Gerry Cardinale: Crimes Against Football

Gerry Cardinale is in the business of building businesses. And yet, in one move, he did more to destroy the Milan brand and business than anyone else has for decades. In firing Paolo Maldini, he not only exposed his complete ignorance of all things Milan, but of how to run a football club at all. Yet it started long before that fateful day. Since he purchased the club, he has systematically committed crimes against football.

A crime against football for which there is no forgiveness.

The timing of the sale of Milan last year was disturbing. Negotiations took place as Milan were battling for the Scudetto, and potential new owner Cardinale attended the celebrations when we did, in fact, win. Tensions became evident as news broke that Gazidis had not informed Maldini of the sale of the club before the news broke in the media. This directly impacted all of the plans he and Massara had made for the transfer window, including agreements with players such as Renato Sanches and Sven Botman that were reportedly made in April. The budget for the transfer window also cut significantly, with Cardinale spending much less than Elliott was reportedly planning to last summer.

While they were trying to rebuild the team, they had to fight for their jobs.

Maldini had already been very vocal about wanting less interference with transfer deals, such as when Gazidis initially blocked Ibrahimović, for example, or blocked other important transfers. When negotiations for the renewal of Maldini and Massara's contracts took until the ultimate last minute, it seemed from the outside to be because Gazidis had been in the United States until the end of June. Certainly, when Gazidis announced he would let his contract run out and leave the club, it seemed that he and Maldini butting heads was the problem. But in hindsight, it seems that there may have been more going on than we knew about with those negotiations. Much, much more.

After winning the Scudetto, Milan needed to invest properly to remain competitive, especially with players like Kessié and Romagnoli leaving. Just like with Galliani in 2007, Maldini had said as much. However, the timing of the sale and the cutting of the transfer budget, as well as the club not approving certain transfers severely limited the activity of Maldini and Massara. While fans wanted a quick fix when Dybala became available, the club had made it clear that he did not fit the profile (nor their self-imposed salary cap) of a young player for the club to develop.

Signing De Ketelaere was a decision made together, a player signed for Pioli.

Meanwhile, head scout Moncada, along with Maldini, and Massara, made the decision to sign De Ketelaere, despite the fact that his transfer fee would use a majority of the entire summer budget. This decision was made after scouting the player for two years, using data analysis (as the club had done for years,) and having consulted with Pioli extensively to find a player that matched the characteristics he wanted. This purchase was also approved by the club.

This is noteworthy, because there is a wide consensus that Cardinale was unhappy with the way Maldini spent the transfer money last summer, and that he was only offered €35 million for this summer's transfers. Reports also abound that Maldini wanted to bring in more experienced players to replace Ibrahimović or a couple of the other older players whose contracts are up this month, and asked again to be able to offer higher wages for quality players, but was denied.

Maldini was as successful as Cardinale was ignorant (but you don't win trophies for ignorance.)

Still other reports indicate that Cardinale was unhappy with the resale value of the players in the squad, or the profits Maldini had not made from clearing out bench players. Nevermind that the squad he inherited had wages of €120 million annually, and he reduced them to €86 million per year, while simultaneously taking the team from sixth place and no Champions League to both a first Scudetto and Champions League semifinal in over a decade. Saving €35 million per year in wages, while increasing prize monies exponentially. Lowered costs, much improved quality and income. Plus a trophy. It really doesn't get any better than that for a sporting sector.

In 2017, for example, our squad was supposedly worth €235 million and finished sixth place. Now our squad is worth €572 million, and brought in approximately €100 million from Champions League prize money and television shares alone this season. Players such as Kalulu, who was purchased for less than €500.000, is now worth over €35 million, an increase of more than 70 times his value. Or, speaking of this past summer's mercato, Maldini shrewdly brought in Thiaw at the last minute for €5 million plus bonuses. His market value is now over €15 million, nearly tripling his value in a single season. Ironically, Maldini was set to spend approximately €25-30 million on Sven Botman instead, which would have prevented both De Ketelaere and Thiaw from coming to the club last summer.

Maldini was always close with Pioli and the players, directly helping to mentor all of them.

