Spring 2017 brought the much awaited new era for Milan. The previous, and highly successful of course, era led by Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani had faded into unwillingness and inability to maintain the grand expectations and status of the team. The Chinese, led by Li Yonghong, finally took over amid uncertainty and indebted to a hedge fund (Elliott). Marco Fassone in his role as would be CEO and Massimiliano Mirabelli as sporting director had laid the groundwork before the official take over and during the numerous delays that led up to the take over.
The two men in charge took off rapidly during the spring and into the summer with the task of rebuilding the fallen giant. The numerous trips and meetings of the aforementioned duo had provided them with a knowledge of the market and transfers and deals came fast. Rumours exploded as well and not just about players who might come and go but about the make up of the sale and the feasibility of the hedge fund deal. The deal was and is surely a gamble for a league and team that has been falling in world football standing. The hysteria, especially fan excitement, was sometimes tempered with the news that the Chinese government will continue to tighten capital exit from China. Indeed it was the same issue that had delayed the deal and made the hedge fund’s presence a necessity. Would the hedge fund take control of the team in October 2018 if Chinese funds are blocked and the high interest loan not repaid? That question is still not answered and everybody hopes it never comes into play.
The new look Milan embark on the quest for domestic and European glory
The transfers and rebuild got off to a start with a name that was linked for months and may have happened with Berlusconi and Galliani in charge too. Mateo Musacchio arrived from Villareal, the Argentine central defender was not the best known of defenders but had a solid reputation albeit with an injury record. Days later Franck Kessie signed with Milan on an initial expensive loan, €8 million, plus €20 million to be paid in two years. An expensive yet promising young midfielder who a few compared to Yaya Toure. Ricardo Rodriguez. who one season earlier had been on the wish list of the likes of Chelsea signed on having after a relatively disappointing 2016-2017 season at Wolfsburg. The full steam ahead activity didn’t let up with the signing of Andre Silva from Porto. Milan had been searching for a center forward after Montella had for all intents and purposes given up on Bacca. Big names were mentioned but remained elusive. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Andrea Belotti were the most notable of targets but the 21 years old Portuguese signed for less than his release clause and in the process Milan’s management forged somewhat of a relationship with his (super) agent Jorge Mendes.
Meanwhile problems had been simmering with another super agent. Mino Raiola. The infamous agent had become Gigio Donnarumma’s agent and had promised a tough negotiation once the goalkeeper turned 18 and so it was to be. For days it seemed a given that Milan would lose the super star to be goalie and Raiola created more controversy by demanding Champions League related clauses and of course big sums for himself and the player. This went on for what seemed like months but the player finally signed – and his brother too – for very big money to stay, but a release clause will hang over Milan’s head and the agent is sure to rile up the team and fans every summer.
Fabio Borini joined Milan in a surprise move from Sunderland that was cheap but still mostly scoffed at. Hakan Calhanoglu, the German based free kick specialist joined too, his transfer was also unexpected and missed by most pundits. Soon after Milan returned to Atalanta and paid a good sum for Andrea Conti. The right back had been highly rated in Atalanta’s overachieving 2016-2017 season and was very eager to join Milan.
The major coup of the transfer window happened next and shocked football fans world wide. In lightning speed Leonardo Bonucci quit Juventus and signed for €42 million. The transfer also seemed to confirm the reported breakdown between Bonucci and Massimiliano Allegri. Whatever the truth was the transfer made a statement and heightened expectations even more, both in online betting circles and in fan sentiment.
By now the team had gone through a major change but more was needed to achieve the goal of reaching the Champions League and finishing in Serie A’s top 4. Despite all the activity the team was weak in the middle, and lacking depth up front. Montolivo still held a place and that inspired little confidence. Lucas Biglia’s name had been mentioned but was not easy to get. After several delays he also joined to add the needed dimension in midfield.
Having spent over €200 million the focus shifted to generating some transfer cash by selling unwanted and unneeded players, like the aforementioned Carlos Bacca. De Sciglio had asked to leave and his wish was finally granted as he joined Juventus. Kucka flew to Turkey and joined Trabzonspor. Poli joined Bologna on a (surprisingly) free transfer. Lapadula joined Genoa on an initial loan. Bertolacci too but only a loan with no obligation. Vangioni found a team who wanted him, in Mexico’s Monterrey. Bacca and Niang took their time to leave and the former only on dry loan when most expected the team to get at least €20 million. A collection of youth players left too. The Primavera team – now coached Rino Gattuso was being rebuilt too.
The incoming amount disappointed and more money is still needed to offset the being money spent. However the new era has been off to a roaring start and so much so that UEFA’s financial fair play regulations will be a concern. The new management have insisted that there is a plan to increase revenue and make the spending not only sustainable but also in line with the FFP. That growth seems to strongly hinge and be very reliant on one market, China.
For now though it is up to the new look team and coach Montella to target the minimum 4th place in the Serie A and perhaps even win the Europa League. Champions League money and glory are a must.