Warning Signs

We might be whistling past the graveyard. I don’t think it’s necessarily there yet, but there’s certainly a lot of misplaces huberis surrounding this club right now. Since this won’t see the light of day for several weeks, let’s contextualize what’s going on as this is written. Sino-Europe Sports have made two confirmed hirings, Fassone (Inter, Juve, Napoli) and Mirabelli (Inter chief scout, scout at Southampton).

Fassone has shown experience in bringing clubs into modern times, and has experience on the Juventus stadium deal. Fassone seemingly has the qualifications necessary. His first choice for the director of sport is Massimo Mirabelli, an old-school scout who spends almost all of his time travelling and viewing talented players live. On paper, that seems like a reasonable style – Dr. Galliani certainly was of a similar mind.

There was a plan for there to be someone horizontally on the chart to Mirabelli, and the offer was for Paolo Maldini. Maldini declined this offer. I believe he’s correct in doing so. For starters, this move is one of the most delicate areas that the new management will be faced with. I believe they have failed miserably in this regard.

Perception is reality to some, and it’s nothing to others. The fact that there isn’t a right or wrong to that dichotomy bothers a lot of people, as it should. But more than a paradox, this issue has real world implications as well – as to some people perceptions are hugely influential, and to others what matters is only the way it really is.

Hillary Clinton is content with the personal knowledge she isn’t corrupt, regardless of the perception that she’s bought and sold.

So how does this apply to the situation? Before joining Milan, Fassone worked at Inter Milan – in fact quitting that job to accept this new one. Mirabelli too, quit Inter to accept this new position at AC Milan.

Let’s pause here for a quick disclaimer. The following is obviously a reductionist argument, and this isn’t necessarily representative of how any given Milan fan feels about the situation, however, it is important enough to others that it’s not insignificant. You’re bringing in two former Inter directors before calling Paolo Maldini, the greatest casualty of Galliani’s reign. Maldini IS Milan, he’s inseperable.

Maldini and Fassone were unable to come to an agreement. GdS correspondant Riccardo Montolivo leaked some details of the meeting, upsetting Maldini who claimed the papers were misrepresenting his position and his demands. What were his demands? We only get one side’s opinion here and it’s Maldini’s. Understandably, SES won’t comment on the hiring process but there’s nothing to say what candidates can and can’t say about the process.

What Maldini wanted is up to a level of interpretation, but what isn’t is the structure he described:

Maldini – Mirabelli

The concern Paolo voiced is that he shouldn’t have to (or didn’t want to/ didn’t see the usefulness in) content with Mirabelli for decisions on the sporting side. Just to pause for a second, he doesn’t want to be second guessed on sporting decisions…by the director of sport. There’s another time and place to go into whether or not this is a reasonable request, but effectively, Maldini wondered, “If we disagree, who decides?” to which the answer was “Fassone”. Maybe that’s a good answer, maybe it isn’t – I don’t have the track record in front of me to validate Fassone’s decision making process in enough detail – but certainly, if you’re going to bring in a club legend – he insists it’s not a figurehead position.

You might be saying, Pete, this isn’t a figurehead position! Look, he has complete control so long as it’s the right decision (lot of loaded terms here). Firstly, Maldini is very quickly and easily overruled. Fassone chose Mirabelli. It’s reasonable to conclude, these guys are friends, or at the very least, they have a great professional respect for each other and each other’s judgments. Fassone has no such relationship with Maldini. Maldini’s usefulness from Fassone’s perspective first and foremost revolves around Maldini’s history. Let’s be honest. It’s not because Fassone believes he has a great football mind and is able to make the right decisions, it’s because he was born, grew up, and lived the Rossonero dream. He’s a tangible link between the history and the present.

Let’s say these two people disagree. You’d hope a reasonable intelligent Fassone would judge the arguments based on the merits and make a decision based on that. But what if he’s not sure. What if he really can’t tell if this player will pan out and Mirabelli and Maldini are on other sides. Which side do you think has the advantage? Paolo recognized this – “it’s only a problem if you two disagree” is a horrible idea for a club. You’d think the organization who tried to be on the cutting edge of stupidity with the two-CEO strategy would have learned something in the last few years..

This is where I want to step back and talk about organizational strategy. I don’t have an MBA in corporate strategy, I don’t have one in Organizational Leadership, or anything of the sort. I do have an undergraduate degree in Philosophy (take that!) and perhaps that qualifies me to be under qualified for discussions out of that realm. If you’re building an entirely new management structure, replacing both the existing roles as well as the existing people IN those structures, it might help to take a few lessons away.

  1.  2 CEOs won’t work – someone has to be in charge and a hierarchy behind them
  2.  Consolidation of roles won’t work, you need a scout, negotiator, decider etc
  3.  Connection with the past is important – keep the identity of the club by having it populated by former players
  4.  Ensure, via defined roles, that individuals don’t overstep their bounds into other’s decisions
  5.  Fix the PR – it genuinely caused a rift with fans on many occasions

One got accomplished. You can debate the efficacy of the hierarchy, but at least it isn’t just GALLIANI
Two is muddled. Hiring Maldini AND Mirabelli suggests that, however, their role definition makes it so one is redundant in many areas.
Three is why they called Maldini in the first place – so far this has failed.
Four doesn’t look good. There seems overlap here in unnecessary spots.
Five is an absolute failure. Let’s check in on how Sino Europe responded to Maldini after he declined the offered role:

“As for the rumours concerning the future of AC Milan, SES’ board of directors wish to clarify that the issue is not currently on the agenda. The priority for SES is now closing the purchase of AC Milan. We regret Paolo Maldini’s decision regarding our proposal because we firmly believe that he will soon realise how much of a winning project ours is for AC Milan.”

Not good. We may not be there yet, but there are warning signs up ahead that this transition isn’t going to go as smoothly as dreamed. Still, any change is welcome compared to the stagnation Milan fans endured in the months before – but it’s far from clear skies ahead.

Follow me on Twitter @PDAcquaviva


There’s going to be a re-launch of the site coming soon, right after the sale of the club is confirmed. This was going to be a part of that launch, but “why not now?” ruled the day today. 

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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