They are like prove it, “SINK OR SWIM” , let’s see if you are worthy to keep.
    A sporting director needs to be a hustler, mover and shaker, resourceful person, Paolo is just someone who keeps asking for stuff without bringing anything in return. These are businessmen, they want people that work for them that can carry their own weight and Maldini is just a nagging burden.
    His inability to SELL ANY players is a major issue. Milan has 31 players In the squad. That’s almost 3 lineups. Way too many. Pioli uses at most 20 and you telling me this guy couldn’t sell NONE of them.
    If the owner says no to extra funds, you as a sporting director have to be resourceful and solution oriented. How about if you were able to sell a player or 2, you could have been able to bring ziyech on loan or buy the Osorio kid. But no , if the owners don’t give him money he can’t do anything on his own.
    He had 50 mil over the summer, the MOST IN THE LEAGUE, and we are the only team that got nothing from our summer Mercato. Not to mention making wrong decisions on Enzo and Kolo Muani, who have said yes to Moncada , but M&M chose to chase Renato and Origi, instead. Enzo was bought for 10 mil + 8 mil in bonuses and Kolo Muani was free. That would fit right in with the 50 mil budget.
    Enzo just got sold for 121 mil, 6 months later, and Kolo Muani is probably worth over 40 mil now. Maldini could have had them for 18 mil.
    He missed on Botman, OK, is Botman the only CB out there? He liked that Kiwior dude from Spezia. He probably could have had him for 15 in the summer, same amount Napoli paid for Kim.
    It isn’t about how much money he was given but how he wasted that money.
    Then he talks about clarity. You mean the same clarity you gave Romagnoli?
    Milan will have a new man in charge of their sporting department sooner than later.
    A new owner likes to bring his own people and Maldini isn’t helping his cause with his job performance

    1. Yep.
      Most fans still don’t understand the damage that was done to the club financially with Gigio, Hakan, Kessie and Romagnoli leaving for free.
      And i know some will say if we sold them a year early we wouldn’t have made the UCL 2 years ago or won the title last season, but Maignan replacing Gigio disproves that belief. That 100+ mil would have allowed Milan to properly replace those players and build a team that would have been equipped for a prolonged success than just 1 scudetto. Keeping them and not selling them allowed us to take a step forward and win the title earlier but losing them for free will make us take 2,3 steps back for not getting the money of their sale to replace them.
      In today’s football most clubs, with the exception of Chelsea and PSG, get a major part of their transfer budget from player sales. We cannot just expect the money for transfers to come out of the owners pocket, Maldini has to contribute and he has been awful when it comes to sales, horrendous.
      And i know there will be people who will come back with the excuse “You can’t sell a player that doesn’t want to leave”. That separates a good SD from a bad one. A good one finds a way to convince a player that it’s best for everybody to leave. Players that don’t want to leave are sold every summer and every January.
      Also we might have the worst GK in the world in Tatarusanu, a GK that Maldini signed and who we all witnessed last season that he isn’t up to par to be Maignan back up, but Maldini did nothing this summer to address that problem. Sirigu was a free agent, Fiorentina managed to get Gollini on loan, but Paolo decided to resign Mirante who is worse than Tata.
      The problems that Milan has today are mostly caused by the bad decisions of the sporting management led by Paolo but i know it’s easier to just blame the owners since a lot people watch games in Milan jersey with n3 on the back.

      1. It’s BOTH management and Ownership. BOTH are to blame. Not one vs the other but BOTH. M&M did amazing things with a paltry budget – Leao, Tonali, Kalulu, Tomori, Theo, Benny, etc….BUT they also screwed things up with Gigio, Kessie Roma, Hakan and not addressing the areas you mentioned. So BOTH are to blame. Not spending a reasonable sum I’m winter to secure CL like the article mentions on players on loan like Navas or Zyiech isn’t reasonable for an Owner that claims to want to win and follow in the footsteps of Liverpool or the Yankees. So BOTH are to blame equally

        1. I agree that both are to blame, that’s why I said MOSTLY is the management fault.
          But we all watch Milan play every week, is our biggest need right now a player like Ziyech, Zaniolo or Osorio who are all right wingers or our biggest problems are defensively?
          Why are they going to the owner asking for money and trying to sign a RW, that don’t get me wrong it’s been a need for 4 years now, instead of a DM or CB. Our offense scores goals, while our defense its like Swiss cheese. So what is the plan here ?, to build an offense that hopefully can outscore our bad defense?
          How can someone not question M&M strategy. We can always play either Brahim or CDK on the right. The offense is good enough to get top 4 but the defense is relegation level

        2. Your right there.
          M&M have a lot of credit earned.
          Also the delay in negotiations by the owner on their contracts really left us late to the transfer table last summer.

