Too many gears cause a jam: How Milan’s complex hierarchy works and the issues faced

By Oliver Fisher -

As AC Milan continue to be linked with umpteen head coach candidates and as many striker targets towards the end of the season, the management and in particular the chain of command has come into question.

Antonio D’Ottavio, Geoffrey Moncada, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Giorgio Furlani and finally Gerry Cardinale: this is the decision-making process that are involved in making the big calls at Milan. Their roles, in order: sporting director, technical director, senior advisor, CEO and owner.

It is important to outline that from the start, because Milan are preparing to experience an intriguing summer which will see the birth of a new project after the now-certain dismissal of Stefano Pioli at the end of the season, a choice made after too many big-game failures.

In the background there is the complicated situation off the field with the investigation by the Milan Prosecutor’s Office regarding the sale from Elliott Management to RedBird Capital and the existence of a potential ‘mole’ within the club.

The accusation in all of this complexity is that there is a risk of overlapping in the decision-making chain. Furlani, Ibrahimovic, Moncada and D’Ottavio are the key players who – in hierarchical order – will have to agree on how to move forward next season.

What is the current chain of command? Moncada and D’Ottavio work with the scouting team and consult the algorithms to select players they deem to be attractive in view of the transfer window.

Ibrahimovic is the first filter, the one who selects which objective to pursue, then Furlani has the responsibility of making everything financially sustainable. That is the penultimate step before handing everything over to Cardinale for the final signature.

Unclear roles

However, increasing the number of gears also increases the risk of jamming. This seems to be the reason why to date Milan’s strategy regarding the appointment of the next coach appears far from clear.

Thiago Motta, Julen Lopetegui, Maurizio Sarri, Antonio Conte, Paulo Fonseca, Sergio Conceicao, Ruben Amorin, Mark van Bommel and Roberto Martinez are not just names fired out by the newspapers. Many of these have also actually been contacted by management, a huge and varied list that reflects the various thinking heads within the leadership.

In addition to slowing down the decision-making process, many brains also bring with them differences of opinion and judgment. For this reason, Milan currently sees itself overtaken in the race for Thiago Motta, the true first choice for the post-Pioli era, by the much more clear and structured Juventus.

This is a problem perhaps ‘exacerbated’ by the addition of Zlatan, even though he is a recent added dynamic. Even last summer though Milan ended up having to often change their minds during the battle for players due to the non-linear management strategy which saw Davide Frattesi, Marcus Thuram and Mehdi Taremi all disappear at the photo finish, and to rivals Inter.

In fact, the Bianconeri and Nerazzurri have a clearer and more solid organisational chart with one, maximum two, ‘decision-making’ managers who can open and close a negotiation even in the space of a few hours.

Not Milan, for the Rossoneri every operation is an ordeal. Analysis, counter-analysis, technical and financial evaluations must come first and then, only then, can they sit down at the table to deal in concrete terms. This cumbersome process can also capitulate at any moment if a veto comes from those above in the hierarchy.

A huge mercato

Yet despite this, last summer Milan closed with 10 signings, a sign that things are perhaps slow to happen but at least they do eventually happen in the end.

Looking down the list of players that arrived during the last summer mercato, it is easy to put a positive spin on things too. Luka Jovic was the deadline day alternative to Taremi who has scored nine goals in all competitions, most of them off the bench. Noah Okafor has also been limited to mostly substitute appearances, but has scored six times.

Christian Pulisic has been the real flagship of the window with 13 goals to his name – the same amount as Rafael Leao – then Ruben Loftus-Cheek has also made the most of making the hop over from west London with 10 goals. Tijjani Reijnders has been a virtual ever-present too, so there are glimmers of hope.

However, we also cannot skirt around the facts. Okafor, Chukwueze, Musah, Pellegrino, Jovic, Romero and Terracciano have been little more than supporting players, if not quite big disappointments.

This is not because Milan did not adequately evaluate the purchases made, but rather precisely because they studied them too much. Some of the names listed were second, third or even fourth choices that ended up joining because whoever were in front of them on the target list went elsewhere, for various reasons.

