The Year That Might Have Been

In most situations, I do not think it is fair to look back and try to think about what might have been. However, sometimes, when there were errors made that were so egregious that they were borderline criminal, it is interesting to look back and try to piece together an alternate reality. A reality where an entire team and organization, as well as millions of fans worldwide, were not impacted by someone's incompetence and poor decisions. One that puts a club closer to fiscal responsibility rather than deeper in the red and more likely to face penalties. I think, therefore, that it is fair to ask questions about Gazidis' decisions and wonder about the year that might have been.

More than a rift in a fairy tale

My questions actually go back to Gazidis' first six to eight weeks at the club. During that time, he blocked the January 2019 arrival of Ibrahimovic, as well as possibly Cesc Fabregas. His idea was a 100% young team of unknown players who could be developed and sold, his fantasy was that this vision would bring Champions League glory and return Milan to the club it once was. He was wrong. Dead wrong.

He did not share the vision of Leonardo and Maldini, his sporting director and director of sporting strategy and development director respectively, who knew footballing firsthand, and knew that some experience would be necessary to achieve the club's goals. In spite of his poor judgment and that singular decision to block the experienced players, Gattuso, of all people, led this team to one point from Champions League qualification in the 2018-19 season. One point. Champions League qualification alone brings over €15 million to a club. Just for qualifying. Pay either Ibrahimovic or Fabregas their experienced six month salary, and the club has still made over €10 million profit just for qualifying, based on one decision that Gazidis got wrong. Not to mention the millions for playing, the TV rights, and more.

One decision cost us millions in Champions League earnings

It was all downhill from there, because both Leonardo and Gattuso left based on Gazidis' decisions and the results. People blame Maldini and Boban for hiring Giampaolo, but he would have never even been considered if Gattuso had stayed and we were playing in the Champions League. And that nearly two years of consistency in the manager's seat went along with Gattuso, as well. Instead, Giampaolo happened, and that decision alone also cost us Champions League qualification this past season, due to the points we dropped in his short tenure alone.

Next was the decision that started the year that might have been this past year. If Giampaolo was a complete and utter failure, Maldini and Boban struck gold by hiring Pioli, with his quiet experience and basic but very solid tactics as well as his extraordinary mentality. He was hired to clean up what ultimately was Gazidis' initial mistake and the domino effect that happened.

Sometimes good, sometimes impacted by one man's decision

However, Gazidis could not leave well enough alone. Within two to three weeks of Pioli being hired, he went behind Maldini and Boban's back and talked to Ralf Rangnick about bringing him in to implement his initial, faulty plan of an all young team. He not only did not respect Maldini and Boban enough to consult them, two players who won everything and sweat blood for Milan, he was willing to let them go for an unproven German coach who hasn't won anything and does not play well with others.

This was the decision that changed everything. The German media leaked the Rangnick plans, which impacted everything that Maldini and Boban were trying to build, as well as the mentality of the team and their performances on the pitch. We all know what happened next, Boban came forward once he learned what had happened, and Gazidis fired him. Less than 24 hours before what would be Milan's last match before COVID-19 shut everything down. A very unnecessary loss based on a very poor decision by someone who was entrusted to run this club.

He would have replaced Maldini and Boban with this guy and started from scratch... again

The year that might have been would have included Gazidis trusting Maldini and Boban in the first place. Not going behind their back and undermining the very performances of the team. Trusting in Pioli, trusting that Ibrahimovic could do what he has done... Gazidis was unwilling to do any of those things, and even well into the successful run the team made in spite of everything, he was still talking to Rangnick. And trying to create another Year Zero that was not just another Year Zero.

The year that might have been would have included Boban at the club, improving our summer mercato and future transfers that much more, and not creating all of the drama for the club and fans alike. The fairy tale results and lovefest that are now occurring would have occurred sooner and included another Milan legend in management, too. Gazidis would have you forget all of that.

Maldini's brilliant transfers have done more to improve the budget than Gazidis

However, the finances are where his biggest impact is. Gazidis is now bragging that the business side of Milan has "the most room for growth," which is another way of saying "I am the only one at the club not doing my job properly." In addition to the initial €15 million that Champions League qualification would have brought in for the 2018-19 year, there were millions to be gained for every successful match played, in addition to millions in TV rights monies. Plus attracting better players, more sponsorships, and better shirt sponsorship and kit deals. Had he not blocked Ibrahimovic and/or Fabregas initially, we would be in year two of that big money, and closer to breaking even and avoiding Financial Fair Play (FFP) penalties.

