The pitch vs. the accounts: Milan’s balancing act between sustainability and success

By Lorenzo Raffaini -

AC Milan could have said to have experienced a renaissance in recent years, both in terms of their financial stability and on-field success.

However, there is an interesting juxtaposition between Milan’s improved accounts and financial status and its current sporting achievements, especially when comparing it to the approach of their cross-city rivals Inter.

Despite Milan’s recent exit from the Champions League Semi-final at the hands of the Nerazzurri only a couple of days ago, the two clubs showcase contrasting business models. 

Milan have prioritised sustainable growth and a youth-led project, while Inter have focused on immediate success with older, more experienced players. The involvement of Elliott Management and RedBird Capital has been key to that vision.

What we are now left to do is ponder the club’s future as it strives to strike a balance between economic prudence and capitalising on its recent momentum.

The turnaround begins

Milan’s financial troubles in the past have been well-documented, with the club struggling to compete on the domestic and European stage while grappling with mounting debts.

However, the club’s fortunes began to change when American hedge fund Elliott Management assumed control in 2018. Under their stewardship, the Diavolo implemented a more sustainable business model, focusing on reducing costs, restructuring debt, and investing in infrastructure.

Elliott’s astute financial management laid the foundation for further growth, attracting investment from RedBird Capital in 2020. This collaboration injected fresh capital and expertise into Milan, allowing the club to strengthen its financial standing and focus on long-term sustainability.

In fact, the financial work has been largely the best success Milan has experienced reversing the damage Chinese ownership famously imparted and there are now clear signs of recovery. Milan went from the deep red of €-194.6m to €-96.4m in the last financial year ending June 2021. Inter, by contrast, have increased their losses to €-245m.

The Rossoneri have also seen an increase in sponsorship revenues, a big issue for Milan pre-Elliott, with revenues now at €53.9m compared to €36.6m in 2019-20.

Lastly, it is believed that for the first time in a very long time Milan should post an operating profit next financial year, something that none of the ‘big six’ in Italy can boast and not even many other clubs in Europe – Premier League included – can say.

Of course, this tells only half the story and legacy is built largely on the pitch not in the boardroom, even though both are needed for a club like Milan to truly return to the top of world football once again.

Contrasting approaches 

While Milan’s financial situation has markedly improved, the club also witnessed a resurgence in its on-field performance. The team displayed significant progress, particularly during the 2020-21 season, when they finished second in Serie A, securing Champions League qualification after an eight-year absence.

Whilst the first return back in the Champions League, now referencing the 2021-22 season, Milan’s UCL run was cut very short, failing to progress out of what was dubbed ‘the group of death’ featuring Liverpool, Porto and Atletico Madrid.

It was really the end of the season – where we saw Pioli and his players lift the Scudetto – that truly marked any tangible success for the club, success that has been a long time coming for both the club and especially the fans. That title win then presented the litmus test of what Elliott’s and now RedBird Capital’s project was all about. 

However, it can be fiercely argued that the difference between Milan and Inter sporting achievements in the last four years is stark. Inter clinched the Serie A title in the 2020-21 season prior to Milan lifting it, and therefore already had matched Milan’s more recent league success and only major trophy in 11 years.

What makes it even clearer that their ‘immediate success’ model has worked out better, is they already have a Coppa Italia win (a trophy Milan have not lifted since 2003), two Supercoppa and have now emerged victorious over Milan in the Champions League semi-final.

This means they not only have multiple trophies to their name but they have also had better cup runs, have a Champions League final appearance and another shot at winning the Coppa Italia this season, with the Nerazzurri waiting to play Fiorentina in the final.

Inter’s success can be attributed, in part, to their business model, which prioritises immediate results and features experienced players who bring stability and a winning mentality to the squad.

Even if their model is not a beacon of long-term sustainability and they are in financial difficulties due to having bonds to repay, they have executed their footballing plan much better than Milan and have the ultimately have the silverware to prove it.

