Mercato Choices: The Price of Instant Gratification

The transfer market is full of choices. There are choices of teams, choices of players. Choices made to spend now to try to win now, choices made to invest in youth to plan to win later. Some players choose to go to what they perceive as bigger clubs with bigger players to try to win now, only to realize that they are part of a project in a downward arc. Other players take a chance on projects with younger players with a project they believe in, hoping to be the next big thing. Maldini's project has required a bit of patience, but has taken a bit of both worlds, although maintaining sustainability above all else, and paid off early. Other clubs are still spending big on older players, trying to buy success. Some of our players have left in pursuit of earlier success. But what is the price of instant gratification?

Milan believe in developing youth like Adli, purchased last summer... aka delayed gratification

A tweet with a quote from journalist Gianluca Di Marzio yesterday read, "Dybala? Milan had another priority, namely De Deketelaere." This referred to Roma agreeing to sign the 5'10" talented 28 year-old and oft-injured Dybala, who had asked for wages of €8 million per year at Juve, rather than Milan taking him on a free transfer. Instead, Milan are still pursuing the 6'3" talented 21 year-old De Ketelaere, who has agreed to play for €2.5 million per year, if Milan and Club Brugge KV can agree on a transfer fee. While current reports are that Milan are willing to offer up to €35 million in transfer fees for the Belgian player, his potential for success is unlimited and his career entirely ahead of him. Whereas with Dybala, while he has experience and no transfer costs, his potential is limited and his career even more so by both age and injuries.

Milan's choice continues to be to pursue youth over instant gratification

This idea of having patience and investing in youth, being willing to spend just once in the transfer market for reasonable prices and then pay players sustainable wages, is uncommon in football today. Clubs like Roma will snatch up a player like Dybala, seeking instant gratification, but also harnessing themselves with an older player with unsustainable wages. Juventus have perennially done the same thing, now bringing back 29 year-old Pogba at €8 million per year and signing 34 year-old Di Maria at €5.5 million per year, which is why they are still holding out in the Super League, because they do not know how to run a sustainable project and blindly insist it cannot be done.

Inter bought their Scudetto with players they couldn't afford, then immediately sold them

This was also Inter's formula for "winning" the Scudetto in 2021, a year in which they literally could not even afford to pay their player's wages and then had to sell some of their biggest players to try to make up for significant budget losses. Then they had to sell more players this summer, and are still looking to sell their best defender to cover the fact that they brought back 29 year-old Lukaku at €8.5 million per season, even just on loan for €8 million plus bonuses. Their entire project is built on the concept of instant gratification.

The only big Italian club trying to emulate Milan right now is Napoli, who have very painfully let their best players go this summer, causing massive backlash from fans, but at least cutting their wagebill tremendously. They have a couple of very good signings in Kvaratskhelia and Østigård, but not enough to make up for all of the players they have lost. It remains to be seen whether or not De Laurentiis will truly emulate Maldini and Massara's project, and whether or not he will be successful in finding the balance of young and experienced talent to actually win. So far, it mostly seems like they have mostly just pulled the plug on both wages and talent.

Instant gratification. Watching some of the best players in the world. From the bench.

When it comes to players making decisions for their careers, we have seen many decisions directly impacting players leaving Milan or choosing not to come to Milan. Donnarumma left Milan for the money of PSG, and what did it get him? Half of the playing time, decreased confidence, and only winning Ligue 1. He claims he does not regret his choice, but he was horrifically abused by Milan and Italy fans, made ridiculous errors that he never made at Milan, and could have won Serie A instead, which is still a better league, for all of its failings.

Likewise, Calhanoglu, having finished second with Milan in 2021, left for Inter for barely more money than he was offered by Milan and ended up second yet again with Inter in 2022. Always second, on the pitch just like in life. Now Kessié chose to leave Milan, the Italian champions and a project moving upward as well as financially stable in spite of ownership changes. He instead went to Barcelona, who finished second in La Liga and are in the worst financial shape of any major club in Europe. They are also facing serious legal issues based on their continued involvement in the Super League, all of which could affect their ability to play in the Champions League at all. But these players all sought instant gratification over a long-term winning project.

He apparently didn't learn from Donnarumma's example

Now we see a player like Renato Sanches, who has long been in talks with Milan, but is now reported to be in talks with PSG. I understand the bewitching concept of playing alongside fading stars with a lot of trophies, but why choose a club that has never won the Champions League over a club that has won the Champions League seven times? Why choose the Ligue 1 winner over the Serie A winner? Did he not see what happened to the last player to choose PSG over Milan? In his search for instant gratification, he could be passing up the chance to be a part of the next big, sustainable winning project in Europe. 

That is the price of seeking instant gratification. Both players and clubs choose to pay the price now, but are left with no money or no career, and often not even any trophies. The wisdom in choosing a project like Milan's is that they invest wisely and shrewdly in both youth and experience, creating a project that will win both now and in the future. The project is meant to grow and become better and better over time, constantly bringing in young new talent while still remaining economically responsible and sustainable. A little patience goes a long way toward winning.

Milan's investment was €1m in 2020, just 2 years later, he won a title and is worth €28m

Milan fans may be sweating it out watching our rivals spend big and bring in big players. I welcome the competition. Winning by spending is the old way of doing business in football, and is on the way out. Winning by investing in youth, building a solid team and a project that is sustainable with heart and grinta is the Milan way. It saw the team with the fifth highest wage bill in Serie A win over all of the other teams last season, and I believe that it will continue to do so this season and going forward. That is the price they will pay for instant gratification.

This post inspired by the music of Queen's "We Are the Champions"

Our next match is 
a preseason friendly
ZTE FC vs. AC Milan
Saturday, July 23 • 18:00 CEST (12noon EDT)
Zalaegerszeg, Hungary

Mercato Choices: The Price of Instant Gratification Mercato Choices: The Price of Instant Gratification Reviewed by Elaine on 12:00 AM Rating: 5
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