Throughout the season, the wars that must have been going on behind closed doors are unimaginable. We know that Maldini always tried to keep everything out of the press. But he and Massara had to fight for their very jobs last summer literally up until midnight of June 30th. Then they had to endure who knows what just to make the transfers happen that they could. Then Gazidis stepped out, and an Elliott portfolio manager, with zero experience in football, took over as CEO in December. Just before the January mercato. While making careful and brave statements to the press about why they were not investing, Maldini had to be seething with anger on the inside, unable to do what he knew he needed to in order to help Milan succeed. You could see it in his face. 

Yet he and Massara stood strong. They worked with Pioli and supported the players by having a personal relationship with each of them and visiting Milanello at least once a week to observe training, if not more often. They renewed the contracts of Pioli (2025), Tomori (2027), Krunić (2025), Tonali (2027), Kalulu (2027), Bennacer (2027), Giroud (2024), and Leão (2028) just this past season alone. Toward the end of the season, Maldini once again emphasized the need to make the jump and invest in quality players, something that was echoed by the Curva Sud in a banner at the Verona match on the final day of the season. He spoke for most of us fans, actually.

Maldini asked for what he knew Milan needed, what the fans and team wanted, and he was fired for it.

Three days after finally completing Leão's very complicated renewal (due to the ongoing legal issues with Sporting and Lille), Cardinale and Maldini met. In what was described as a very short but tense meeting, Cardinale fired Maldini.

The football world was shocked. The fans were shocked. The players were shocked. Pioli did not even get a chance to say goodbye, they met for lunch later that week. No one at the club saw it coming or knew it was going to happen. It seemed more like a petulant, impulsive, narcissistic decision made by Cardinale. But in reality, it was clearly something that had been considered, if not planned, for some time. Maldini had renewed all of the key players for them (except Maignan, they were working on that one.) He had ensured the team was qualified for Champions League again, and saw to it that the club actually turned a profit. They used him to get what they wanted, then they cast him aside.

Every self-proclaimed successful businessman needs someone who is equally deluded.

The arrogance and ignorance required to make such a ridiculous decision is actually staggering. In Maldini, you had not only someone who knew Milan inside and out, two generations deep, as a son, a player, and now a director. He also commanded respect from everyone in the football world. Everyone. An example was when we played at Tottenham this season, the busses were both late due to traffic. Champions League matches simply don't kick off late, due to the massive revenue involved in television rights and advertising. But Maldini was able to persuade them to start twenty minutes late to give all of the players time to warm up, because he's freaking Maldini. Not to mention the influence and mentoring he gave to the players, which they have all spoken about repeatedly. Sacking him was not only like Cardinale shooting himself in the foot by removing this priceless resource, it was definitely a crime against football. 

Cardinale gave an interview in 2020 at the Leaders in Sports Summit in Abu Dhabi. Within that interview, he talked about how RedBird had "gone deep" researching on investing in European football, by studying it for all of two years. He felt that he could create a multi-league, multi-club training academy system by purchasing clubs that would not be top clubs, but rather finish maybe sixth through 11th in their respective leagues, never in danger of relegation, but always creating a steady cashflow, so he could then pump the fans for cash, like he has done in the United States. He felt like that would be good for the "ecosystem" of football. (He also specifically referenced fans as "captive audiences" in stadiums for "multi-hour periods" to be "monetized.")

Cardinale dreaming of monetizing all 70,000 of the fans at the San Siro while he holds them captive.

This week, it was discovered that he had resigned from the board of Toulouse FC, the Ligue 1 club that RedBird also owns a majority share of, because in winning the Coupe de France, Toulouse qualified for the Europa League next season. (Side note: Cardinale also sacked the Toulouse coach the same week as Maldini was fired. It was a busy week.) UEFA is investigating issues with Cardinale owning two clubs eligible for UEFA competitions, which violates their rules (I guess they did not research very deep after all? Or was it his clubs who messed up by succeeding?) They will rule on this case on Monday, which could see Toulouse excluded from the Europa League. However, it is just another example of how very little Cardinale knows about football.