The red side of Milan, on the other hand, embarked on a youth-led project, nurturing talented prospects such as Theo Hernandez, Sandro Tonali and Rafael Leao to name but a few.

The Rossoneri even doubled down on this opposite approach to their city rivals as they let players like Franck Kessié, SAlessio Romagnoli and of course Hakan Calhanoglu leave, who were all experienced players similar to the sort Inter would (and in the case of Calhanoglu did) employ. 

Milan’s approach is aimed to build a sustainable foundation for long-term success, both on and off the pitch. The club’s investment in the youth academy and emphasis on developing homegrown talent reflect a commitment to a more organic and cost-effective strategy.

This is to be commended, especially given that before Milan lifted the league title it was seen as nothing more than a pipe dream. It could be argued that because of the big club status and speed at which a major trophy was acquired, the fans previously realistic expectations of the project has been damaged. 

The dilemma

Despite the progress made under Elliott Management and RedBird Capital, Milan faces a critical juncture as it seeks to strike a delicate balance between financial prudence and capitalising on recent momentum.

The club’s failure to build upon their strong showing last season raises questions about the timing and extent to which the Rossoneri should push the boat out.

While it is crucial to maintain sustainable spending and avoid the financial pitfalls of the past, there comes a point where additional investment may be necessary to bolster the squad and compete with Europe’s elite.

The allowance of key players to leave and not recouping any useable funds from the likes of Donnarumma and Çalhanoğlu, in order to balance the books, sparked concerns among fans about the club’s ambition and ability to challenge for major trophies.

The club must now navigate this delicate situation, ensuring that economic health continues while selectively investing in proven talent to reinforce the squad. Striking the right balance is hard, but it is achievable.

The future

Milan’s improved financial accounts and stability – underpinned by the involvement of Elliott Management and RedBird Capital – have laid a solid foundation for the club’s future.

The project has shown promise, and the team’s return to the Champions League provided a taste of what lies ahead. However, the recent exit from the competition at the hands of Inter highlights the contrasting approaches between the two Milanese clubs.

The Rossoneri now face the challenge of advancing strategically, building upon its economic growth, and capitalising on its recent progress.

A large question mark has now appeared regarding the project that arguably was not there before. Of course, this is most likely down to specifics such as Pioli’s tactics, World Cup disruption and specific transfer decisions. Regardless of that fact, the buck will always stop with the project identity itself.

In order for the ball to keep rolling, continuous Champions League qualification must be achieved and therefore the focus has to be a top four finish, because otherwise the clear gamble for this year’s Champions League will have backfired.

Milan’s future lies in its ability to strike the right balance between fiscal responsibility and targeted investments to strengthen the squad, ultimately aiming to reclaim their place at the pinnacle of Italian and European football.

Tags AC Milan


  1. Problem is that inter had big luck this year by draw in champions league final rounds. If they had to play and lost against different team than Benfica, for example, next year we would see again outgoing transfers of their best players.
    Still owner have to pay 300 million till June 2024. And from next season all players will be 1 year older. Inter will lose Skriniar and Lukaku, and we will extend Rafa contract.

    So we can see how Milan foundation is on strong legs. Only problem is Champions League . Milan gained a lot of revenue this year from that competition, and that should be somehow balanced, if team does not reach that competition next year. There is also possibility to sell, especially players who didn’t played well this season. And in arrival transfer, management must look better to put replacements.

    It is excellent news to see how they implement strategic of very young players to use in play, but not all players should be very young. Some kind of mixture is necessary, because Serie A is now stronger league by year.

    1. Yes, I think going deep in this year’s CL will soften the blow of not playing in next year’s edition, but all effort must be made to finish at least top 4 next season. It would be a massive problem not qualifying two years in a row. Striker, right wing and central mid MUST be reinforced. Save money by promoting Bozzolan and Chaka Traore to be the backups for Theo and Leao, respectively. Spend 90m like they did two summers ago on the three above positions. Sell Rebic, Toure, Origi (if possible), Messias, let Diaz, Vranckx and Bakayoko’s loans end, and if there are opportunity pickups in free agency like Kamada and maybe a veteran CB for a little more depth then take them without nickel and diming in salary negotiations.

