AC Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has given some fascinating insight into his vision for the club moving forward and how the strategy has had to adapt.
Maldini gave a long interview to So Foot during which he discussed a number of topics including his past with the club, the present and the plans for the future.
“At no time did I think that the club could die or disappear. Everyone is aware of the difficulties of the last years of the Berlusconi era or related to the change of Chinese ownership in 2017. The Elliott Fund arrived precisely because of these difficulties. And when it became clear that the Elliott Fund could own Milan, I was contacted by Leonardo in the summer of 2018,” he said (via MilanNews).
“Since I stopped playing, we have still managed to win a Scudetto and have participated in the Champions League several times. There has been a very significant generational change since 2009, especially from 2011 to 2012, when the players who were part of this club have interrupted their careers or have left.
“If you do not foresee the future with this generational change, then it is difficult to have sporting results. Those who arrive soon after cannot do well as they should. Perhaps the idea that those who entered could keep Milan aloft, but unfortunately it did not happen. You have to plan and plan constantly.
“Then there was a very expensive transfer campaign, but everything stopped in eighteen months. What makes great a club is undoubtedly stability: management stability, team stability. And I must say that in the last years of Berlusconi’s presidency, and also in the year and a half in which the Chinese owner was in charge of the club, there has not been this stability.”
Maldini has settled into his ‘new’ role as technical director of the club having been appointed into the position in 2019 following a promotion from his existing position.
“I never considered my return mandatory, nor did I ever consider it mandatory that the people who work in the club call me. Simply because I made a career up to 2009, then I lived other things, because my life gave new experiences, sometimes far from football, and therefore it is not as if I saw this experience as necessary,” Maldini added.
“Of course, Milan is and always will be my passion, like football. If one day the possibility existed, I wanted to live it as an actor, I wanted to live it by playing a role, respecting what my past had been within this club. I was called when the club was Chinese-owned, but I didn’t necessarily have in mind to have an operational role within the club.”
Maldini also revealed his belief in Milan’s new strategy – one clearly centred around signing young players but also the right complimentary experienced elements too.
“First of all, when you have less time than Berlusconi’s first presidency could have had, for example, when you don’t have much choice, you have to be creative. In the first year, I was called by Leonardo, and we had a different vision of what the team should be like. The club made important investments in the first year, although when calculating income and expenses, the expense was not excessive for a club like Milan.
“Leo, out of economic necessity – Milan lost and continued to lose more than one hundred million a year – imposed austerity in signings and had planned to bet on young people to have a younger and more competitive team. The team I chose to work with me in all this (Zvonimir Boban and Ricky Massara) had in mind that working for Milan means respecting our history. We cannot build a project that does not have the idea, however small, to be successful in the short term.
“The challenge was therefore to become competitive again and have a financially virtuous club. And I must say that today we have found that balance. Milan has lowered the average age of the players, it is the youngest team in Italy, one of the youngest teams in Europe.
“The road has been drawn. In all this, the experience of those who have played serves not to buy a player just because they are young, but also to be careful to have guides, more experienced players able to lead the youngest. And this is fundamental.”
On Milan’s appeal: “I am very lucky, I am a respected and successful former player. And then I have the opportunity to work for Milan. Believe me: Milan have not qualified for the Champions League for eight years, but when Milan call, players all over the world are starting to dream. Sure, we look to the future, but the past, which we must respect, counts and how. When your name is Milan and you call a player, you are one of the three most successful clubs in the world. always remember it.”
There has been a lot of talk about how the former Rossoneri captain has personally convinced certain players to join through meetings and phone calls.
On the idea of a personal approach, Maldini said: “It is true that it is more difficult for us to bring a player today. Economically we ask the players who come to make sacrifices. The players who come here are there because they really want to be there. These are players who gave up many of the salaries they had before coming here. We have to be creative and we can’t fight with other clubs.
“I’ve always said it: financial fair play has been good for football because there is less debt, but it has widened the gap between the big clubs and those who want to invest and become competitive. We have a turnover that is about a quarter or a fifth of the winning clubs in Europe. Milan have the same income they had in 2000, just to make you understand, since then the world has gone in a different direction.
“To date, Milan cannot afford to have a top player from a financial point of view. When we have been in the Champions League for four or five years in a row then we will be able to make other financial sacrifices.”
Maldini gave an explosive interview all the way back in 2014 when he famously declared ‘They destroyed my Milan’. Reflecting on that, he said: : “Many times the title of an interview doesn’t exactly match what you say, and that’s what I like least about the title. Because you remember what? The title, when there were other concepts in this interview.
“At the time he was still the Berlusconi presidency, but we were moving towards a different idea from what we have done in the last twenty years. There were two CEOs (Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi) and it didn’t work. But if I have to talk about the Berlusconi presidency or Galliani, I can only congratulate them, because they have built a club that has been envied by everyone.
“Then, seen from the outside – and it’s funny that I am considered outside the world of Milan – I wouldn’t say the same thing today, because my vision is obviously different from what it was ten years ago.”
On the history of Milan: “One of the things that helps the project, the players and those who work within the project is to tell the truth. And the truth is clear: it has been eight years since we played the last Champions League. We have to take note. If we had said: this year we will win everything, if we said every year that we want to win everything, it would be a mistake.
“If the plan is to try to shorten the time to rebuild a club like this, and be competitive in two years, people understand. There is more understanding towards the players, they need time. A year ago we were tenths, basically, and we were seen as a losing team.
“Anyone who knows football knows, however, that there were already signs very positive. Obviously it takes time. If you change strategy every year, it becomes difficult, because you put pressure on the players in particular, and it’s more complicated.
“The players are already under pressure, they know that this shirt, this story, San Siro, the people , they put pressure on you. If you give a more precise idea of the times and where you want to go, this can only help.
“So we can’t even imagine what the next transfer window will look like. This thing is scary. We started with the idea of a virtuous project, so we’re still trying to cut costs, we started this before the pandemic, so we were, in a sense, better prepared than others.”
On Milan’s return to the top: “It’s hard to say what’s missing. When management is stable, the objectives are shared, everyone is on the same line and there is a certain stability in building the team, with a path, I think it’s more easy to confirm. Given that we have a young team, our young players are probably destined to improve compared to the older ones. The fact that the squad is so young makes us think that these players will improve over the years.”
On what satisfies him the most: “A football team thrives on results. The results help you to be respected, to wake up well, to feel good. But what has brought me the most in my career are human relationships. Honestly being able to being respected in another role and having done a good job is something that gives satisfaction. ”
On the 5-0 against Atalanta: “You never know what to do or not to do in these times. We spoke clearly with the team. I don’t know if the results that came later came thanks to the words we used that day, but in these moments, I think we shouldn’t distinguish between us and them. We have to be united. We clearly had to protect ourselves and try to find the problems, to avoid having a season in that direction, and it allowed a player like Zlatan to arrive.”
There have been many reports over the last few days suggesting that Maldini is willing to give Ibrahimovic a new deal and that the striker wants to stay.
“The truth is that the club is above every player because the players pass and the club remains. There are players who leave a different mark from the others and Zlatan is one of them. He is a motivator, he is a character in and of itself that may seem complicated to deal with, but for those who manage to draw all its qualities, it is a huge asset. The club is above every player, and this applies to everyone, because it comes from how we think about our job as a leader. This speech will always be relevant.”