This is a problem which, we fear, is repeating itself today with the appointment of the new coach and which will undoubtedly also be replicated on the transfer market. Milan therefore faces the summer once again as a chaser of objectives and results, in the hope that in a few years the club will actually be leading the way again.


This is the biggest summer in Milan’s recent history. Choosing a new head coach to lead the team for years to come is a very important choice that needs maximum consideration, though it is the first big call in guiding the project forward.

If that were then to be replicated in the pursuit of a new club-record signing for the striker role, the pursuit of a midfielder, a centre-back etc., then the gap to Inter will not be bridged because they start from such a position of strength.

In recent months Cardinale has announced ‘evolutionary’ changes at Milan which – at least at present – seem to have made things more difficult instead of streamlining. The proof will always be in the pudding, but too many cooks can spoil the meal.

Tags AC Milan Antonio D'Ottavio Geoffrey Moncada Giorgio Furlani Zlatan Ibrahimovic


  1. Finally someone said it!
    I asked the same thing, what’s the point of hiring Octavio if we have Moncanda and Zlatan on similar roles? Too many directors and too less competent people in charge, with Elliot we knew from the start Maldini and Masara are doing the transfers and Gazidis is responsible with financial part, now we everyone is confused.

  2. There is likely a clear hierarchy though one that may not be clear to anyone outside the organization.

    Not sure why Sempre Milan lately has been drumming up a state of chaos with these types of articles and their choice of words. I suppose tossing fuel on the fire results in greater user engagement and clicks at the cost of credibility.

    1. “Not sure why Sempre Milan lately has been drumming up a state of chaos with these types of articles and their choice of words. I suppose tossing fuel on the fire results in greater user engagement and clicks at the cost of credibility.”
      I guess because we’re in this interesting situation where the season is pretty much over, there is nothing to fight for but at the same time the transfer window has yet to start, and since the club seems to be in a dissaray, we get these types of catchy articles that have no added value whatsoever.

    2. These “media leaks” really make Milan feels like American run isn’t it. These type of news usually came from the NBA’s and NFL’s.

    3. Because Moncada is a scout, Ibra is an advisor, while Furlani is finance manager, they all lack experience in transfer market hence they need D’Ottavio.

  3. The only confusion I have is between Zlatan and Furlani. They have different roles but how do the two of them come together?

    As far as all the rumors about coaches and players makes me think that no one really knows anything about what Milan is planning or who they are really looking at. Seems in line with last summer.

    So the rumor mill goes crazy.

  4. Elliott and RedBird biggest mistake in their ownership of Milan is not hiring a proper director who can run their sporting department.
    Elliott went out of their way to identify a top CEO to run their project at Milan in Ivan Gazidis. They even paid Arsenal to release him from his contract and that was a great hire.
    They tried to do that with the sporting department but there they picked the wrong man in Leonardo. Leonardo knew only how to spend money on popular players without any worries about generating money from sales, because that’s how he operated at PSG. He was the one who mentored Paolo Maldini and it showed.
    Having ex legends like Paolo or Zlatan as part of the club it’s a benefit but neither one of them should have a decision making role.
    Paolo in today’s interview spoke how inter is successful because their directors have clear idea and long contracts. Inter started to become successful when they hired a proper director like Beppe Marotta, and he has earned his long contract. He is the mastermind behind their return to success after their banter era. Inter legend Javier Zanetti is nothing but a mascot. He is someone who they take to the stadium to watch games and from time to time they call to persuade a player in signing with inter. That’s what Paolo and Zlatan should be. Neither one is qualified or competent to be a sporting director. They might become if they work under someone for few years but a year under someone like Leonardo isn’t it.
    Giovanni Sartori from Bologna is the man behind their recent success and the man behind Atalanta success over the previous 6,7 years. Go hire him and let these young and up and coming people learn from him so they can take over later.
    Just because someone used to play football at a high level doesn’t mean that they know how to run a club. Most of the best directors never even played football. There is more to it than just knowing football. There is a business side that ex footballers don’t understand since they had agents take care of that while they were playing.
    Hire a competent, qualified, experienced, well connected sporting director.