Also noteworthy in that interview, he did share that "in Europe, the fans really own the team, and you gotta be very careful with that." Apparently, he forgot he ever said that, because he has done everything he could possibly do to alienate the Milan fan base in the past three weeks. First by sacking Maldini, who had literally won awards for his work as a director, and then by offering to sell Tonali to Newcastle. Tonali. Our bandiera, the player of our hearts, a second generation Milanista himself, who bleeds red and black like us. That's the player he picked to offload for cash. Not only was it an idiotic business move, but for fans in the footballing world, it is actually criminal. Even non-Milan fans are livid.

You picked the wrong player to sell, Cardinale. This is a crime.

It is not just the fans he has angered, though. While it is virtually impossible to build a stadium in Italy, even for Italians, Cardinale has managed to piss off everyone that could possibly help him get one built. He has angered the mayor, the city council, the activists, many of the residents of Milano, Inter's owner and management (with whom Elliott had been working very closely to build a joint project with,) and, of course, all of the fans who he would like to "monetize" for "multi-hour periods" in his stadium, should he somehow manage to build it.

For Cardinale, this crime is particularly egregious, and displays perhaps the most extreme lack of knowledge of the football industry. Cardinale financed half of the €1.2 billion purchase price of Milan through a loan with Elliott. The only way he will be able to generate the necessary income to repay that is to build a stadium. He needed to come in on bended knee and sweet talk every person he came into contact with. Instead, he has come into this project like a bull in a china closet. And in less than a year, he seems to have smashed every last piece of the proverbial good china.

Behind every short, overcompensating millionaire businessman is a shorter, shameless little man seeking power.

There is still more, though. After firing Maldini, Furlani made a statement talking about an "organizational restructuring" into the creation of a "working group" for the technical area. If you are paying attention and doing the math, they took an exceptionally high functioning working group of five people - CEO, Technical Director, Sporting Director, Head Scout, and Manager – removed two of the most qualified people who have actual training and expertise in their job title, and are now doing media damage control by simply calling it something different. Or, five minus two equals three. Their "working group" actually just became a threesome with less knowledge and more power. The sheer amount of gaslighting and propaganda are not only unprofessional, but absolutely shocking.

This new "working group" includes the portfolio manager, Furlani, who has had the CEO job for all of six months now. Then there is the Head Scout, Geoffrey Moncada, who would now be promoted and given more responsibility. However, his contract is set to expire on June 30th, and the club has yet to even announce his contract extension, let alone an official promotion. It was also mentioned that Pioli would be given more say in the transfer market. But really, he was just given more responsibility, suddenly without the constant support of Maldini and Massara that he had always enjoyed. Most likely, the main reason he chose to stay on was for the players, to give the young players especially some continuity and support after losing both Ibrahimović and Maldini in the space of 48 hours. And perhaps even to honor Maldini's work, who had stood by him when no one else did.

Maldini stood by him from the Rangnick debacle two weeks in through the UCL semifinal.

To put it into perspective, imagine owning a Ferrari. You take it into your trusted mechanic for repairs, but someone new has taken ownership of the repair shop. Instead of a proper mechanic, he's hired the guy from the auto parts store to do repairs, and is asking you to not only trust him with your expensive sports car, but to remain loyal, and to give you more money. That is the type of downgrade we are dealing with in this new "working group." And who is managing the womens' team and youth teams? The Portfolio Manager?

Then there is the "groundbreaking" data and analysis RedBird is telling us they are using to scout players. Initially developed by Billy Beane for baseball, this system was made famous by the movie Moneyball back in 2011. Once again, if Cardinale had truly "gone deep" and actually done his research, he would know that Milan has used data and analytics for years. They were on the cutting edge of using this type of information for sports medicine, with the innovative Milan Lab, founded in 2002. Milan has also used stats and analysis of players and performance for scouting since at least 2008, when Leonardo worked at Milan, as he himself pointed out. This "Moneyball' method is not new.

Data and scouting is no match for experience and influence.

Even in the movie, or in conversations with the experts on this "Moneyball" method of scouting, they acknowledge that the data is actually limited information, and it is impossible to predict things such as how a player adapts to a new club or country (such as De Ketelaere, for example), or injuries, or so many other human factors. Unlike baseball, where the players' performance is largely individual, football has 22 players on a pitch who are all moving simultaneously and interact physically, mentally, and emotionally. Each team of 11 players must find a way to gel and work together, and factors such as the manager's tactics and motivational style are crucial, as is every single aspect of the game, down to the condition of the pitch and the weather for each match. Don't even get me started on the impact of the referees.

