Scudetto Aftermath: The Price of Winning

There was much discussion about Milan being unable to defend their Scudetto this season. However, no one talked about the fact that immediately after winning, Elliott Management sold the club. That put everything into disarray, pushing the renewal of Maldini and Massara's contracts until the ultimate last minute, and turning our entire transfer market upside down. We lost all of our transfer targets, much of our expected transfer budget, and crucial time in the transfer window. And that was just the start of the perfect storm that would affect Milan's ability to replicate the previous season. Yet this "Scudetto aftermath" has become the norm in Serie A, with the past four winners all having major difficulties after their league wins. Apparently, it is just the price of winning.

Win the league, sell the club... who does that?

There is no time like the present, and this year's Scudetto winners are already imploding. It was not enough that their season was filled with their fans spreading hate and violence, fighting with each other and their owner, or that the club dodged another inquest into their capital gains relating to the purchase of Osimhen, at least temporarily. After winning their first title in 33 years, Spalletti has decided to leave the club, and it is widely reported that sporting director Giuntoli is also on his way out. Not to mention all of the players linked with moves away from the club. Considering that their performances also dropped even before being crowned champions, the odds of them repeating a Scudetto win next season are not very high.

Winning it all is just too much, time to break up the family...

Milan struggled this year after selling the club, but were also too early in their rebuilding phase to sustain a continued title run. That, paired with an injury Armageddon that saw many important players out for extended periods of time, not the least of which was the five month absence of Maignan. In fact, Pioli did not have a single day of training with his entire squad until early March this season. That is seven months into the season before he had a full squad in training, let alone in matches (and there have been very few days since, actually.) Additionally, as Pioli mentioned on Sunday, the World Cup break in the middle of the season really impacted this team, which has been built on consistency and mentality, both of which were harshly interrupted by both the injuries and the midseason break. Without appropriate reinforcements this summer, Milan will not be competing for a title again next season, either.

The previous season, Inter were awarded the Scudetto, despite not even being able to pay their players' wages at one point in that season. During that season, Inter's owners, Suning, sold a significant amount of their shares due to serious financial problems. The founder, Zhang Jindong, no longer holds a majority of the company and has since stepped down (he is Steven Zhang's father.) They also ceased operations of Chinese league team Jiangsu FC virtually overnight by pulling funding in March of 2021. Inter Chairman Steven Zhang has been sued in multiple countries for €300 million in unpaid debt to China Construction Bank and could actually face jail time if he does not manage to pay up. 

Collecting trophies under false pretenses, with more debt than fans

Additionally, they are facing a deadline to repay their €300 million to Oaktree Capital Management, and failure to do so would result in defaulting and losing ownership of the club to the American fund, just like Yonghong Li did with Milan. Zhang has borrowed all he can, and does not seem to have the resources to bring in that kind of income, either. In all, Inter have an astounding €880 million in debt. They literally have so much more debt than they have actual fans. In fact, if every Inter fan worldwide gave the club a Euro, they would still be in serious debt. Their bonds have been rated as junk bonds, meaning they are at high risk of defaulting on those as well. They have literally maxed out their credit.

Reports have continually surfaced that Zhang is looking for investors, amidst rumors that the club could be put up for sale. Those rumors of a sale have been repeatedly refuted by Zhang. Meanwhile, they continue to be allowed to spend money on players they cannot afford, winning trophies ahead of teams who can actually pay their debts. They are also miraculously the only club investigated for capital gains who were not charged, not unlike what happened in 2006 in the Calciopoli scandal. (Although with all of that debt, there is no way that capital gains alone could have helped them.) That they are allowed by the FIGC and UEFA to continue to compete and even win trophies is as scandalous and corrupt as another club that has recently been sanctioned for wrongdoings...

They literally could not pay their players that season, but sure, why not hand them the trophy? Or four more since?

That club, of course, is Juventus, the winner of the Scudetto the year before Inter... as well as the eight titles prior to that one. Many clubs were shown to have utilized inflated transfer fees for some capital gains to balance their books, which is a financial crime in most industries.  But Juventus were shown to have systematically inflated transfer fees to boost capital gains and achieve a sporting advantage over a period of at least three years. Last year, their lawyers were able to get all charges dismissed against all of the clubs in the original capital gains trial by claiming that there was no way to prove the value of a player, hence there was no way to prove their transfer fees were boosted. (It is worth noting that boosting transfer fees for capital gains has often been punished in Serie A in the past with fines and bans for directors.) However, after a mountain of evidence (including wiretaps) was found which demonstrated a long pattern of knowingly abusing the system, this year, the case against Juventus was reopened. Initially, they were handed a 15 point penalty. That was revoked by CONI on appeal as too severe, but last week, the FIGC court of appeals gave them a 10 point penalty. The club has said they will not appeal this one.