    1. That’s a really good point mate. The problem seems to be Gerry wanting to have some control over the process, and that’s something that top directors would not be willing to deal with. I mean, is it a coincidence we brought two Americans this summer? And that somehow it fits out PR strategy?

    2. “Leonardo knew only how to spend money on popular players without any worries about generating money from sales”

      Maybe you’d prefer someone like Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses – a real wheeler dealer.

      As Maldini showed there’s more to it than spending money. It’s instilling a sense of identity. And a key part of instilling that identity was standing up to agents and holding players to their contractual commitments. And it helped turned the club around.

      But it was never enough for you imaginary standards. Because you once made money on Football Manager or Monopoly.

      1. I think you missed that line from Galliani about the importance of local players during the Berlusconi era.

        It’s recent, last few days.

        1. I saw that and completely agree, and it’s why I find it so frustrating when fans just see football in terms of buying and selling players (at some illusionary profit).

          Take Tonali.

          First we could’ve saved millions on Tonali had we just kept one of Cristante or Locatelli but we decided to wheel and deal with them.

          Then having finally solved that position and with Tonali establishing himself as a talisman we sold him (for a profit) and then spend the profit on 3 new box to box midfielders and ended up playing Adli!

          We now need to go out and find another Cristante/Locatelli/Tonali….

          This has happened in nearly every area of the pitch.

          One thing Maldini did when he came back is he actually solved key problems in the team.

          Whilst he gets stick for players leaving for free or for some failed transfers he plugged multiple holes with long term solutions:

          – Donarumma and then acted decisively to sign Maignan;

          – Theo – LB solved

          – Tomori – CB solved

          – Kjaer – CB and leadership solved

          – Tonali

          – Leao

          – Ibra/Giroud

          He solved most of the first team. The first team now, even after all of the activity last summer, is still based on a core of Maldini’s signings.

          That is the measure of success. Not whether or not we made money flipping players. That’s how measure stock brokers!

          1. It’s all so clear now, as a matter of hindsight, isn’t it?

            I now don’t think that ego necessarily came into the equation as much as it initially appeared. It certainly wasn’t about CDK, either.

            The simple reality is that Maldini was trying to rebuild a Berlusconi era power house piece by piece and he was going to take the time to do it. He invested in the GK replacement. He stuck with Tonali. He re-signed Leao. He then spent big on CDK with Thiaw for the medium to long term (as someone with potential but who was no where near the finished product but was affordable).

            He was never going to sell his players unless they really wanted out. What’s the first thing new ownership did once he was gone? Sold, for big money, one of the foundation pieces acquired by Maldini to buy a whole bunch of players the coach had no faith in.

            At the end of the day, we could have kept Tonali signed Rjeinders, Pulisic and maybe RLC and we’d probably be in a better place wouldn’t we? Because our midfield can’t control a game and there is no obvious solution as things currently stand.

            There is also a counterfactual scenario in which someone worked on getting Daniel Maldini some playing minutes as an 18 to 21 year old and he’s probably already wearing the #10 for Milan. But that’s no fun is it? Because then we can’t get excited about buying unknown quantities from Belgium and Argentina and Chelsea rejects.

  5. I really enjoy Oliver’s articles, and his analysis in general. But I think we should focus less on the process, and more on the end result. No one really knows what goes on between close doors, and inside people’s head.

    I also think the success of our recent market is a bit over exaggerated. Yes, some players had great numbers, but against which teams? I mean we definitely bumped up our depth, but which players were a clear upgrade to their predecessors? For me, Pulisic, Reinders, and Chukweze are the highlights of the summer. RLC I just don’t see as an AM, regardless of the amount of goals he scored.

    But one thing I do agree is that at some point we have to start going for our number one picks. And we’re already at that point tbh

    1. Whilst we don’t know what’s goes on behind closed doors it does smack of there being too many middle managers justifying their existence.

      I mean there really isn’t that many jobs that need doing.

      They need to identify a couple of transfers each summer and find a new stadium – that is it.

