AC Milan, RedBird and the ‘Moneyball’ approach: potential success or feeder club status?

By Lorenzo Raffaini -

A lot has changed at AC Milan over the last week or so, from the goodbye of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to the sacking of Paolo Maldini. In short, RedBird’s project has fully emerged, but is it the right one for the club?

“Football clubs who primarily think of doing business ahead of sporting achievements and spirit are destined to fail. Patronage no longer has the meaning of before, but profiteering is negative,” are the words of ex-Milan legendary manager and player, Carlo Ancelotti, who knows a thing or two about what makes a club successful in every aspect of football.

On the face of it, these comments could be seen as a jibe against RedBird and Gerry’s manner of dismissing Maldini – which they definitely are, a fellow colleague and most importantly friend – defending his close compatriot. However, looking closer, there is something really deep in what Ancelotti is suggesting and RedBird must be careful with their new ‘Moneyball’ approach moving forward.

AC Milan has the status certainly as one of Italy’s most storied football clubs but also one of the world’s most successful. However, the club has experienced a significant shift in direction since the arrival of RedBird Capital Partners as the new owner, led by Gerry Cardinale. The decision to remove the legendary Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara as the technical and sporting directors came as a shock to many.

This move was primarily attributed to Red Bird’s inclination towards a ‘moneyball’ approach, which prioritises investments in young players with potential over expensive, more experienced individuals. In this article, we will delve into the details of this new approach, drawing comparisons to clubs like Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, who have embraced similar strategies to varying degrees of success.

The Moneyball approach at AC Milan

Under the stewardship of Gerry Cardinale, RedBird Capital Partners aims to implement a ‘moneyball’ approach at AC Milan. This methodology, inspired by the famous concept applied in baseball by Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane, emphasises statistical analysis and cost-effective recruitment strategies. The focus is on identifying undervalued players with potential, especially young talents who can be developed into top-class performers.

By favouring a ‘moneyball’ approach, RedBird aims to optimise resource allocation and establish a sustainable model for long-term success. This strategy prioritises building a strong youth academy and scouting network, fostering a culture of player development and providing opportunities for young talents to thrive.

There are positives here that the ‘moneyball’ approach will most definitely seek to implement, such as new facilities, a focus on science-led improvement on a macro level – things that Milan could have been argued to be quite far behind. However, the positives definitely do not extend to many more, at least right now.

Comparison to Ajax and Borussia Dortmund

Ajax and Borussia Dortmund are two clubs that have successfully implemented variations of the ‘moneyball’ approach in recent years. Both teams have emphasised youth development and made significant profits through player sales while maintaining competitive performances.

Ajax, renowned for their illustrious history, have managed to sustain their success despite operating in a more financially challenging environment compared to Europe’s elite clubs. The club’s ability to develop exceptional talents through their renowned youth academy has become a hallmark of their identity. While Ajax faces the challenge of losing key players to bigger clubs, their ability to replenish their squad with emerging stars has kept them competitive domestically and in European competitions.

Similarly, Borussia Dortmund has thrived by adopting a similar model. The club’s success in nurturing young talents and selling them at substantial profits, such as Ousmane Dembélé and Jadon Sancho (and Erling Haaland to some extent), has allowed them to reinvest in new prospects and remain a force in German football. Dortmund’s shrewd transfer business and focus on youth development have helped them maintain their position among the top clubs in Germany.

It must be noted, however, that both these aforementioned clubs although from time to time (less so in the case of Ajax due to the less competitive Eredivisie) do challenge for major trophies, both of these clubs are reduced to domestic cup competitions and a quarter-final of the champions league as their season’s highlight – rather than having genuine aspirations of lifting the biggest titles they can, e.g. a league title of champions league. Why this is significant is because 30/40 years ago both of these teams would have been doing exactly that, challenging for the biggest trophies as both of these clubs have won numerous times in their history.

From a modern perspective, it is rather telling that people think of Ajax and Dortmund as a level below the likes of say Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Manchester City which are teams where a genuine shot at lifting the biggest trophies is a pre-requisite, not a pipe dream. Ajax and Dortmund used to be like that – however, due to the change in football both of these clubs had to change their approaches and long implemented analytical led ‘moneyball’ type approaches that means they are profitable and successful (to a degree) but are now very clearly feeder clubs for teams that are genuinely able to challenge for club football’s biggest prizes.

