The eyes of Milan supporters across the globe were glued to their Twitter feeds and hopefully SempreMilan.com for the first press conference of the season at Milanello.
The three figures considered to be the ‘top management’ took part as CEO Ivan Gazidis was flanked by technical director Paolo Maldini and sporting director Ricky Massara in the presence of over a dozen journalists.
Those members of the media came loaded with questions on behalf of the fans, with the bulk of the ammunition centred around plans for the summer transfer window and the ongoing situations regarding the renewals of various key players.
You can read the individual quotes from Maldini, Massara and Gazidis by clicking their name, but we have gone to the trouble of picking out the key quotes and trying to read between the lines a little bit, starting with the former Rossoneri captain.
Maldini began by addressing the previous two windows and the upcoming one.
“Last year we laid the foundations for an idea of Milan for the future. Nine players arrived between the summer and January.
“This year we will make some targeted signings. Maybe we won’t be able to make big signings like in the past, I don’t want to deceive the fans, but we are vigilant if any market opportunities arise.”
The obvious takeaway from the quotes above is that Maldini wants to manage the expectations of Milan fans who perhaps read a bit too much into the rumours that the club are about to spend €40million on a centre-back like Nikola Milenkovic or even more on Federico Chiesa.
The key word is ‘opportunities’ which we construe to mean that the club are not embarking on a mission to get their business done early but rather to wait and see what potential bargains might be out there.
Finally, the word ‘targeted’ is also significant. It very strongly implies that there will not be a host of new additions but rather carefully selected investments to improve the squad in the areas that head coach Stefano Pioli has highlighted.
On Ibrahimovic, he continued: “It is normal that there should be a plan B, even C and D, but we have priorities and Ibrahimovic is our priority.”
The overwhelming feeling from all three of the management present was that there is optimism regarding getting Ibrahimovic to renew, but Maldini used the press conference as a chance to fire a warning.
It was a veiled way of saying ‘we want you here, but we have other plans’. Who knows, that might be enough to get the Swede to hop down from his reported €7m net demands and begin getting ready for the new season.
“We have to act only in roles where we need to improve and with superior players, there may be a few tweaks but all we will do is to improve those roles where we think there are flaws.”
Just like above, this is a clear message from Maldini that there will not be an exuberant spending campaign. Instead, there have been parts of the squad identified for improvement and those areas will get the focus.
What positions he means is unknown – some would have said right-back is obvious, but what Massara said (which we will come on to) suggests otherwise.
On Donnarumma’s renewal: “It’s a problem, we have reached the last year of the contract, but it is right first to resolve the issue of Ibra’s renewal first. Then we will think about Gigio’s.
“We are confident because he wants to stay, there is a bit of concern because we have reached the last year, but we are ready to make offers appropriate to his value.”
The words ‘problem’ and ‘concern’ are a tad alarming but it also shows the club are aware of the sensitive nature of the timing issue. Maldini confirms addressing it is on the short-term agenda though, and also affirms the payer’s desire to stay. Those are two good things.
In addition, ‘ready to make offers appropriate to his value’ also implies there will not be a salary cut presented to Donnarumma, rather a deal that reflects his worth to the squad. A serious offer.
“We know what our path is, but Bayern are something else at the moment. They are undoubtedly a model, their organisation is to be followed. We are still a long way off, but that is the path. Closing the gap is difficult. Financial Fair Play is fair, but at the same time it does not allow for investment to reduce the gap.”
Finally, an acknowledgement from Paolo that although Bayern Munich are light years ahead of Milan as a club at the moment, their model in a basic sense is one to be followed.
Their strategy has been to unearth young gems and sign players on advantageous and cost-effective deals to build a frightening core and an exceptional all-round squad worthy of winning a sixth Champions League on Sunday night.
Not only that, but off the field they are a model club too. They are pioneers when it comes to their club structure, but also the corporate side of things which is something Gazidis will be studying.
Speaking of which, we now take a look at what the Rossoneri CEO had to say.
“We have a young team that is growing in a very positive way. An important part of the strategy is continuity and, as we said, it’s not just about young players. It takes a mix of young and experienced players.”
This is reassuring from Gazidis and proof that Elliott Management have slackened their stance on only signing players 25 and under, if indeed that ever was the case.
The additions of Ibrahimovic and Kjaer in January proved to be mightily important, and it seems the former Arsenal chief has realised that the best way to nurture the young crop that was brought in last summer is to surround them with experience and leadership, both from a mentoring and a resilience point of view.
“We want to keep improving the squad. The club has a great challenge ahead: to develop the team and bring the club to a financial, virtuous and sustainable balance.
“As Paolo said, we have different challenges how to respect FFP. Last year we lost almost €150million and we have to act in a regime of control of this financial situation.”
Again, a management of expectations just as Maldini provided. Gazidis basically says ‘we want to sign players, but we are working under constraints’ which is a very fair and no-nonsense assessment. That is the current state of play, so fair enough for addressing it as such.
“We have made important progress on the stadium aspect and in the commercial area.”
That’s exactly what Gazidis was brought in to try and do, to improve the club’s standing from a commercial point of view and to try and lead it into a new era, to help close the gap on Juventus domestically and Europe’s elite abroad.