The last Scudetto is the one that kills you.

With Juventus, though, winning isn't everything, it's the only thing. And when their budget grew out of control, they did whatever it took to give themselves an advantage. That included making an agreement to pay their players three months' wages under the table during COVID, when so many people in the area were dying, and players of all of the other teams were forfeiting their salaries completely for the entire four months. There were also financial indiscretions relating to players' agents and more, misrepresenting what was actually going on in their finances. All of which are obviously illegal, but what makes these actually criminal is that Juventus are the only Serie A club that is publicly traded on the stock market. So lying to investors about their financial transactions could influence the market, and are very serious offenses.

The 10 point penalty in a single season for having systematically inflating transfer fees for years, helping them to win multiple trophies was barely a slap on the wrist, they could have easily lost titles or worse. And while the penalty had significant financial implications for Juve in that it put them out of a Champions League spot, it is extremely unlikely that UEFA will let them compete in Europe at all next season anyway, based on both cases that Juve are involved in. UEFA are conducting their own investigation, and a ruling is expected this next month, now that the FIGC has made their decisions.

Juve players admitted to accepting wages under the table during COVID.

That secondary case of the more serious financial misconduct was ruled on yesterday, when everyone but Agnelli agreed to a plea bargain. He will face a separate trial beginning on June 15th. The FIGC, corrupt as ever, seemed thrilled to take €720 thousand in the form of a fine from Juventus to make all of this go away as it pertains to sport. Which in most countries counts as bribery, but in Italy, is known as "justice." Agnelli and the entire board resigned in November, and with these serious charges of fraud, market manipulation, and more, one would think there would be civil charges brought against the former directors and/or the club.  But then again, this is Italy, and the Agnelli family is incredibly wealthy and powerful, so they have probably already made all of that go away as well. Players should also be punished for their part, because lying is lying, after all. People sometimes think footballers are stupid, but Chiellini has a masters degree in business administration. He knows what fraud is and what it means to be publicly traded.

There is a lot of confusion, especially by entitled Juventus fans, who feel like the world is against them, because not only has their steady stream of trophies completely dried up, but that they are the only ones being punished for capital gains. They are right about that... at least so far, as the other cases are still being appealed. But complaining about being docked 10 points after the egregiousness of their club's behaviors and the advantages gained is like someone involved in a serious accident complaining of being charged with a DUI while someone who was speeding was not penalized. Both parties broke the law, but one actually did some extensive damage.

Agnelli would rather go to jail alone than stand with everyone else in a plea bargain.

Additionally, while the fine for financial misdeeds is tragically understated and actually ironic, the financial misconduct related to that investigation did not really give them any sporting advantage. I assume that is why the FIGC was willing to only fine the club, not deduct more points or relegate them. While other clubs have previously been punished in a sporting way for violating financial laws, the plea bargain was seen as an admission of guilt, cooperating with authorities, and a way to allow the club to move forward without further penalties. At least that is what they want you to tell your children. The rest of us see it for what it actually is.

Why is it that all four of the past winners of the Scudetto have suffered so much financially? Has anyone considered that Serie A no longer supports teams capable of winning? Particularly since they are simultaneously expected to compete with clubs worth double or triple their worth in European competitions? Between the poor TV rights negotiations, the lack of investment in infrastructure or youth development, the racism and other discrimination, and just generally being backward in every way, Serie A simply does not allow clubs to be financially competitive with other leagues. 

Do we even want to win a Scudetto again? Bad things happen to those who win in Italy.

If UEFA imposes their financial sustainability regulations on Juventus and Inter, they will be sanctioned and potentially not allowed to compete in Europe, losing out on significant income. Both Juve and Inter are on the road to financial self-destruction, with massive, record losses and the highest wage bills in the league. Napoli, while more financially sustainable, still have an owner who is so volatile that he cannot keep any consistency at his club. Milan are in fantastic shape financially, set to make a profit this year, but have reached a breaking point in which they must invest heavily to remain competitive, and it remains to be seen how much the new owners will reinvest of their nearly €100 million in Champions League earnings this season.

So who wins the Scudetto next year? And why would a club even want to? Because lately, it carries with it more of a curse than a blessing, sort of a Scudetto aftermath. Sure, those curses are entirely of the individual clubs' own making. But they have been decisions made in the quest for glory in a league that cannot get out of its own way. In Serie A, there is a very steep price to be paid for winning.

This post inspired by the music of Måneskin's "Gasoline"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 38
Milan vs. Verona
Sunday, June 4, 2023 • 21:00 CEST (3pm EDT)

Scudetto Aftermath: The Price of Winning Scudetto Aftermath: The Price of Winning Reviewed by Elaine on 5:32 AM Rating: 5
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