In the context of Milan – this is where the danger lies, in the changed perception over time from a once majestic club that is feared to a club potentially still respected, but not for winning trophies, but more for producing talent that is then sold for high prices to teams that win the biggest prizes with players they developed.

Potential risks for AC Milan

While the ‘moneyball’ approach has its merits, there are potential risks for AC Milan if they focus too heavily on investing in young players and disregard the pursuit of immediate success. The club’s glorious past, marked by numerous domestic and European triumphs, could be overshadowed if they become a premium feeder club for wealthier teams.

To avoid this fate, AC Milan must strike a balance between developing young talents and supplementing the squad with established, high-quality players. Experience and leadership are invaluable assets that can provide stability and mentorship to emerging talents. Additionally, investing in proven performers can enhance the team’s competitiveness and increase the likelihood of winning major trophies.


AC Milan’s transition under the ownership of RedBird Capital Partners, spearheaded by Gerry Cardinale, marks a significant departure from the club’s traditional approach. The ‘moneyball’ strategy, prioritizing investments in young players with potential, carries both promise and potential pitfalls.

Drawing comparisons to successful clubs like Ajax and Borussia Dortmund, it is evident that a focus on youth development and cost-effective recruitment can yield positive results. However, AC Milan must be cautious not to overlook the importance of experience and proven talent. Striking the right balance will be crucial in their pursuit of success while retaining their status as a European football powerhouse.

The jury is still out of course on what this summer transfer window will bring – and there is still optimism and hope that this could be a significant turning point for Milan. But, until shown otherwise and from the murmurings heard so far from Gerry and Furlani, the hope could be quickly fading. They certainly have a summer to prove us wrong – and prove us wrong they must!

In this era of increasingly inflated transfer fees and financial dominance, AC Milan’s new approach could position them as a club that thrives by nurturing and selling emerging talents. However, it is imperative for the club’s future to find the equilibrium between developing young players and investing in established stars, maintaining their competitive edge and ensuring their place among Europe’s elite clubs.

Tags AC Milan Gerry Cardinale RedBird


  1. Very good summary of the concerns and expectations that we’re debating about in the comment section for over a week, thank you Lorenzo.

    Now Maldini is gone anyway, we won’t rewrite history, so we can just hope for the best. Let’s not become just a feeder club and continue our march toward success. Greatness awaits, again!

    1. Don’t worry, the management said they want to protect our best players (Maignan, Theo, Tonali, and Leao). Feeder clubs like Ajax or Dortmund or inter sell their best players regularly

      1. Inter isn’t a feeder club lol, they just have a horrible owner. It’s not like they buy young players and don’t want to win

  2. ‘To avoid this fate, AC Milan must strike a balance between developing young talents and supplementing the squad with established, high-quality players.’

    Maldini have been saying the same thing since the 2021/2022 season. And look where he’s now. So it only means that the owner won’t take this direction.

    1. Apparently the non-champions league winning owners don’t think that’s the strategy moving forward smh
      Like Ferguson used to tell Arsene, “you can win with only kids”

    2. All I am gonna say “supplementing the squad with established, high-quality players”
      Reality= Arnautović or Morata

  3. We had this approach more or less with Bennacer Theo Leao Kalulu etc and they’re still all at the club so not sure why it’s either “nurture and sell” or “spend big on big names.” Maldini (if he was the brains behind it) did well to balance the squad with Ibra Giroud and Kajeer and so surely the current management know this is what’s needed. No need to panic yet if you ask me.

    1. Ibra is an exceptional case, if he never played here first and wasn’t in the MLS, he would have never came back to us. He is a level of player we cannot attract with these policies

    2. We did that because we needed to build a foundation. Now at this level we have reached in the past 2 years it was time to strengthen and buying stong players not only ones with potential.

  4. Ajax ok, but they are in a weaker league so they can do that and they are the most popular team in Holland so they can attract players from all the clubs in the league + rest of the world.