  2. Cardinale should deffently invest more money in this coming summer market but when that is said inter has massive loans in the vicinity of 250-300 mil euros loans that will have to be paid next summer or chang will have the club taken away from him just as Li Yonghong experienced with elliot mangaement,
    This basically means that they will have to sell several of their marquee players where they can get a large chunk of cash in return and they really doesnt have that many players of great value so that would mean players like martinez, barella and bastoni could soon be leaving them.
    They will also have to replace skriniar and potentially aquirre lukako and still make other moves in the market.
    I dont envy inter at all because soon they will find themselves in a heap of trouble both on field and off field.

    1. I think Lukaku will stay in Chelsea. Chelsea is in big problem, have strong league and they would be sane to leave him Inter for low price.

      Still I think we will se some outgoing transfer from Inter next year. Onana, Brozovic, Dumfries are names that written frequently for departure.

      1. It certainluy would be in Chelsea interest to recuperate as much cash as possible for lukako but im not that sure they will suceed in that aspect because he has a high salary and i dont see many top clubs with the means to do that will come calling.

        Onana might be an option but its not like his valuation is sky high and they propably can only fetch 35-40 mil as things stands and dont think the other players mentioned would offer much more per player either so they would still be forced to sell more expenssive players or take up new loans to pay the excisting ones and that isnt really good either.

        1. Well it will be interesting next season. I hope our players will become much stronger in duels against Inter next year

  3. Uh oh. Maldini is in the pic for this article. You know WHO is about to comment 😂

    All jokes aside, this was a nice read. I also agree that with the trophy, fan’s expectations got warped. They expected way more than what the team really can compete for. Juve, Inter, Roma have definitively better squads than us, Lazio and Napoli arguably as well. Yet, it seems were simply expected to make top 4 automatically.

    Also I like the fact that was pointed out here as I mentioned in my previous posts. Maldini.had mentioned to the owners that they can seize the opportunity and fast track growth by adding quality proven players now kinda like what Inter is doing. But Inter’s trophies come at a cost, of being 200+m in the hole. It’s the cost of success.
    As I’ve said before, rarely can you achieve attractive football, financial stability and sporting success. Usually only two for those three are achieved.

    1. Well bundesliga. Is example where success is combined with financial positivity. They have very good league and their team always play good football in Europe as well.

      1. As a league, I agree Bundesliga is very well structured. But as a club, Bayern is one of those few clubs that can achieve all three, though they shot themselves in the foot by firing coach mid season before a UCL knock out 🤦‍♂️. But you can’t that for many other teams in the Bundesliga. Really it’s just Bayern winning the trophies and scraps from time to time with Dortumung here and there

  4. chelsea invests in the transfer market around 300 million and is only at the bottom of the standings, compared to milan who only invested 50 million, made it to the semi-finals of the UCL and entered the top 5 of the top 4 if you can…

    1. Dont get me wrong 300 mil would still be an insane ammount to spend but not even close to the astronomical sum they spend in the 2022/23 season, this is the actual number £540.53m

      They are under investigation by the way which they fully deserves to be

  5. Good to see some positives at least off the field. I think we will be ok in the long run. BUT we literally can’t afford to keep Pioli or have another terrible transfer window. Unless Juve gets a new point deduction, we are not going to be in the CL and that will cost us a lot of money and prestige, i.e. we will struggle to sign established players. And if we end up in the EL we need to win it, that would make up for some of this season’s failures.

