Winter in Milan

I used to write about tactics. It started a few years back: how the game unfolded to me was important. Making sense of the constant motion, the unstated technique of being in the right place at the right time, and appreciating how breakdowns in that structure affected the whole seemed like the most productive use of my time. It wasn’t like we were witnessing the third rebirth of Bilsa here, this was just Allegri juggling around a 4-3-3 into a 4-3-1-2 while finding creative uses for Urby Emanuelson and giving Kevin-Prince Boateng all the confidence he needed to dupe Schalke into thinking he was a 9.

While you can certainly argue that the tactics dried up under successive managers bit by bit, in reality they didn’t – they just became variations on the same theme again. The closest coach who wanted a tactical break was Clarence Seedorf, and the revolution he was looking for was much larger than simply playing an advanced midfielder without sacrificing attacking wings. You know, that attacking style that Silvio wanted. It’s not that the tactics aren’t there, it’s that they’re just so little a slice of the pie.

Sinisa Mijalovic could be Pep Guardiola, the 150m Silvio claims actually was spent could have been, Galliani could have had an actual scouting network, Doyen could have actually provided a realistic transfer benefit, and Barbara could have not been wasting about two years of her life on the stadium plans, and this club would still have massive structural issues.

The thing with this Milan is the solutions they offer are drops in the ocean when it comes to addressing the real problem. They decide to begin a youth policy half a decade ago, and it took extending Muntari, Robinho, Mexes and the forthcoming Montolivo instead of finding out what you have with Saponara, a player that would be an excellent transfer although Galliani conceding the idiocy of the move in the first place isn’t going to happen despite the fact that pride should be swallowed and he returns.

Revenue is slumping, so rather than put in more personal funding in order to get the stadium done, scrap it. The San Siro, the stadium you pay to rent, don’t make money on the other 6 days of the week you’re not there, is going to all of a sudden start bleeding cash as fans flood in to experience the rush of seeing a Serie B side take Milan to extra time. The product isn’t good enough to make me want to go back to San Siro. It’s more comfortable on my couch,  or in a pub, or most anywhere else – and a few thousand in renovations isn’t going to change the larger issue that the stadium just can’t be modernized in the way that other clubs are doing with their grounds.

If they’re not going to make the money in matchday revenue, then we’re down to two options – let’s start with TV revenue. They simply must make the Champions League in order to have any relevance in the coming years. This is why it’s constantly parroted that third is a must, Milan belong in the CL, all those platitudes. After pushing the boat out with 90m in spending (it’s really not that much net spent, payments split over multiple years, contracts ended, and some shuffling of salaries means the number is much much lower) Milan need results sooner rather than later, especially considering the cornerstone of their strategy, bafflingly, is dependent on this. Rather than have their fate in their own hands, by investing in something guaranteed every season, a stadium, they need to just get back into Europe yesterday to get TV money in order to build the…..brand!

Nothing for the brand like promising and not delivering, eh? Whoops on the stadium. Double whoops on the google translate winter campaign. But the brand is much, much, more than just a series of failed promises – it’s the leveraging of the club’s legacy in order to pull a curtain over the broken machine. As far as I can tell, the plan seems to be, sell 48% of Silvio’s 99.8% stake in the club to Mr. Bee Taechaubol, an investor with nowhere near enough personal value to guarantee even a portion of this stake. Bee has had to go out looking for “investors” in order to generate the funds to make this buy.

Investing in a football club isn’t like investing in the stock market. One is an investment to make money, but a football investment isn’t supposed to be that, or Manchester City would be in the deep throws of panic, if it ever happened in the first place. You invest in football for a variety of reasons, but at the upper levels, the “superclubs” you invest to win, and to take credit for that. Silvio did this to great aplomb in the 80s, his other ventures were far, more profitable than Milan, but in value to him, this club is special. It gave him something that money couldn’t.

Back to Bee, he has to treat this as an investment for prospective investors; or alternatively he has to find someone like Silvio who is investing for the power and the image rather than the money. China fit both of these criteria, looking for foreign investment, and furthermore, looking to extend state-held power via their investment.  Bee was working on some funding from China’s CITIC Bank, who since then has been a part of a coalition investing in Manchester City at a figure that makes Silvio’s 1b number look modest by comparison.

But the days keep passing, and the deadlines keep being pushed further back, and further back. If this isn’t a scam, it’s been amazing how poorly it’s been handled. If this is the pillar on which the strategy is built – we’re really treading a fine line. If Bee plans to have Milan ready for the Hong Kong stock exchange, as was reported, that’s not possible. Here’s a list of the criteria to be listed ( – and if you want to go through them it’s an interesting read. I’ll just focus on the main financial test, and let’s see if Milan are close on any of these:

HK Listing

They’re not. Furthermore, to get there, they would need growth in all areas, so basically a multi-pronged strategy attacking several aspects of the club. If you think this is coming, I love your optimism, but to all of a sudden start fixing decades of mismanagement with the same people in charge…seems insane.

You need all the things Milan are putting forward as solutions to have come to fruition as soon as possible, yesterday even. That’s not happening; this is the same team, with the same VP overreaching and consolidating power to the point of negligence unchecked in his role. This is the same team owned by Silvio Berlusconi who can’t seem to let Milan go, but also refuses at every turn to do something positive for their future. Is giving a large stake in the club to a man without the personal money or comparable attachment to Milan really the way forward? Or does Silvio inevitably “pull the plug” in a few months when the Bee charade can’t go any further? The devil you know.

Of course, fans have a “shit or get off the pot” attitude towards the media magnate. As one of Italy’s richest men, making billions more than when he first began to cry poor, Silvio has the experience and the knowledge to know that he’s running the club’s image into the ground. I’m not talking about the brand, which he’s sent Barbara on a fool’s errand to manufacture gusto for a team that features Andrea Poli, Riccardo Montolivo and Juraj Kucka as a midfield trio. That same midfield is going to lead the charge to third, or else one of the pillars of this strategy falls apart.

Each pillar needs the other two to exist, yet all three are so speculative that the whole strategy seems far-fetched. It’s become the festival of the absurd, and thinking about Milan critically with the goal of winning trophies really comes across as shortsighted. The engine room is broken, and not just the midfield. The brains behind the operation don’t seem to have the same priorities that the fans do.

If they did, would they really have let it get here? I don’t believe so, although I’m not closed off to the possibility of staggering incompetence sustained over decades being a blind spot. That being said, I don’t buy that – Silvio is basically delaying as much as he can, and it’s not clear what he thinks he’s going to get. For now though, the strategy that really intrigues me seems to be how Silvio is managing this balancing act – how any manager comes to manage this squad is beyond me. He’s convinced you this garbage fire is really the flames of the devil. How much longer will we believe that?


Follow me on Twitter: @PDAcquaviva

About Pete Acquaviva

Pete writes about Milan on this blog. Occasionally other things. You would know which of them it is if you've gotten this far.

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