      The problem with middle managers (and consultants) – everywhere – is they create work for themselves. They try and over-complicate things.

  6. Look I am disappointed like most.

    I don’t believe the management considers this a disastrous season, and I think the management is in total disarray. I think in their eyes the minimum (financial) objective of getting into the UCL was met, and that the other 3 teams we played in the UCL against were either better than us or invested even more than we did. All the while the club is increasing revenues and becoming more sustainable, enabling better signings. The primavera is finally back at producing quite good talent, and there is a stadium that there is a real project to build. Management deserves some credit for this.

    I don’t love the present, but I am do find excitement in the direction we are going.

    1. Erm…how is it a disastrous season if we’re going to finish 2nd after finishing 4th last season?

      And if the management don’t consider it a disastrous season – why are the sacking the coach???

      I think the problem is that everyone got a little carried away after last summer….

      1. Last season (when Maldini was still around), we reach UCL Semifinal. Meanwhile this season we got knocked out at UCL Group Stage and got eliminated by Roma in Europa League. From prize money perspective, this is disastrous compared to last season.

        1. Fine if that’s how measure success.

          Personally I think cup competitions come down to luck more so league tables are the best measure.

          We were in a ridiculous group in this season’s champions league and really could’ve gone either way. We nearly went through.

          It’s hard for me to see 2nd as a failure. Especially after the summer’s upheavals and the injuries. If it reflects badly on anyone it’s the owner and directors who caused all of that upheaval for relatively little gain.

  7. This was one of my biggest concerns when Gazidis left Milan. Hiring Furlani was a huge mistake because he has no football management experience to be the CEO.

    It would have made more sense for Milan to poach directors from teams with proven success instead of reinventing the wheel with all these new roles in management that makes no sense.

    Damien Comoli should have been the new CEO starting this summer instead of adding Octavio and Ibra to the management team. Sigh! 🙁

    We need a CEO and a director of football with football experience. Furlani, Ibra and Octavio needs to go. They have no football management experience. Just a bunch of novice with huge responsibilities. That’s just insane to me to entrust such a big project at a big club like Milan to people who have no football management experience.

    Milan owners and some fans are living in the past. No more past players with zero experience including Maldini and Ibra should have been appointed to management roles or coaching roles. They don’t have the experience to take this club forward.

  8. Agree with practically everything said here. I thought when Ibra joined he was going to be a “bridge” between the players and management? Or was it an “advisor” to Cardinale, I forget which. Now he’s part of a committee choosing the next coach, who we buy/sell and what everyone eats for breakfast. Maldini should’ve accepted the “mentor” role or whatever it was instead of leaving in a huff, and then as ZionTrain says all we would’ve needed is an experienced director and CEO and we’d be laughing. But what do I know – maybe they’ve got some genius moves planned not even the press know about.

    1. Maldini didn’t leave in a huff, he was fired along with most of the most of the directors including the revenue guy.

      It was all part of the Great Revolution of 2023.

      I look forward to the Great Revolution of 2024, 2025, 2026…

      1. I guess, but he was offered another position. Which he refused – even though it would’ve obviously been better for Milan if he’d stayed. What that role was exactly, though, we don’t know – maybe it was too insulting to even consider, but I doubt it.

        (And no I’m not posting comments too quickly.)

  9. And Roma are out after another thrilling display of set piece goals, riveting defending and almost starting a brawl (as usual). Oh dear…

  10. We have practically nobody in the sporting department. Who would you trust to make the right call for a couch?
    Ibra? Furlani? Moneyball ?

  11. P.S. Pretty sure Cardinale thinks that we can use AI to do the couching, Furlani will help with communication.

    1. @titoeziv
      Furlani can’t free himself to help with communication as his tongue is stuck up Cardinale’s a…ss

  12. We will never win anything with this lot and I’ll add Scaroni here just pronouncing his name sounds like someone trying to clear there throat of mucous. This POS thinks he’s more qualified than our legend Maldini. Ibra dude?what are you doing with these losers?