  6. Milan been doing a great job.. this season has not gone as planed but thats life.. overall since murcans took over its been good. Got some wc players the last wc players we had were probably Thiago Silva and Ibra 100 years ago..
    if we do end up in el Milan should play to win it next season, none of that second hand approach like last time…

  7. Both projects have risks involved but Inter’s has way more.

    Elliott’s main objective was to recoup their money back and get a decent profit on top of that. Every single initiative was geared towards doing just that, and they succeeded. Winning the title gave them the perfect opportunity to sell, because it would ensure that they got that profit they needed and they wouldn’t have to be the ones responsible for the necessary investments that came with winning a title. Everyone that was involved knew that large investments were needed in order to capitalize on our upward trajectory but for whatever reasons, those investments never came.

    It’s clear that Milan’s project can work but the issue is whether it can be consistent. Young players usually aren’t, so there’s that against us. Then there’s the issue of the experience players being brought in to balance the team and bring a sense of stability and consistency. We definitely didn’t get that this season with Zlatan and Kjaer being injured, and Giroud, who has delivered in some big moments but has never really been a consistent goal scorer or attacking threat. All three of them have been important to the team’s resurgence but it looks like they’ve taken us as far as they can.

    I hope we continue on the path that we’ve chosen because I like our prospects for the future. We have a great core of young players that definitely needs building on. Talents like Traore, Eletu and Cuenca should be brought in from the primavera next season. They’ve shown great promise and deserve an opportunity in the first team. If we’re going to bring in a couple experienced, quality players, then we should say goodbye to Kjaer and Ibra.

    Milan’s main concern is the coach and it’s in that position, that management should be looking to make a serious investment. I’ve yet to see any marked improvements of any of the young players he’s been coaching, except for maybe Theo. His defending has gotten better but that maybe partly due to him being in a traditionally defensive league and Pioli. So yeah, you’ve seen some slight improvement in others but nothing glaringly different, but that’s to be expected because they’re young with lots of potential. In the past three years, their passing hasn’t gotten better, whether it’s a long ball, through ball, short pass or a goddamn cross. Nothing! Set-piece taking has been atrocious throughout, corners, free-kicks, it just doesn’t matter, we almost always look clueless. Maybe I’m looking at it the wrong way; maybe it’s the players who lack the i.q to absorb the complex teachings of the gaffer. Maybe they’re not talented enough to make that next leap. What’s certain though is RedBird have to invest, whether it’s on players, a coach or both.

  8. Guys, relax. Cause in the remaining 3 games, Milan will win it all since we need not to divide between UCL and the league anymore

    Plus Juve will be deducted 9 pts soon and Lazio will choke as usual.

    We will be 3rd or 4th at the end of the season with semifinal UCL’s money, selling all deadweights soon (Origi, Rebic, Ballo, etc)

    Possibly a new coach (De Zerbi or Xabi Alonso) or even Ancelotti’s coming back

    We will see a better Milan next year

  9. We are def headed in the right direction but my biggest concern is Pioli. He’s reached his ceiling but I honestly don’t see him getting fired. Maybe he should be kept another year and with decent players brought in might right the ship, who knows.
    Another concern is RedBird, they have seen what no investment can do and they know where Maldini stands so what are they gonna do? I doubt they will spend anything over 45-50m but if they cheap out again that would cause some serious issues.
    I can see Maldini walking and Massara going to Juve since they really want him.

  10. “The club’s failure to build upon their strong showing last season”

    You all might just be a bit happier if you set realistic expectations. Just sayin’.

    We met/exceeded the goal the management set at the beginning of the season (top 4 and UCL playoffs). A good season that had some bad games.

  11. “ Milan’s future lies in its ability to strike the right balance between fiscal responsibility and targeted investments to strengthen the squad, ultimately aiming to reclaim their place at the pinnacle of Italian and European football.”

    Perfectly said. Now we wait and see what Ownership decides because by not investing in January we risked CL for next season…and possibly beating Inter to get to the finals (where anything can happen). Time to put up or shut up Redbird. Are we Milan or Atalanta???

Comments are closed

Serie A Standings

Live football scores . Current table, fixtures & results.