    But how is Dortmund doing that? They are literally buying kids from youth teams for 20-40M and that is the strategy. They paid 20M for Sancho, he was 17. Milan will pay 20M for a kid? Hahahaha. Bellingham 30M, 16 years old. It seems like Milan wouldn’t pay 35M for an already established player, let alone close to that for kids. Useless comparisons, honestly, the rest of the article makes some sense…

    1. Andre silva 40m euro , piatek 35m euro , paqueta 35m euro , CDK 35m euro . Maybe they all already 30-40 years when AcM signing them . Can we even sell player with high price ? No . We can only let them go free transfer. Who the director let the player go free transfer ? Must be fassone,mirabelli,leonardo,furlani,moncada. I forget who did that

      1. All those players could have done better if they didn’t fire Gattuso. All those players could be better than options we currently have on our team. Silva over Salad and Messias combined. Piatek over Origi, Lazetic and the Manzukic. Id keep Paqueta over giving Brahim and Madrid three years of playing time to end up with nothing and give CDK more playing time to not crush his confidence. That costs and is worth more than the transfer fee we paid or money lost selling him for the prcie we did.

      2. Silva 22
        Piatek 23
        Paqueta 21
        CdK 21

        So much different when you splash 30 mil for 16 years kid. And more importantly, we sold all of ’em because they didn’t perform. Not like Dortmund.

        1. Yes, and Dortmund did not get rid of one single player after 1 season. Can you tell me which of this players wasn’t sold within a year? I know, CDK, wait and see.

      3. Reccaman, 3 out of those 4 players were signed before Maldini. Only CDK. You have no clue what are you talking about. You didn’t forget, you just don’t know anything. Stop acting smart.

  5. I don’t understand this insistence of comparing Milan and their strategy with the likes of Borussia Dortmund and Ajax.
    Those clubs have always been feeder clubs.
    Ajax can’t keep players there because of the weak quality of their league.
    But what player has Milan sold for profit and where do we get this narrative that they will sell?
    Elliott didn’t sell players when they were trying to lower the debt of the club but supposedly now RedBird/Elliott will sell players 🤔.
    Their strategy is to find young talents and grow them into champions instead of paying inflated prices for them.
    Look at the example of Kvara. All the big clubs could have signed him for 10 mil but they were chasing players like Antony or Raphina and paid enormous sums to sign them.
    Few months later big clubs are ready to pay up to 100 mil for Kvara.
    Enzo Fernandez. Bought for 10 mil, sold 5 months later for 121 million.
    If the big clubs were paying attention on the young up and coming players and give them chance to play they would save themselves a lot of money.
    Milan is just trying to cut out the middle man and go straight to the source and grow their own champions.
    You can’t alway buy your way to trophies. Prime example is PSG.
    ManCity just won their first UCL after 15 years of spending heavily.
    Chelsea was closer to relegation after spending half a billion than making top 4.
    Give the new management and ownership a chance

    1. What I don’t understand is that everyone always writes that it took City 15 years to win CL. And no one mentions they won the Premier League 7 times in that period. And 5 came in the last 6 years. That is a strong competition, and they won because they got a great coach and the players he wanted.
      Also “Prime example is PSG”. What? They are winning trophies every year, they literally bought their way into trophies. They were not really winning them prior to that. What are you talking about? 😀

      1. Check how much money the rest of the EPL clubs spend in comparison with ManCity.
        They are not far behind and some spent even more than ManCity.
        United has spent more than 300 mil than them since 2016 and hav won jack during that period

      2. Didn’t PSG, with all that money spent and with Mbappe-Neymar in the squad still lost the title in 2021 to a Lille team that had mostly young players bought for very little money.
        Mbappe and Neymar combined were brought for about 400 mil and lost the title to a Lille team who probably hasn’t spent that much combined in the last 40 years

        1. Isn’t PSG valued at 4.2 billion euros? Why do you think they are valued like that? Because they signed players like Messi, Neymar etc and increased their brand value or something else? explain please.

        2. Ya and lightning strikes once and a blue moon – like Leicester City – lol but doesn’t happen often. Consistency is the point my friend. Think you missed that point. It doesn’t work long term. Need mix of vets and youth. Anyone who knows anything about sports will tell you that.

    2. Some say here that Maldini was fired because he didn’t sell players. Don’t know if it’s true, but since Jerry doesn’t want to spend money and the front staff said that every player is sellable (albeit four “protected” players that could be sold for the right price), it seems relevant.

