Milan At A Crossroads, Again?

The downturn affecting the world economy and to some extent football is putting Milan at risk. After resurrecting the team in the ‘80s Berlusconi’s Milan was a catalyst and part of Serie A and European football’s rise. The story of Milan’s late 20th century successes has been told often and perhaps should not repeated. The reason for this is that reliving it is hindering Milan’s future goals and potential. Silvio Berlusconi and Milan’s management seem to refer to the past publicly and privately more often than is helpful.

When the European economy started to feel the pinch of debt and other economic and political pressures football, of course, didn’t escape the fallout. Football had been riding the financial boom and would inevitably be mired in its fall. However Milan, which for long was considered the pioneer in football commercialization under the reign and ideas of Berlusconi now seems to be the pioneer in its austerity as well. The days when Berlusconi was touting European super leagues and the uselessness of people in the stands at the San Siro (at the expense of those watching on TV) soon gave way to selling players in offers dubbed too good to refuse and coined as a necessary evil to balance the books. Crucially, the money pinching talk came amidst Milan holding on to, if not retaining its status as one of the best revenue generating machines in world football, the EPL stratosphere notwithstanding.

bwin - one of Milan's recent shirt sponsors

bwin – one of Milan’s recent shirt sponsors

The modern Milan story, which is very briefly told here, started with the Berlusconi purchase of course. Almost unthinkable successes on the pitch with the likes of the Dutch trio and a relative unknown coach followed. It continued into the 90s with famous demolitions of European powers like Barcelona. Milan benefited from (partially) Berlusconi held sponsors such as Mediolanum and moved into variety of other realms with Opel and and more recently the Dubai based Emirates Group.

After the departures of Shevchenko and Kaka for large amounts the book balancing hasn’t stopped – it of course was followed by the likes of Thiago Silva leaving to the newly rich PSG. While it may be prudent in small doses the continual departures jeopardize the future of the team for present economic benefits. Sometimes one feels the need to point out that in sports a rebuild takes investment and planning in the present, arguably even more than any other ‘business’.

Of course there is also the issue of having to comply with UEFA’s FFP (Financial Fair Play) regulations. Recent reports published on the UEFA site tout the successes of FFP, even before its restrictions are fully implemented. This is however unlikely to be changing much for the biggest spenders any way, at least not as of late 2013. There are handful of teams that keep spending on the back of mega rich owners while getting access to questionable sponsorship funds in the process. Smaller or perhaps teams one tier below the biggest spenders do not seem to be in line for any benefits that are presumably on offer by the FFP. At most these teams will see their debts reduced but how that mirrors itself on the pitch is not clear and can easily reflect poorly on results.

Milan and other teams residing on the periphery of the new spending bonanza need to more just balance books. Certainly there is lots to bet and gamble on but taking chances works off the pitch too.