“We have a very strong, solid ownership and we have seen significant investments. But the most important thing is the right investments and we have to make them by focusing on the growth of this group of players.”
As expected, Gazidis jumps to the defence of the ownership group who hand-picked him for his role by basically saying to the media and to fans that a lot of money has already been invested, so there shouldn’t be complaints that things are being ‘done on the cheap’.
Regardless of how long Elliott Management plan on staying around (and we think the signs point towards a sale in the not too distant future), he is right that investments in the playing squad have been made, but also an investment regarding a commitment to cutting the wage bill and putting the club in a much healthier position financially, which involves some difficult decisions.
The losses have been cut from €146m to €100m in a year which saw football ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, so this is just an acknowledgement that Elliott do care about at least one thing: improving the financial stability of the club via their means.
“I detect an unusual market and we have to make the right signings. I have a feeling that there will be movements that will take place towards the end of the market and we will be ready to seize the right opportunities.”
Now the teasing begins. It may have been speculated before that Milan would wait until late in the window to assess certain spontaneous opportunities that may arise, but this from Gazidis essentially confirms that the summer window will be built around the ‘opportunistic’ approach.
It doesn’t mean that a huge name will arrive, it has been made clear that the resources aren’t available for that, but it is surprising what kind of players can pop up during those final days when teams need to sell to buy.
Gazidis concluded with a message for the fans, including this: “We are doing a difficult, very demanding job with several important and difficult choices. And we do it with great passion to bring Milan back to where it deserves. It is not a fast road, it will take time and patience. We need your support and your trust, both us and the team.”
If the CEO of the club – whose job it is to stir excitement in order to generate ticket sales and commercial opportunities – is telling fans to be patient, then be patient.
Yes, Milan fans have been patient enough over the last 10 years and perhaps want to see more ambition, but it is clear that the current project is in place to achieve one thing: sustainable growth.
Some supporters might not like the idea of a five-year plan or doing things under constraints, but that is the situation the club is in under Elliott Management until there is a change in ownership or something major happens like an unexpected Scudetto win.
Now, we move on to Ricky Massara’s comments, and he was more focused on the actual squad itself, beginning with an assessment of Rafael Leao.
“He matured after an initial period of adaptation. We are satisfied with what he has done, but we expect growth from a player with his class, but we are sure he will grow further.”
It’s pretty much what every club figure – including Pioli – has said all season, though it shows a couple of key things. The first is that the club believe in their investment, but the second is that it can be perceived as a nudge to Leao. ‘We expect growth’ is very much a ‘ball is in your court’ message to the young Portuguese.
“In midfield we have to intervene, the season will be long so we need new reinforcements. We will have to do something, we are already evaluating hypotheses.”
Pioli asked for two new midfield additions to give Bennacer and Kessie some back-up, and Massara pretty much confirms that is what the club are working to do. Reassuring, because the double pivot was basically the foundation on which Milan’s resurgence was build post-COVID.
“Pobega did very well at Pordenone, we want to see how much he can give. Brescianini will probably go on loan to Serie B, while Maldini and Colombo will stay with us.”
The comment on Pobega is interesting given the speculation that has arisen suggesting he will be the fourth-choice midfielder and therefore Bakayoko may be the only ‘new signing’.
However, Massara implies that the 21-year-old will instead be evaluated and that the fourth spot is up for grabs, a spot we think he could snatch after a great season on loan in Serie B.
As for Marco Brescianini, it is pleasing to hear the club value his development at such a crucial time in his career. The Primavera was proving too easy for him, but a loan to play second division senior football will be an important test of where he is.
Daniel Maldini and Lorenzo Colombo staying implies game time is on the cards for them, be it in the cup, the Europa League or even better.
On Davide Calabria, Massara added: “He is a product in our youth sector. Often the value of these players is downplayed. In recent years he has done well and we do not consider him on the market.”
An interesting rebuttal to the widespread rumours that the club are actively looking to offload the 23-year-old to generate pure capital gains and replace him. Instead, it is probably a way of saying ‘we are not looking to sell, unless the right offer arrives’. Put it this way, had Massara confirmed the club’s want rid, his asking price would have plummeted.
For what it’s worth, if it were not a decision weighted heavily on finances, Calabria has shown more than Calabria over the past two seasons and the principle should always be to keep the better player. Capital gains are capital gains though.
“There are many names that are linked to us. Aurier is an excellent player, but at the moment there are no conditions to think about him. He is not a target.”
Again, those who assume this means Milan are completely out of the race for Aurier are being a bit naive. Rather, it is a public message that Spurs ‘at the moment’ (note the phrasing) are asking for too much and therefore he cannot be considered a target.
Do not be surprised to revisit this and realise Massara was essentially using the media appearance as an attempt to pressure Tottenham and haggle.
Other things that were mentioned include the desire to sign Ante Rebic permanently, something which was obvious, and that talks over Hakan Calhanoglu’s renewal will begin next month.
All-in-all it was an interesting preseason briefing from the trio, one that attempts to temper expectations but dangled just enough carrots to make fans dream that some movement could happen late in the market.