Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Maldini Litmus Test


When news broke this week that Paolo Maldini had turned down Sino Europe Group’s offer to be Technical Director for Milan, the dreams of many Milan fans died. Angered that our dream of having him be part of the club going forward was gone, many fans simply blamed the new ownership and/or prepared for more years of being ignored or abused. But amidst the anguish there is a larger lesson, as the statements from both parties provided a truth test for the new ownership. The group had previously made statements reaching out to fans and trying to win them back, but this litmus test offered a chance for them to step up and show whether or not they would back up their words with actions.

More Milan than Milan

Maldini took to Facebook to explain his answer, in a lengthy and clear statement about the differences between the parties that prevented him from accepting their offer. Well, the length was really more having to do with clarifying some of the many false news reports that were made about him and his “demands.” But he clearly stated that due to his lifelong passion for Milan, he needed to make a “careful, precise and professional” decision. He said that he needed to “respect Milan and myself.”

The role that he was offered was Technical Director, which would mean that he was responsible for the sporting side of things. But the organizational chart he was shown put him as having joint responsibility with Massimo Mirabelli, the new Sporting Director, sharing both the responsibility and decision-making with him, while being publicly responsible for everything sporting. So Maldini asked the big question of Fassone: “…what would happen if we disagreed?” To which Fassone replied that he, as CEO would decide. Maldini then reminded everyone that we should have learned from the joint-CEOs of Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi the past few years that duality in management simply does not work.

When it comes to leadership, accountability, and decision making, two is not better than one

In his conversation with Fassone, he told him that his experience in football with history-making teams taught him that to achieve results, there needs to be “great synergy between all the corporate bodies and major investors, in addition to well-defined roles.” (via football-italia.net) He did not feel he could take the role on as a mere “symbol,” he would feel the responsibility to the club and to the fans, but without the authority or ability to make decisions, how could he take responsibility? And he is right. I mean he pointed out that owners have the right to choose employees based on their own criteria, but Maldini’s experiences taught him that this project, as it was presented to him, was not one that was built for success. That was so telling.

The Sino Europe Group replied saying that they “regret Paolo Maldini’s decision regarding our proposal because we firmly believe that he will soon realize how much of a winning project ours is for AC Milan.” (via football-italia.net) Also so telling. A group of investors who haven’t even disclosed who they are, whose acquisition is riddled in financial and ethical controversy, and none of whom have any known experience in football at all. They hired a CEO with some experience in football, but no actual experience as a CEO. They also hired a sporting director who not only has no experience as a sporting director, only a scout, but whose acquisition caused a lot of controversy amongst former Milan players, fans, and more. But they somehow know more than a second generation Milan legend, a former captain who won more titles than they have years of football experience amongst them? They know more than perhaps the most beloved Milan player ever, who had the very rare honor of having his number retired?

I thought this would be the saddest farewell, but saying goodbye to him again is much, much worse

As a fan, it’s impossible to believe that any one of those people, let alone all of them, have any idea how to return Milan to success. And that is one of the big reasons they sought out Maldini, or so they claimed. But given their naivetĂ© in organization and management alone, it’s obvious that they really intended more to use his popularity to try to win back the fans. Fans they need to turn a profit. While it’s not unheard of for clubs to bring an ex-player in as more of a figurehead originally, then give him more responsibility, that’s not the position they offered him. They offered him a title and the responsibility, but without the trust or ability to make decisions. And their goal of winning back the fans was simultaneously smashed, as they not only slammed the door shut on the fan’s dream of Maldini’s return to the club, but don't seem to have a plan B for including any other Milan legend in any way, either.

So long story short, they failed the litmus test. First they failed to convince Maldini, and in doing so, they failed to convince the fans. They also failed to take the most important step of the takeover: keeping the Milan in AC Milan. They showed their inexperience and lack of vision, which very much puts into question their ability to bring success to Milan at all. It’s nice that they still believe they will succeed without Maldini, but they might be the only ones who believe that anymore. As so many big clubs in multiple leagues have proven, money alone does not bring success. It also requires the right people. And they just lost the most perfect person in the world to bring that success back to Milan. As well as the faith of their fan base. Litmus test failed.


This post inspired by the music of Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science”


Our next match is
Chievo vs. Milan
Sunday, October 16 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)