Instead, he posted record losses of over €145 million for the 2018-19 season, claiming he was cleaning up Fassone and Mirabelli's mess. Only a closer examination shows that only about half of that loss was due to the previous ownership, the most significant increase in that year's deficit was based on him spending to redecorate the dressing room at San Siro and Milanello and re-brand everything into English, as well as develop an app and social media presence. None of those things are worth what he spent, either. We could have been €30-50 million toward the black with Champions League, instead, we were over €50 million deeper in the red than the club had ever been. Ever. Not Yonghong Li, not even Berlusconi had ever lost more. If you do that math, it's a difference of at least €80 to €100 million. One man impacted the club that much.

Not so much omnipotent as incompetent

After choking down that nightmare of a loss and desperately needing to improve income to avoid another FFP penalty from UEFA, he posted another €195* million loss for this past fiscal year. Again, more than double Yonghong Li or Berlusconi. But this time, there was no excuse for that level of loss. He deflected it to COVID-19, but many of the big clubs lost only an average of €30 million due to the loss of income from fans and the TV rights monies not coming in until after the end of the fiscal year because of the delay in season. 

Why did Milan lose so much when results improved so much? Ticket sales were up when Pioli took over, and both ticket and jersey sales skyrocketed when Ibrahimovic came back. Players deferred a month's wages, and the costs of training, traveling, and playing those matches also did not come in until after the fiscal year ended. Where was the other €160 million* in losses from? How can we overcome over a €195 million* loss in one fiscal year to avoid FFP sanctions again?

None of this was what Gazidis wanted... or still tried to do behind the scenes

When the news of this deficit broke, Gazidis benefitted from Milan's amazing results on the pitch, as well as a clearly contrived deflection of appointing Baresi as honorary vice president at the exact same meeting as the deficit was announced. People were so happy, they did not ask questions. And still haven't. But it is all very suspicious. Baresi has long been an ambassador. Why not appoint him sooner?

We all know the glorious and amazing miracles that have occurred in the sporting sector in spite of Gazidis. Results that forced him to give up his obsession with Rangnick. Ibrahimovic gave us more than we could have dreamed of, Maldini and Boban wisely snatched up Kjaer, who has become twice the amazing defender he already was, and a leader in the locker room. Begovic gave us eight brilliant months and more experience and leadership. Then there were the young signings like Tonali, Brahim and Hauge for next to nothing, which have already paid dividends both literally (in Europa League winnings,) and in results on the pitch. It is bliss for Milan fans, who are now also in contention to not only qualify for the Champions League, but to do well in the Europa League and possibly win a Scudetto as well.

A beautiful future on the pitch

If all is well on the pitch, and Gazidis and Maldini and Pioli are now working harmoniously together on a successful project, then why reflect on the year that might have been?

Here is why: when Milan qualify for the Champions League next season, they will likely face FFP penalties again. Because of one person and one person only. His name is Ivan Gazidis. 

Lying, backstabbing, and incompetent at his one job

In an interview published in La Gazzetta dello Sport today, Gazidis is quoted as saying, "I can certainly say that for me this is not a financial and a business project." (translated by Rossoneriblog)That is very, very clear. He claims his motivation is passion for football, yet makes decisions that have impaired both the sporting and business side of the club and continue to do so. He cited repeatedly his "success" with the MLS, which is a league that has less to do with football than any other league in the world, and was much more successful after he left. Same with Arsenal, and I'll let you google how they are doing this year, two years after he left them in a downward spiral.

The year has gone better than planned... or has it?

All of this glory and joy and these amazing performances are building an incredible young Milan team. The youngest team in Europe, actually, and breaking records every match, possibly even before breakfast. But the reality of that one man and those simple decisions he made could bring it all crashing down on Milan because of the financial side of the club. The "most room for growth" could cost us more financial gain in the form of Champions League income, as well as the opportunity for this phenomenal team to even compete in a competition they are more than deserving of. In addition to the loss of Boban and his perfect partnership with Maldini, what could have been the most incredible year at the club in more than twenty years may just end up wasted because of Gazidis. It could still become the year that might have been.

*these figures represent a correction made on December 30th, 2020 

This post inspired by the music of NIN's "Head Like a Hole"

Our next match is
Serie A Week 15
Benevento vs. Milan
Sunday, January 3 2021 • 18:00 CET (12noon CET)

The Year That Might Have Been The Year That Might Have Been Reviewed by Elaine on 1:50 AM Rating: 5
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