          They have definitely made some mistakes also. There is no excuse for

    2. I agree with you. They need aggressive action, for instance, Bakiyoko terminate his contract take him off the wage bill. Tata should have been sold sign were there since last year. And Milan relied too much on Mike. And lastly stop trying to keep players that doesn’t want to stay. That’s the difference between Milan right now compared to Juve and Chelsea. They cut their loses early on. I like their approach to some extent but they lack the bone to be aggressive

  4. Yh they did massive damage, so much damage that they got renewed contracts and doubled the squad value, reduced the wage bill in half and brought a league title for the 1st time in 10 years, the rest of the crap you are talking about is just your personal opinions with 0 facts to back it up.

    1. They renewed contracts of players no other team wanted, with the exception of Theo.
      The value of the squad only benefits Milan if they are sold, since our players leave for free it makes no difference. Kessie , Donnarumma, Hakan, Romagnoli also enhance the value of the squad and they were not even bought by Maldini, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t sell them and you let them leave for free
      The wage bill was cut in half thanks to Gazidis not because of Maldini, if it’s up to Maldini he will just continue giving bad contracts, like the Florenzi’s, Origi’s Dest, Bakayoko.
      Just my personal opinion crap

      1. Value of the squad dosent only benefit if the squad is sold, its asset value of the club, dont cherry pick who cuts the wage bill either, Gazidis was following his orders too, just like M&M. Half of you guys are begging us to over pay for players like kessie, hakan and dollarunner, the facts are the club is in a better place than it was 3 years ago, and crying over the current 8 match run while forgetting where we as a club have been for the last 10 damn years, I swear most of you have only been aware of Milan since we won the league.

        1. If we miss top 4 this season are we really in a better place than 3 years ago? Maybe financially.
          Also this 8 match run is not just a little slump every team goes thru during a season, we are getting destroyed by teams. Slump is losing or drawing vs lesser teams 1-0, 2-1, 2-0.
          Not losing 3-0, 4-0, losing to a 10 men Torino, we were down 5-1 vs Sassuolo. Even during the banter era we never had a stretch of such bad results.
          If things don’t turn around quick will be back as we were 3 years ago, when in the summer players like Leao and Theo decide to leave without UCL

  5. Saelemakers is young relatively cheap player, who stayed on the same level. Gabbia is young ac player but we can tell he well not reach any bigger level than he is. Only Kessie, Bennacer, and Leao upgraded well in the team. We can see how Kalulu, Tomori and Tonali, still in a phase to become more stronger.

    Milan still didn’t finished to fourth position and we expect news about finance situation in this season: are they covered net debt?

  6. “If we chose a vision of maintenance, without investments, without a Milan-worthy idea we would remain in limbo among the best six or seven teams in Italy to try to win back the Scudetto and qualify for the Champions League.“

    Well we know what path Redbird has chosen….SAD.

  7. Everyone at the club is at fault for the current bad situation Milan is in.
    From the owners who don’t provide more money to improve the quality of the squad.
    Management for not using properly the money provided and also for not being able to sell the players that are not used.
    The coach who refuses to change anything and is stuck in his own way
    To the players, which most of them are not performing up to the standards or up to the salary they get.
    Love Theo but he has been bad this season especially awful since he came back from the WC.
    Tonali, Kalulu, Tomori, Calabria all been mostly bad this season.
    Only Bennacer, Leao, Giroud and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Brahim, have been mostly good this season.
    We have also gotten literally nothing from our summer signings.
    But this is the squad we have for the next 5 months, and it’s on Pioli and the players to get back on track and secure top 4.
    Even though if Milan loses to Inter I wouldn’t be opposed to Pioli getting relieved of his position. I believe he has lost his team. It’s one thing to lose games, it’s totally another to get embarrassed 3 games in a row gradually worse by each game.
    Hopefully they turn it around and get top 4 otherwise we will be witnessing a new rebuild starting from scratch again

  8. An excellent and timely article.

    Much needed at time like this, for some clarity, and when Rossoneri turn on one another, and blame different elements of the Club for the reason why We are in this current state.

    In the short term, let’s hope Pioli can bring some strong mentality/formation etc etc back to these same players who WON Lo Scudetto last season.

    In the longer term, let’s hope Uccello Rosso free up substantial funds in the summer.

    Forza Milan. Sempre. 🔴⚫️

  9. Kind of hard to afford to buy new players when the roster already has 31 players and half of them aren’t even getting any minutes (Baka, Adli, Thiaw etc.) as we speak.

    It seems Milan’s policy is “quantity over quality”.

  10. Did people actually read the article? I think it finally gives some perspective in terms of what Maldini had to go through with upper management. M&M got disrespected but still persisted. “Our deals are about to expire and we have not renewed”. They even wanted clarity in terms of how their performance was. If Upper didn’t like it then they were ok to move on. Maldini’s mindset even changed from ones us fans wanted which was for us to have the 2-3 established players per year to take us to the next level (But that required investment and breaking a wage bill) into a cheap players / zero budget team. On top of that by the very nature of the vision, players grow past beyond our budget eg. Kessie, Dollar, Theo with the hope they stay loyal. You guys also have to consider they are working in parameters being set forth by Upper. There’s plenty of blame to go around to both upper management and M&M but I’m definitely harsher on Upper/owners. They’re the ones that set the limits that M&M have to work under. And to me they’re doing a great job considering

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