AC Milan’s Model for the Future
With the daunting threat of Financial Fair Play (FFP) looming heavily over Italy, the top clubs are scrambling to address leaks in their finances that could potentially rock the clubs’ affairs, and AC Milan are no exception.
Having enjoyed 25 years of success under Silvio Berlusconi, with much of it spent paying highly for rich veins of talent, the Italians have responded to the ominous threats of FFP and have begun incorporating the same club model that both Barcelona and Ajax use. The aim is for the club to become self-sufficient and continue to challenge in Europe.
The 2012-13 season began with monumental changes in Milan’s dressing room. The veteran figures of Alessandro Nesta, Flippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf all left the club in the capable hands of Milan’s high quality players. This could at least be understood by most fans as there was a need to turn over a new leaf.
However, the sales of Milan’s high quality players sparked much outrage and confusion. Come the end of the winter transfer window Milan had sold Thiago Silva, Antonio Cassano, Alexandre Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Many of these are household names and were envisaged as those who would help Milan weather the transition period. Without these key elements, Milan’s start to the season was desperately poor.
While the immediate outlook for Milan was bad, the level of good the sales had on their finances was significant. The millions of euros of debt soon began to even out and become a more manageable problem for the club. It was not just the big money sales that made all the difference, it was also the departure of high earners and re-evaluation of contracts.
Mathieu Flamini had been earning over €4 million a season and subsequently had it reduced to less than €2 million. There were long-term residents, such as Seedorf and Nesta, who had received bonuses on top of bonuses over the years and their departures freed up more cash. Ibrahimovic was reportedly earning close to €10 million, which to Milan was enough for a completely new signing!
Once the financial situation was stabilized, the management began making astute signings. Headed by Adriano Galliani, Milan’s assault on the transfer market was measured and controlled. Regardless of however much profit Milan had made, they still needed to work to a precise budget. Various deals were arranged with Genoa, including full ownership of Stephan El Shaarawy and co-ownership of Kevin Constant, who would both become first team regulars. The free signing of Riccardo Montolivo and a cut-price deal for Nigel de Jong injected creativity and bite into the midfield.
The future investments of Gabriel, M’baye Niang, Riccardo Saponara and Bartosz Salamon all began to justify the change in transfer tactics. Even the loan deals involving Cristian Zapata and Bojan Krkic were done to ensure the squad depth was satisfactory. The final signing of Mario Balotelli was a combination of ensuring the team was competitive and also met the youth approach.
The current Milan side has become the youngest since the 2002-03 season. The front-three of El Shaarawy, Balotelli and Niang have a combined age of 60 with the Frenchmen only recently turning 18. The emergence of Stephan El Shaarawy as a potentially world-class player was not overly surprising to many, but the scoring-rate he has demonstrated in only his second season at the club has been truly stunning. The ‘Pharaoh’ has set the tone for Italy’s youth this season as he reached new heights in terms of goal-scoring and has practically held up the club throughout the season.
The establishment of Mattia De Sciglio as a first team regular was perhaps even more surprising as he has demonstrated a cool head and ability far exceeding his tender age. While being a very modest character, De Sciglio can do nothing to escape the praise from those around him. His comfortable displays on either flank have given the likes of Luca Antonini and even Ignazio Abate cause for concern. Niang has put in some very encouraging displays in the few games he has had to leave his mark and looks set to hold down a first team spot.
All these facts point toward a complete change in club ethic and values. Where once stood battle-hardened individuals, now blossoms a growing core of fresh-faced youth prospects. The difference between this youth focus to the one that brought the world Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini is that Milan wants to create an endless production line of talent, similar to that of Barcelona and Ajax. The signing of the 14 year-old Hachim Mastour further proves this desire of the hierarchy to create a continuous supply of talent.
The club has begun making the footage of their youth system part of their promotion campaigns, as they seek to inspire greater interest from their fans. The likes of Bryan Cristante, Mattia Valoti and Andrea Petagna have enjoyed time with the first team squad; either in training or appearing in the Champions League. The club hopes to have their own equivalents of Christian Eriksen and Thiago Alcantara in the coming years with the model projected to be fully active in three years.
The results should provide Milan with a more economically beneficial way of getting quality players in revolving cycles. As one era of players ends, the next should already be available to the manager. The model is keeping with what FFP wishes to accomplish and has already proven its success. The money that would normally be spent on big-name signings can be used on improving the club infrastructure, with either a new stadium or full ownership of the San Siro.
The model would also hope to make the club a more marketable brand, with a club philosophy being taught in all youth sectors. This new model would ensure a future for AC Milan where football clubs must become true businesses and are valued on the strength of their output.
Follow Louis Gibberd-Thomas on Twitter: @mercutio156