      And the example of Kvara is one from a club that won its first scudetto in over 30 years. Same with Enzo Fernandez, Benfica can win in a championship with only three competitive teams, but they won’t win UCL any time soon. I actually fear that we could become Borussia Dortmund, I see on social media people ecstatic because they bought Dembelé-Haaland-Bellingham for about 100M and resell for more than 300M. What are they doing with all that money? Still purchasing young players to develop. Do we want to just rejoice for big sales or do we want to win on a regular basis?

      1. What player has been sold by Milan?
        Give us examples, not imaginary fears.
        No big player has been sold and they are not trying to sell any important players.
        When it comes to the “For the right price everyone is sellable”, tell me is there a player in todays football that is not sellable?
        Who is it?
        Everyone is sellable for the right price at any club.
        But Milan isn’t going out there pimping out their players for the highest bidder. If an inappropriate offer comes in for a player of course they should consider it. But they are not actively trying to sell any of the important players

        1. Yeah it’s imaginary fears until it becomes concrete. Hopefully not but that’s not the signals we got from Casa Milan. Did you read the article? It says a lot about the strategy we’re following now. Actually, Lorenzo balances it with the fact that Milan should buy veterans to flank the youngsters. It seems like it’s what Maldini was looking for and it seems like Jerry didn’t agree much.

          Manchester City wouldn’ sell De Bruyne or Haaland, unless the players ask to leave. Same for Real Madrid with Vinicius or Rodrygo or Valverde. PSG would never sell Mbappé if he doesn’t want to leave. And I will stop here, but most big clubs don’t sell their best players. They want to win, they don’t want to transform into a supermarket.

          Of course Milan is not sending an email to all Europeans clubs saying “do you want to buy my guys?” That’s the basics of business, you devalue the asset if you put it on the market.

          1. “Manchester City wouldn’ sell De Bruyne or Haaland, unless the players ask to leave.”
            How do you know they wouldn’t sell them? Didn’t ManCity sell Gabriel Jesus, Sterling and Zinchenko to their rivals to raise money to buy Haaland and Julian Alvarez?
            Also, you said “If they don’t ask to leave”. Which means you can’t sell a player if he doesn’t wanna leave. Wasn’t that one of the excuses people were using to defend Maldini for losing those 4 players for free?
            So if a team comes and make Milan a stupid offer for a player , that team usually has the green light from the player to come and offer that.
            Milan isn’t trying to sell anyone, nor any of our important players are asking to leave.

  6. Don’t ever compare German clubs sustainability models to Italy’s. For one, Germany has a top down system that forces teams to hire professional coaches at all levels of youth acedemies. It is an obligation. They also have a minimum amount of playing time that needs to be allocated to domestic players on their rosters. Which means they have an even playing field in terms of using young inexperienced players because everyone in their entire football system has to do so. Their players are more experienced at professional levels and therefore, the supply of local domestic players is higher. They don’t need to pay as much to acquire then since they can also scout domestically and secure these players at younger ages when their market values are lower. Thus promising players are at the disposal of the clubs with a gap in resources with the lower tier ones developing them prior to being eligible to professional contracts.

    That approach works there because the context is completely different.

    Use the full picture before doing those comparisons please. We don’t have the same quality of talent pools domestically in oir Italian system to be able to reliably turn to our Italian youth players. In Germany a 21 year old with have professional experience and data we can use to analyze their capacities and potential. Italy not so much.

    1. Playing youth players in Germany and scouting them= less of a competitive disadvantage and also a higher total talent pool of more proven playets to choose from vs doing so in Italy.

  7. Lovely take….glad Lorenzo getting some space.
    I just want to add the history of the club might have a detrimental effect on the “Moneyball” approach. Can we actually farm talents on a consistent basis? This is a heavy shirt, and is usually better suited for “final products” rather than the up and comers or unknown quantity for that matter. Imagine playing at the San Siro with the set of expectations each year being sky high and trying to develop? This isn’t Atalanta where mistakes like Vranckx vs Roma can be swept under the rug.
    The reason why the current crop is doing so well is because of the disastrous state Milan was in prior. They were able to develop, there was no pressure on them. Now that we’ve come out of that cycle were now expected to win and compete for trophies as is in line with our history.