    1. Genuinely curious – Why do you some fans keep talking about “American” ownership and “Wall Street”? A few months ago everyone was ecstatic at that the thought of Saudis taking us over so it can’t be the fact Cardinale’s rich? You have to be pretty well off to take over a football club, I’m guessing – no matter where you’re from – so what is it?

  13. There is no doubt that tension has existed and, I suspect that Zlatan has thrown a spanner in the works at least initially in relation to Motta v Conte and then later to put the kibosh on Lopetegui, but I don’t see it as being a process related issue. It is fundamentally about the goals themselves and a lack of transparency within the hierarchy.

    We need to read between the lines a bit more. This bizarre focus on coaches with international experience, to the exclusion of Italians, as though that is relevant (even if the candidates identified had genuinely significant international experience and achievements – but they don’t), and as though it is not Italians who are the biggest collective at the forefront of coaching, is a real key.

    Then look at the 2 guys the criteria has identified and who have been focused on most heavily: a mediocre 51 year old (who just failed in the Serie A with Roma) and mediocre 58 year old who has achieved minor feats but not done anything of not when in big jobs. Both happen to be in the Jorge Mendes camp. Now that Lopetegui is out, we’ve added another in the Mendes camp, Sergio Conceição.

    That Conceição became the next in line is another clear give away. While I think he is a better fit for Milan, he is significant departure from every coach other than Conte that we have been linked to. My understanding is that he is actually a much more conservative tactician than Lopetegui and Fonseca, that he does not play the systems the Milan squad has been built for.

    Conceição is another example, in this coaching replacement saga, of how Milan cannot seem to settle on a criteria which makes objective sense.

    I do not believe the current focus for Milan ownership is trying to develop the best on field project possible – that’s for Zlatan to be concerned with as a smokescreen. The lack of on-field ambition is evident from the coaching choices. They could not have gone past Motta (for the long term), Sarri (for the short to medium term) or Conte (for a bit of a project reset), of the realistic options, if they were concerned with the strongest on field project.

    They want to get in on the action of selling players for 9-figure-ish sums into the Premier League, to Bayern, PSG and/or Real each season. Mendes is critical in this sense because so many of these young players end up in his camp. You don’t really get to deal with him unless you play by his rules.

    They need the ‘yes man’ coach to develop players for sale.

    All that has really happened to date is divide and conquer. I suspect Zlatan seized on the fan sentiment re Lopetegui, who I simply do not believe Zlatan would ever have endorsed, and that he spooked Cardinale. It doesn’t really matter though because he was thrown to the Curva as a sacrifice but has been replaced with the same thing.

    Milan’s ambition is building a stadium and making its ownership money at this point in time. Not being an on-field powerhouse.

  14. Re.
    “However, increasing the number of gears also increases the risk of jamming. This seems to be the reason why to date Milan’s strategy regarding the appointment of the next coach appears far from clear.”

    They could start by actually sacking|announcing the current coach is leaving. Much of the current convoluted new coach selection process is massively hindered by them pretending that they are not actually looking for a new coach.
    Poili is obviously leaving. So why not confirm that so that everything else can be managed in a more open way?
    Instead they will just no longer publicly endorse Pioli and from that we all are meant to understand the they will part at the end of the season.

    How can we expect them to decide and appoint a new coach when they haven’t actually sacked the current one???

  15. I don’t have an issue yet with what Cardinale has done so far. I don’t like how Maldini left but that’s another story.

    Last summer they showed they are willing to spend money. Should they have let Pioli go as well? Probably, but that may have rocked the boat too much with 10 new players AND a new coach.

    The mercato this summer and the coaching appointment will tell us a lot where we are heading as a club and the sort of decisions made. I have no qualms about them being quiet in their decision or letting anything slip. (Not sure what to make of the Lopetegui story – but judging how quickly he turned to WestHam makes me think that whole thing was a crock of sh*+ too).

