AC Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis has highlighted some of the key moments that led to the club’s recent resurgence and once again outlined the vision for the future.
A whole 495 days have passed since Pioli joined Milan and he has managed to turn doubters into believers. In October 9 2019, the announcement of the new coach was greeted by the skepticism of the fans, summarised by the viral hashtag #PioliOut.
He has 39 wins as manager of the Rossoneri in 68 games (18 draws and just 11 defeats), and the team have gone from fighting for a spot in the top half to fighting to keep top spot.
What were the key moments that led to Milan’s recovery?
“There is not just one moment, there are so many things to say. It is really a great story with many moments. I can tell you about our coach Stefano Pioli and the work he is doing. It came at a really difficult time as it often happens to new coaches.
“He brought calm, concentration and modernity to the approach to matches. An incredible person, a top coach. I can tell you the story of Paolo Maldini, our technical director flanked by DS Ricky Massara. As you well know, Paolo is a football legend, but he is putting all of himself into this new role. I can tell you about the property.
“As you know the club went through a change of ownership, and now there is new American ownership. They rescued the club from a very complicated financial situation. Then we can talk about Ibrahimovic, from MLS to Serie A to get back in the game once again. And again, we can talk about this team.
“A rebuilt team with really young players. Although Ibra is the second youngest team in the top five European leagues and the youngest in Serie A. We have really rebuilt with young players who are growing together with the team, both temperamentally and technically.”
What led you to accept the role of CEO of Milan in 2018?
“I have been a football fan since childhood. My generation grew up knowing well what Milan is. This great team with an incredible European history, winner of 7 Champions Leagues. Not ‘just’ an Italian team but a truly international club.
“To date, Milan has five hundred and thirty million fans around the world, one of the largest clubs in the world. But they went through a really tough 7-8 years for one reason or another, performance has never been at a high level. For me this is a unique opportunity: in football there is probably no club of this importance that with the right work and the right ideas can be brought back to the glories of the past.
“I found it to be a very intriguing professional challenge, something that doesn’t happen to you every day and I felt it was really worth accepting it. I obviously hope that we will reach the objectives, we are still in full swing. However, we are moving in the right direction, here everything is devoted to greatness.
“The passion of the Italian fans, especially that of the Rossoneri fans, is extraordinary. Obviously there have been many terrible events in the last year, but surely there is regret for not having been able to have the fans at the stadium to see the fantastic performances of the team.
“This is a truly incredible team, they are a team that you really want to see live: they play fun football, lots of young players who are growing together. There is enthusiasm.”
How did your years in MLS and Arsenal prepare you for your experience in Italy?
“Each of these experiences made me see football from a different perspective. It’s like looking at something that is absolutely familiar to you but from a different perspective. Three completely different perspectives and it’s very interesting.
“One of the joys of my journey is the opportunity to reflect on things that I thought were important but now I think they are less so. Or discover new ways of approaching problems. It’s too big a thing to describe. In America, MLS was almost like a start-up, we were fighting for attention, investors.
“Even today it is a league that is in a phase of growth but the business model behind the sport is very advanced. In England, however, the sporting level is very mature, very high, but as for the business side it is still evolving, growing. Despite the incredible level of the Premier League, I always thought that from a strategic and business thinking point of view, MLS was on another level.
“I never thought being in MLS was a step backwards. In Italy, even more than England, the emotional aspect, even at the level of ownership, is really very important. There is therefore the opportunity to clear strategic thinking and business mentality in Italy too.
“Everything else is already here. I believe we can do it, I’m already starting to see it. For me it is a cultural challenge, not just a professional one. I am learning a new culture, a new language; this week I did my first interview in Italian, an hour and a half, with Sky.”
What are your strategies for making Milan grow from a sporting point of view?
“We came to a club that was in a really bad financial situation. The revenues have remained the same for a long time while the other clubs also grew from this point of view, and at the same time the costs have grown leading to really important losses. It is not a situation that you solve overnight, it takes time.
“While it’s not popular, we had to cut costs by trying to improve performance. It’s not an easy thing at all, I assure you. If we had done the same things as clubs like Juventus and Inter we would not have been able to reach them and compete with them because they were ahead of us with their plans.
“So we brought a lot of new ideas, we relied on analysis and a very good scouting department, we wanted someone to lead all this and so Maldini returned to the club after 10 years for the first time. We have focused on young players, we have bought and will continue to buy great talents from all over the world, players eager to improve, proud to wear this shirt and the desire to develop their career with us.
“Players who, in one way or another, have to prove something. Ibrahimovic also falls into this category. Although age is a very romantic challenge for him, he has a special connection with the club. Leading a group of young guys and bringing Milan back to the top is a challenge made especially for him.
“We needed to find the right coach and we found him in Stefano Pioli. After the lockdown we had an extraordinary period that cannot only come down to the result, victory or defeat: for Milan, victory is necessary, but it is not enough. We want to play dynamic, proactive football, and we are doing it with a group of young people.”
And what are the plans off the pitch?
“There are several pillars on which to base our growth. One of these is that of the stadium. Let’s play at San Siro, one of the most beautiful stadiums in the world, is an institution for the club and for the city of Milan. However, the first ring of San Siro was built in 1924, the second in 1950 and the third in 1990. It is one of those ancient stadiums that does not have the adequate structures required by modern sport.
“In the MLS we have seen what the development of stadiums has meant for the general growth of the movement, we have seen it in the Premier League: here in Italy there is a need for new stadiums, new structures, inclusive and appropriate for the next generation of fans. Building a new stadium here in Milan is one of our priorities.
“Over the past two years we have made a lot of progress on this topic: we have received preliminary approval from the Municipality of Milan, we have developed a plan for what we believe will be the best stadium in the world. All this is possible because there are two giants of Italian football, Milan and Inter, who will share the stadium.
“This will allow us to do very special things. It will be iconic. The second pillar is to modernise the club. Develop the digitalisation of the club to reach as many fans as possible around the world. We have more than 500 million fans, but when I arrived two years ago the club did not have an official application for example.
“From this point of view we are growing and improving visibly, last week we inaugurated the “Studios” to develop original digital content. We have also brought new commercial partners despite the fact that, due to Covid, the period is very complicated from this point of view.
“Our partner network has grown, revenues are improving. And finally there is another very important piece: in this historical period we are talking about how the future of European football will develop and it is very important that Milan also participate actively and centrally in this discourse.
“We are at the discussion table in an active and respected position both in Italy and in Europe. Milan will be at the center of the next developments in national and international football. Everything is moving in the right direction.”
How is it possible that Ibra is still making a difference? Are you interested in renewing his contract for another year?
“I don’t know how he does it (laughs). He is an exception to the rules. The desire, the motivation he has is extraordinary. I’ve never seen anyone work like him. This is a great challenge for him, he is scoring a lot of goals and the whole team is with him: the young people take him as an example.
“He continues to surprise everyone and continue to surprise all skeptics. On his return to Italy, many believed that he would not do well. Why not continue? If he continues to play like this, if he physically succeeds and continues to be like this, if his family will accept the fact that he continues in Italy… Why not continue?”