    1. Very good point. We are now playing at a level that prevents the youngsters to get enough playing time. Theo was criticized for his poor defensive skills. Leao was so frustrating, only showing flashes of talent. Same with Bennacer, Tonali. It requires patience, patience that you can’t afford when you’re competing for trophies.

      I guess Vranckx and Adli could have turned into prime starters if they were older and already in the roster when Maldini, Pioli, etc. took over. We’ll never know.

      1. The issue isn’t that we should be competing for trophies, everyone knew we were longshots to do so even domestically. We only got in the conversation because Juventus dropped the ball by signing Ronaldo, had no contingency for their defense past Bonucci and Chiellini. They only got that spot because we gave it up in the first place. Inter spent like drunk sailors too. They sell Martinez etc, they have 150 to reinvest and still can be covered because their depth is so far ahead of ours. We can’t even qualify for the CL with these budgets and wage operating ceilings.

        This comparison completely neglects the fact that Germany has a 20 year old system that forces all clubs to use youth players, the B teams play in pro leagues, with pro coaches at all youth levels throughout the system, government funded infrastructure for stadiums, with academies and club facilities, giving free money to clubs so they can be sustainable off their own operations. In Italy, government makes it impossible to reinvest in the club’s infrastructure, stadium, training grounds etc.

        Ajax is in a one horse race perennially, with all the other clubs 10x broker than them other than PSV maybe another team here or there that sell a player.

        Serie A’s domestic competition for CL spots is way tougher. The Bundesliga is always Bayern Munich, maybe Dortmund then the rest feeding them. The moneyball approach is not even relevant with these two clubs because even with all the help they get, they still suck and we expect to do bettee without the context around us to help? It is a delusional proposition. The thing is if you do a youth project, the rest of your peers need to follow along, or else it is suicide.

        1. Interesting 🤔..that I didn’t know about Germany in terms of contractual time for playing (I think u mentioned to that in another comment). I think they way even the Prem is set up they play reserves in competitive leagues and even in championship II.
          I think the Moneyball word is getting thrown around too loosely I agree because I worked on a similar approach many moons back

  8. Italian football has nothing to do with USA business.
    If we don’t understand and align with this, all the words are useless. Including moneyball. Which is an obvious nonsense.

  9. The Arsenal of Serie A.
    The Dortmund of Serie A.
    The Lyon of Serie A.
    The Anderlecht of Serie A.
    The Feyenoord of Serie A.
    The Rennes of Serie A.
    The Southampton of Serie A.
    The Partizan Belgrade of Serie A.
    The Santos of Serie A.
    The Dinamo Zagreb of Serie A.
    The Sao Paulo of Serie A.
    The Ajax of Serie A.
    The Sporting Lisbon of Serie A.

    AC Million of Serie A.

      1. Atleast none of the clubs, he has mentioned sells their players to survive economically.. It’s their business model!

  10. One thing I say, how many champions league have won these two teams in the last 20 years???????? The problem with Maldini, was that Maldini wanted to keep Milan’s DNA in europe by being competitive and investing in young and expert players to have a good mix that a team have a bog chance to won the CL, & Cardinale wants to change Milan’s DNA and make Milan like Ajax a factory of young players to prepare them for the big clubs…….

  11. redbird’s real goal is just to sell AC Milan again at a higher price than what they bought it for.
    they want to build a new stadium not only because they want to increase their revenue, but so that the selling price of this club is high.
    and they want the club’s operating costs to be as minimal as possible until the new stadium is completed.
    they are never looking for glory for Milan.

    for those who say oil money is worse than investment fund money, are you sure investment fund money is cleaner than oil money?
    we don’t know who invest the money to them, it could be from arms smugglers, druglords, human trafficking money, or people who want to laundry their money, who knows?

    some people in here also said this is AC MILAN not AC Maldini, well this isn’t Redbird FC either.

    also two weeks after the sacking of Maldini & Massara, there was not a single news on Milan’s official social media platforms (twitter, instagram, facebook).
    what are they afraid of?