This notion, that you can walk into football after researching the sport "deep" for "two years" and apply statistics to create some kind of predictable outcome to make you money is so painfully American that apple pie is having an identity crisis right now. And while I am aware that Beane has consulted for AZ Alkmaar and other clubs with some improvement in results, those clubs were not using stats before he came in. Milan was.

Hypocrisy at its tiniest.

Worse still is the hypocrisy. After self-promoting their dream of investing in young, largely unknown players for low transfer fees and wages by using their revolutionary "Moneyball" statistics and analysis, they instead are selling our most beloved player for massive amounts of money. The players they are reported to be pursuing are all established players with comparatively large transfer fees and wages that exceed their own salary cap, both things they would never have allowed Maldini to do. And it would seem that sacrificing Tonali might be in vain, as they have yet to convince a single target to sign for the club. Thuram, for example,  would rather go to a club who literally may not be able to pay his wages and has serious financial issues than come to this circus. That is the difference between having Maldini, he was able to convince players to actually sign. His presence alone made Milan a believable project.

They have gutted the heart and soul of our team in an effort to "monetize" it and make it stronger on paper, but they don't know what they are doing. Or how this team became successful. Sure, Maldini, Moncada, and Pioli all looked at the data when scouting the players. But it was grinta and careful nurturing, creating a family environment, and tough experiences lived together that made this a winning team. Not money. we will be lucky to finish midtable next season, which is within Cardinale's original model. Even if he has since seen the monetary value of qualifying for the Champions League, and claims to be aiming for top four. But not even he is foolish enough to promise us that we will actually win anything. Because he knows he would have to invest heavily to do that. He wants to do just enough to try to make money, but without actually having to take risks. (Another reason they have kept the miracle-maker Pioli on.)

Pioli went from being supported by 2 legends and a capable sporting director to standing alone.

The reality for a fan like me is that I have worshiped this club with all my heart for almost thirty years. This guy comes in and owns the club for a year and has already done irreparable damage to the brand and name alone with his ignorance. Even a so-called vulture fund knew how to respect the fans. We knew Elliott were in it for the money, but they treated us right, so we gladly handed it over to them. They respected the club's heritage and image, the city of Milano, and all that Milan stands for. The Singers actually showed up for games and were involved in the operations of the club, not just how to make money, but how to actually build the brand and restore its glory. Cardinale is the antithesis of this. He only comes to Milano to piss off more people in his efforts to build a stadium. He would just as soon put out 11 cardboard cutouts on the field if he could, instead of players. It is reported that he had to ask which color his team was wearing when he attended the Derby. And he couldn't even come up with a decent statement when he fired Maldini, let alone post a word of gratitude on social media.

"Your team colors are red and black, Gerry." Yes, listen to the Singers. They knew. They respected Milan.

Cardinale probably thinks the fans will forgive him for what he has done, because in American sports, the plastic American fans definitely would. Just give them a free rally towel or something, and they would be fine. But he predicted his own fate when he talked about how fans of European football own the club, and that we look at owners as just passing through. And we are already beyond ready for him to pass through. He has committed more heinous crimes against football than any of us could have ever imagined. They hurt worse, because we were just at that rebuilding point where we were starting to win again, and he is tearing it all down overnight. He disrespected those who sweat blood for us, and he disrespected the shirt, as well as us fans. Ask the Curva Sud, no one forgets when you screw up this badly.

There is no way back for Cardinale. No players he could bring in to make this right. No trophies he could win, nothing he could do or give to this club to absolve him of his sins against Milan. (It is not as if he is even trying, either, there are not even any apologies.) He will forever go down in the history of the world of football as the money-obsessed American who fired Maldini. Fans will never forgive him for selling a player like Tonali, who would never choose to leave on his own under any other circumstances. If Cardinale has any intelligence whatsoever, he will get out of the club as soon as possible, because he is not going to make his money. His actions have condemned him, and the entire world can see that he is guilty of crimes against football. 

This post inspired by the music of Rammstein's "Bück Dich"

Gerry Cardinale: Crimes Against Football Gerry Cardinale: Crimes Against Football Reviewed by Elaine on 11:59 PM Rating: 5
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