There seems to be a long line of people queuing up to give the funeral soliloquy for the once great AC Milan. The Guardian newspaper recently ran an article entitled “The Worrying Decline of A.C. Milan”, suggesting that without striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they were nothing. In some quarters, the decline of i Rossoneri is being seen as symbolic of the declining influence of Serie A as a whole. Of course these days, what “decline” really means is “not spending insane amounts of money any more.”
At one stage, Honorary President Silvio Berlusconi (still 169th richest person in the world) was able to bankroll the club to their heady successes from the 1980s onwards, but in recent years, various scandals have dogged him (and Italian football in general), and he no longer seems able or willing to splash out. Though still regarded as one of the major world footballing forces, as a business A.C. Milan has incurred massive losses since 2005.
Perhaps part of the pessimism is down to the end of an era, as Milan say goodbye to the old guard of Nesta, Gattuso, Inzaghi, Van Bommel, and Seedorf (“old” being the operative word—none of them were younger than 34). Really though, the big departures were Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Paris Saint-Germain for over £60m. Milan are normally the ones waving the big wads of cash around, not the ones dancing for it.
If you look at the squad Milan assembled this season, it’s not too bad at all. Though they haven’t spent the PSG money on incoming talent, they have still managed to get Pazzini, Montolivio, El Shaarawy, Zapata, Bojan, and De Jong for under £20m. They have also removed seven very well-paid players from their wage bill. For a club used to over-spending and running at a loss, it’s not clear if they have become suddenly financially hamstrung, or if they are changing their attitude towards expenditure with new financial rules coming into play next year.
On the pitch, it’s too early to know if they are going to challenge for honours this season. They have won one out of two games, but new signing Pazzini (who had been seen as the makeweight in the Cassano to Inter transfer) scored a hat-trick in their 1-3 away win at Bologna. In Massimiliano Allegri, they have a pragmatic coach who is used to making teams greater than the sum of their parts. They also have a backroom support team that is regarded as possibly the best in the world.
Though they may not win any silverware this year, I have a feeling that are already looking two or three years down the line and hoping that their Italian and European rivals will get tripped up. It might be a bit early for the funeral yet.