A.C.Milan-The perish of conqueror
Once the superpower of the world football, Milan is on the decline for quite some time now. It is no wonder that the downhill journey of Italy at the world stage has coincided with it. Soumyadip Das looks at their dismal state here at Goalden Times.
The once mighty A.C. Milan, one of my favourite European clubs, have been on a steady decline, both domestically and in Europe. Such has been the nature of their fall from grace that since winning the UEFA Champions League in 2007, they haven’t even made it to the semi-finals of the competition. It’s very easy for a new fan to gloss over the fact Milan are one of the most successful clubs in Europe, winning the UEFA Champions league seven times, second only to Real Madrid (10 UEFA Champions League trophies). So what has gone so horribly wrong for the club to be at their current predicament? Let us analyse some of the reasons behind it.
The Milan team of the 90s boasted the who’s who of football. Stars like Ruud Gulit, Marco van Basten, and Frank Rijkaard were soon to hand over the baton to future all-time greats like Alessandro Nesta, Paolo Maldini and Cafu. Milan’s midfield in the 21st century boasted of players like master craftsman Andrea Pirlo and destructive force Gennaro Gattuso. The front duo of Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi were assisted by Brazilian magician Ricardo Kaka. The problem started when there was an exodus of players to other clubs and retirement of aging players. Milan haven’t been able to effectively replace any of these star players in their respective departments. Players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva did show a glimmer of hope till the 2011 season, when they were a domestic force. However ever since the departure of the duo to French club PSG the club has struggled even domestically, falling leagues behind Juventus.
The problem started when there was an exodus of players to other clubs and retirement of aging players. Milan haven’t been able to effectively replace any of these star players in their respective departments.
In the previous decade Milan used to be a natural favourite in any competition they played in. That status is no longer bestowed upon them. On one hand they have failed to replace their departing players, either with academy graduates or with market buys and on the other hand they haven’t been able to fend off wealthy clubs like PSG in the pursuit of their star players like Zlatan and Thiago Silva. Milan currently have a squad size of 55 players and financial problems have led the club to send many of its players on loan. Currently Milan have almost 30 players, including the likes of Fernando Torres, Robinho and Antonio Noccerino, playing on loan in different European clubs. Domestic and European rivals on the other hand have strengthened their teams manifolds and the gulf in quality is quite evident now.
The other key factor that has been conspicuous in its absence is a quality coach. Carlo Ancelotti was the tactical mastermind who over the years built a fearsome Milan side. A similar presence in the dressing room has been missing ever since his departure. Massimiliano Allegri did well to manage the team to the Serie A title in 2011. However with limited resources at his disposal he had achieved very little till his dismissal last year. He was replaced with former Milan midfielder and fan favourite Clarence Seedorf. Joining the team in mid-January, Seedorf managed to win 11 out of 19 league games and his sacking before the start of next season raised a lot of eye brows. It has been widely reported that Milan were looking to hire Sevilla FC manager Unai Emery. However his haggling over salary meant that Seedorf was only hired as a stopgap manager. One fan favourite was replaced by another. Filippo “Pippo” Inzaghi has been hired to take over from Seedorf. Although results have not yet started showing, fans are fully supportive of his ability to bring the team out of their nightmare.
As was mentioned earlier, the single biggest reason for Milan’s decline is the clubs inability to replace departing players with high calibre talent while rival clubs have been doing so season after season. Once boasting of players like Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta, Milan’s academy hasn’t produced anyone noteworthy recently. Although Milan’s owner, Silvio Berlusconi, is one of the richest man in Italy, his tumultuous political phase of late has also meant lack of operating funds for the club. Berlusconi took charge of the club in the mid-80s and took the club to great heights. His financial downfall has hit Milan hard. The other key area where Milan have suffered in the past few years is merchandise sales. Although they ranked as high as Seventh among clubs in merchandise sales, the amount was nowhere close to what top clubs like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have been able to. The lack of marquee players in the Milan team is hitting the club’s pocket very hard. To make matters worse Milan have mismanaged their transfer spending by buying a lot of players at the fag end of their careers. Players like Ronaldinho, Luis Ronaldo, Michael Essien and David Beckham came to Milan at the twilight of their careers and commanded hefty pay cheques. The management spent a total of €28 million Euros on players like Alessandro Matri, Kevin Constant, Francesco Acerbi and Bartosz Salamon. That’s a lot of money for players who don’t guarantee you success. This has been slammed by a lot of former players. Antonio Cassano went as far as to suggest that the club was being “murky”. This hasn’t gone unnoticed and has led to a fall out between board member and owner Silvio Berlusconi’s daughter Barbara Berlusconi and CEO Adriano Galliani. The results on the pitch have taken a hit due to all of this. However despite all this there could be a proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. A Thai group has made an offer of €1 billion Euros for sale of the club. Although that could put the club out of its financial misery, it’s too soon to get excited about the deal.
Club legend Paolo Maldini has said that the management is now looking to build a team for the future with the right kind of talent. However that process should have started much earlier. Juventus, AS Roma and Napoli have invested heavily in their respective teams and are performing leagues better than Milan, both domestically and in Europe. The team has been on a roller coaster ride recently. The club faced similar situation once before, leading to relegation to Serie B, before Berlusconi took over. The current situation is still nowhere close to that but now would be a good time to start the rebuilding process before any more damage is done. With talents like Stephan El Shaarawy, Hachim Mastour, Keisuke Honda etc, the team should manage to win a Champions League berth. That should be a good place to start. With Champions League qualification the club would be able to secure finances and manage to be attractive for marquee players. Lot of precious time has been lost in transition, procrastinating any more could prove suicidal for a once mighty club. As a supporter one can only hope that the management starts taking the right decisions henceforth.