    As for the Curva SUD – they can s**k it. Maldini let go – “we understand”; Tonali let go – “we understand”… 3 games left of the season with management remaining tight lipped about their decisions – “We need answers, we protest and walk out”… the fuc|

    1. Haha, yep the Curva are a weird bunch. And with Pioli that’s always been my point – every clamoring to have him fired in pre-season when he’s the one guy left in the current set up that everyone loves and looks up to, aside from Maldini…

    2. I don’t still don’t understand this idea that they invest money. Maldini has a low budget so he had to craft, find cheap players who fitted the philosophy of the team and guys on loan. He was investing but he didn’t have a lot of money and yet it worked so well that we won a Scudetto.

      Now we sold a key player from an area in need considering that Kessié was not replaced and Bennacer was injured. Then they spent all that money with no vision other than recruiting the guys who were on Maldini’s list and some guys for the purpose of trading. With all the money they spent last summer in comparison to the previous years, the results are ugly. Let’s see if a new coach can turn Reijnders into Modric or Musah into Tonali.

  16. They didn’t spend money that much money last summer.

    They sold Tonali and then blew that money on 10 or so (lost count) signings.

    It’s not about the money.

    We have whatever money we have.

    I would never demand people spend money they don’t have.

    But I do have an issue with ripping apart a settled management and squad, and pressing the re-set button multiple times.

    Despite all of that we finished 2nd.

    So we are now sacking the coach who steadied the ship after last summer.

    So now begins another revolution.

    It seems like each season (or maybe multiple times a season if things go pear shaped) we’ll be treated to a new revolution.

    A bit like from 11/12 to 20/21.

    1. Wrong. They spent €100+ million and the same ‘fans’ who cry about spending are the same who cry when players leave for free. The new regime did what Maldini couldn’t, they sold players for a profit. Also you can stop pretending this wasn’t one of the best mercatos in decades.

      1. He meant net of sales, the budget is around 30-40m as usual. Also best transfer window in decades? You missed the season or something??

      2. I couldn’t give a fig if players left for free.


        We stood up to agents and we made players meet their contractual obligations.

        Rather than siding with greedy agents and players, you should have sided with the club.

        But all you care about is money.

        And it wasn’t one of the best mercatos in decades.

        a) when we signed Kjaer and Ibra and transformed a mid-table team to a champions over night was the best mercato possibly since we signed the two Dutchmen;


        b) if you think the mercato was such a blazing success then presumably you are satisfied with how the season went and are not calling for Pioli to be sacked?

  17. What a mess by AC Milan …. short for Associazione Clowns Milan ….
    Maldini was our only hope but was kicked away …. what a disgrace ….

  18. Did say too many cooks in the kitchen. There seems to be a rift between Furlani and Ibra.
    The crazy part of this article was the many names for the coaching position rumoured “are not just names fired out by the newspapers. Many of these have also actually been contacted by management”
    What??? How do you actually know this? If that’s the case, Milan has a bigger problem fixing their messaging and who gets to know what. That’s a leaky a$$ team of you ask me. Also, we didn’t have as many cooks in the summer as we have now It’s probably why we could have completed the 10 or so signings. it sort of lends credence to the less is more concept. Note, Ibra came after and Ottavio in the summer was just starting out.
    Anyways, if these are the people that Cardinale wants to make decisions then that’s on him. Old management shadow is largely gone, so this summer would be intriguing to see what original ideas they come up with

  19. Seems pretty clear to me. They do what they do and everything else is just the media putting out “content” for clicks.. they don’t have to explain anything to anyone..

    We can pop up at inter and ask them whos running things.. Zanetti, marota or that zhang character

      1. And Milan isn’t? I’ve yet to see any proper signs of discord within the club.. everything is just clickblyat news

      1. Don’t think they need me to defend them.. Arent you always whining how Milan is second and everything is great and we need no change, anywhere?

        1. I set out my expectations at the start of the season.

          – for the players a top 6 finish;
          – for Pioli a top 4 finish;
          – for the owners silverware.

          I always have higher expectations for the owners especially after they’ve decided to undertake so many changes.

          Having said all that a top finish is pretty impressive after all of the upheaval and injuries.

          It seems others have lower expectations for the owners and then blame the manager and players when they fail to perform in chaotic or toxic situations.

          The general consensus seems to be that last summer was simply awesome and it’s all Pioli’s fault.

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