Starting from Monday evening, all the main sports media and journalists who deal with the transfer market have anticipated the imminent dismissal of two important AC Milan managers, the director of the technical area Paolo Maldini (historical former captain of the team) and the sporting director Frederic Massara. The news is not yet official, but it has been largely confirmed informally, and it seems to have been communicated to those directly affected by the club’s property, which refers to the fUS investment fund RedBird.
According to what was reported by the newspapers, it would not be a question of a consensual separation, but of a decision taken by Gerry Cardinale, founder of RedBird and owner of Milan since 31 August 2022, when he completed the purchase for 1.2 billion euros. In short, Maldini and his main collaborator Massara have been fired, despite the fact that they still have one year on their contracts and are considered among the main culprits for Milan’s return to high levels, which last year won its first Scudetto in the last ten years.
The news is particularly relevant and is widely commented on for the importance that Maldini had in the present of the club and for his past in the club: as a player he was at Milan for 25 years, winning 26 trophies and becoming one of the symbols of the team’s history . His father Cesare had played for Milan between 1954 and 1966, and then coached him in the 1970s. His sons Christian and Daniel are professional footballers, who grew up in the club’s youth academy: Daniel also made his debut in the first team (he is now on loan at Spezia). In short, the history of the Maldini family is an important piece of Milan’s history.
In June 2019 Paolo Maldini had returned to the club as manager and under his technical management Milan had returned to winning the Italian championship after more than 10 years, in the 2021-22 season. Among other merits, he was also recognized for a sort of leadership role for the many young players that made up the team and still is. Maldini was also considered a charismatic element in the club’s external relations as well as a guarantee, for the fans, of the goodness of RedBird’s intentions.
Up until last season, AC Milan’s management had been highly praised for their ability to create a winning team while maintaining considerable cost control and investing in young and not too well known players who were able to grow within the club, including in terms of quotations market. Goalkeeper Mike Maignan, defender Theo Hernandez, midfielder Sandro Tonali and forward Rafael Leão had been some of the signings of the Maldini-Massara couple, and they have been fundamental players for the growth of these years.
Today Milan pays around 87 million a year for the salaries of its players, about half of Juventus, 50 million less than Inter, slightly more than Napoli who have just won the Scudetto, and more or less the same amount as Rome, arrived sixth. Milan also has healthy balance sheets and almost no debt: in the last six months of 2022 they even recorded a profit of a few million euros, a very rare condition for a high-level Italian football team. Inter, who will play in the Champions League final in a few days after beating Milan in the semi-final, last year had a debt of 86 million euros and its owners manage it thanks to a loan of 275 million euros received in 2021at interest very high.
Milan ended last season in fourth place in the league, a position that guarantees access to the next Champions League, considered the minimum objective of top-level teams in Serie A. However, fourth place was only obtained thanks to the penalty of 10 points assigned to Juventus by the sports justice in the case of false capital gains.
For Milan, the season that has just ended was one of ups and downs. After remaining among the top positions between January and February, they lost almost all the games they played, compromising the possibility of defending the Scudetto: the team fared better in the Champions League, also thanks to a decidedly easy draw, but in the semifinals it was rather clearly defeated by Inter, without ever giving the impression of being able to play it as an equal. At the same time this season Milan have beaten Napoli twice, once in Serie A by winning 4-0 in Naples, and Juventus twice.
In recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about how last summer’s transfer market, managed by Maldini and Massara, did not bring in players capable of adding value to the starting team, despite spending almost 50 million. By far the most disappointing signing was that of Belgian attacking midfielder Charles De Ketelaere: paid around 35 million, this season he played 40 games without scoring any goals, and only making one assist.
Furthermore, in the last part of the season his game underwent a worrying involution, even compared to the first few months at Milan, so much so that the Milan fans at San Siro began to encourage and applaud him at every play not wrong. Forward Divock Origi, one of the highest paid at Milan but also in the entire Serie A, has never been incisive. Yacine Adli, one of the best midfielders in the last French Serie A bought in January last year to anticipate the competition, has played 140 minutes in the season, corresponding to one and a half games.
According to the reconstructions published in the sports media, the ownership of the club would have attributed to Maldini the very last transfer campaign considered “wrong”, after last summer the manager had asked for guarantees of total independence before signing the renewal of the contract. The agreement for the renewal had arrived very late and at the end of long negotiations, despite the ongoing celebrations for the championship victory: something that according to some had conditioned the possibility of playing in advance. Last summer, Milan treated midfielder Enzo Fernandez for months, and in January he was one of the revelations of Argentina who won the World Cup. At the end of the competition, Fernandez was signed by Chelsea for €121m.
The sports media also report some personal friction between Maldini and the owner Gerry Cardinale, it is not clear whether due to different ideas on the management of the team or its public communication, which in recent years has been managed almost entirely by Maldini. But above all, according to some journalists who follow the transfer market, the RedBird fund has the intention of establishing a different management model for the football club, making a wider and more constant use of data and statistics to guide market choices, following models increasingly popular in the last ten years also in European football, although originally born in American sport.
Last September Gerry Cardinale at a conference in London he explained his approach, already used in France at Toulouse (another team owned by the fund) as well as the collaboration of RedBird with Billy Beane, the manager protagonist of Moneyball, a book written by Michael Lewis on the history of the first baseball team to use these models, the Oakland Athletics, from which a famous 2011 film was later made. «Everyone uses statistical data, but we think we have an advantage in the different ways where we use them. Billy Beane was decisive in convincing me that European football could be a great opportunity,” said Cardinale.
Similar models have not yet been tested at European level on a team of Milan’s level: and above all the fans fear that in the best case, by buying young players it will take years to compete permanently at high levels.
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It seems that Maldini and sporting director Massara will not be replaced by new entries in the management staff, which will instead undergo a reorganisation. Cardinale should be more personally involved in high-level decisions, which also include the construction of a new stadium, while the central figure with greater powers will be the current CEO Giorgio Furlani, who comes from the world of finance and who He has been part of the Milan Board of Directors since 2018 as manager of the Elliott fund, the previous owner of the company.
As far as the transfer market is concerned, more responsibilities should be entrusted to Gerry Moncada, 36 years old, at Milan since 2018 and so far head of the scouts, that is, the collaborators who follow Italian and foreign matches and championships in search of new talent. Moncada is one of the league’s most esteemed observers, and although it is difficult to reconstruct the genesis of certain negotiations in football, it seems that some of the decisive purchases made by Milan in recent years are due to his intuitions.
Milan therefore seems to be heading towards a profound renewal, also completed by the recent farewell of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, despite the fact that only a couple of years ago it seemed to have finally started a promising cycle after a decade in which various attempts at re-foundation and just as many failures had followed one another.