    compared to the duo furlani-scaroni who are always talking about the club’s intentions for this and that, i really appreciate Maldini & Massara still haven’t said a single word to the media about their sacking, even though they could have immediately expressed their dissatisfaction like many people do.
    maybe they both want this bad atmosphere to subside and don’t want Milan fans to be divided, especially don’t want the players to be confused (yes, they are professionals, but they also have feelings, it’s called human).

    i think, not a single player, be it an ordinary player or a famous player (which also professionals) who came to Milan later said, “you can’t refuse furlani’s invitation to play at Milan.” or “if moncada asked you to join you would say yes.” like what Theo & Maignan said about Maldini.

    i agree that no single player is bigger than the club, but my loyalty is only to the club, not the club owner/management.
    players come and go, and so do owners/management.

    1. Excellent, spot on. Couldn’t agree more on every point.
      “players come and go, and so do owners/management”
      It’s crazy that some people here don’t see that especially this management will go way sooner than they think.

    2. “also two weeks after the sacking of Maldini & Massara, there was not a single news on Milan’s official social media platforms (twitter, instagram, facebook).
      what are they afraid of?”

      FFS, there is nothing to say! The mercato hasn’t started, the season is over. Should they start announcing rumors?

          1. i didn’t said anything about AC Milan app either, i’m saying about AC Milan official social media platform (twitter, intagram, facebook) where other Milan fans /followers can also sharing their opinions.

            so what Milan’s management is afraid of?

  12. Moneyball does a great job of identifying superior athletes for discounted prices. However, it seems to do a very poor job of identifying intelligence, awareness, creativity, or speed of decision making. Without being strong in those mental attributes, a great pure athlete is useless in this sport. If we’re going to live or die based on Moneyball, it has to be adjusted to measure these mental attributes and I’m not sure a bunch of baseball guys are the ones to do it.

    1. If Milan were to rely 100% on Moneyball, wouldn’t they have sacked Moncada already? He’s the one making the final decision and “identifying intelligence, awareness, creativity, or speed of decision making”.

  13. We had a good mix of upcoming talent and experience and that’s what got us Scudetto. Now I won’t say it’s because of Ibra effect but it is. Before he came this bunch was talented but completely lost. Now Ibra is gone and we need someone to command our line again. There are still Giroud and Kjaer while I see Maignan among senators as well. But we need to add more here. Someone who won something. Someone like Gundogan for example. You cannot win with only kids. If winning is still on agenda of course…

  14. I think the moneyball approach is simply necessary in this day and age. What will determine success is to not oversell and to have enough experience in the squad.

    Moncada is gold for this approach we seriously need a charismatic negotiator and mental pillar in the structure.

  15. It’s not like Ajax & Dortmund suddenly decided “Hey! Let’s swap the trophies for making profit by buying young & cheap and sell them for big bucks instead!”. It’s the market and tv-rights etc that FORCED them there.

    Running a football club with continuous losses year after year isn’t sustainable and it would end horribly – eventually. And you don’t even need a business degree to figure that out.

    1. – Running a football club with continuous losses year after year isn’t sustainable and it would end horribly – eventually. And you don’t even need a business degree to figure that out. –

      then why buying a football club in the first place???

    2. Well 98-99% of clubs run at a LOSS – and they are still in business. So Ya there’s that.

      This is from 2019-2021:

      Most Profitable European Football Clubs [Top 10]
      European Club Net Profit (2019-2021)
      Chelsea £33 million
      Napoli £30 million
      Liverpool. £29 million
      Atalanta £26 million
      Ajax £20 million
      Newcastle £14 million
      Villarreal £12 million
      AZ Alkmaar £8 million
      RB Leipzig £4 million
      Norwich City. £3 million

      Only four clubs in Europe are DEBT FREE: Paris Saint Germain, Manchester City, Leicester City, and Chelsea for 2022. Next season Chelsea will be out of that list most likely.

      Being “DEBT FREE” is a myth and doesn’t stop clubs from operating a successful club. Some make profit but still have DEBT. This is business 101

      1. There’s a difference in “having a few million debt” and “having a 375M€ debt that needs to be paid in 12 months or the owner changes”. Or having 1Bn€ debt like certain Catalonian club.

  16. Mr. Di Milan (Maldini) and most of us fans want a competitive team.
    Jerry and his bootlickers wants money.

    This is not ending well.

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