The Betrayal of Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini is a legend. His entire life has been devoted to family and football. Milan has been his extended family, as a second generation Milan player and captain. His involvement with the club has always been about football. Obviously, on the pitch, he was one of the greatest to ever play the game, both as a player and a captain. But he also became an immediate legend as a technical director, and he and sporting director Ricky Massara formed an outstanding team. Together, they returned the team to the Champions League for three straight years, including a semifinal, and even helped the team win a Scudetto. In fact, the duo won multiple awards for being outstanding in their field from those who actually know football, and many legends in the industry had tremendous things to say about them. That did not matter to new Milan owner Gerry Cardinale, or his fake Milan fan CEO, Giorgio Furlani, though. As a numbers-crunching, data-driven, ignorant, egotistical, and irresponsible management, they took it upon themselves to take advantage of Maldini to help build the brand and tie down important players. Then they fired him in the most sudden and disrespectful of ways, also disrespecting the players, the club, and the fans. It was the betrayal of Paolo Maldini.


Maldini was sacked in a brief meeting with Cardinale on Monday. There has been much speculation about exactly why, with Furlani citing a "reorganization" of the club. Media sources repeatedly have said that Cardinale presented Maldini with only a €35 million transfer budget for the summer, and Maldini wanted more. Considering the €100 million or so in Champions League revenue the team earned this season, which is meant to be reinvested in the squad to make it competitive, this was certainly not an unreasonable request. 

Other sources reported that Maldini asked for exceptions to the salary cap for certain players, both of which are the most likely causes for the split, given what we know. From his public statements, we know that Maldini had been asking for strong reinforcements this summer in order to be competitive on multiple fronts. Plenty of other speculations have been made concerning transfer targets and more, but the media have been far more active than anyone at the club could possibly have been, considering the circumstances. At a time when we need the most clarity, there is more misinformation than ever.

Master and puppet.

As for official sources, Scaroni went a bit further and said that Maldini felt "uncomfortable" and was "no longer needed." But all of these statements have been pure damage control and propaganda. He talked about innovation in "working in teams," which the club was already doing. In fact, Elliott was far more involved in day-to-day than Cardinale has been. The Singers  attended more games, and Maldini and Massara consulted with Pioli regularly and were at Milanello weekly, for example. RedBird's use of extensive data and analysis has also been mentioned, data which is similar to what Milan has used as well, since at least 2008, according to Leonardo.

Scaroni also spoke about how Cardinale "is a sports specialist who boasts success in his activities, so when he suggests something to us, we pay great attention, because we think it brings innovations." Really? You want to talk about success? No one knows more about making Milan successful than Maldini. First he did it on the pitch, then he did it as a director, modernizing the sporting sector and transmitting the Milan DNA to the first team and even the youth teams. And he never boasts, either. Because he doesn't need to. Truly successful people do not need to point out that they are successful.

One of these things is not like the other.

What has Cardinale done since buying Milan? He has failed on every level in his efforts to build a stadium, something he desperately needs to cover his debts for purchasing the club. (Should he fail to be able to repay them, he would default and the club would return to Elliott once again.) The thing he has actually done most successfully since buying the club is to alienate everyone – the mayor, the city council, Inter's management, the city of Milano, and now Milan fans worldwide. Strike that. He has been even more successful at making a mockery of the sport and the club, as many have pointed out this week.

The propaganda the club is promoting is really more like gaslighting in terms of attributing responsibility for success or lack thereof. Milan's farewell statement for Maldini was shockingly cold and ungrateful, and there were no social media posts to honor his five years of service or all he did to modernize the club and bring sporting success. While Gazidis brought in the two highest deficits in Milan history by spending on things such as fonts and painting dressing rooms multiple times, Maldini cut the wagebill repeatedly and worked within little to no transfer budgets. That Milan is projected to turn a profit for the first time in ages this season is due entirely to the incredible amount of revenue earned from Champions League success. You know, the sporting area.

No true Milan fan would ever fire Maldini. Let alone assume more power because of it.
(Is that you, Galliani?)

Many attribute multiple players leaving the club on free transfers to Maldini. However, not only was he left cleaning up the mess of previous sporting directors who signed those players on high wages and who had unscrupulous agents, he was also bound by the salary cap of the owners, and could not renew them for the wages they were asking for. On the flip side, every player that Maldini signed that he wanted to renew, he has successfully renewed. 

Last summer's mercato is also a hot topic, with the press deeming De Ketelaere's signing a "failure," despite most football experts acknowledging that he has incredible potential and we should be waiting to judge because he is still so young. Maldini was also widely criticized after Leão's first season, with many advocating for him to be sold, even if the club had to take a loss. That is difficult to believe now that Leão's value has nearly tripled, but it did happen.

Maldini was criticized for signing Leão after the first year, but now he is worth nearly triple.

Only with De Ketelaere, Maldini won't be around in three more years to see if his path is similar. And with this split, Cardinale may have ensured that it won't. Meanwhile, Thiaw was purchased for €5m plus bonuses last summer, and his value has already more than doubled in a single season. Every player has a different path. Everyone wants instant success from players and a team transformed overnight, but Sacchi's Milan was not built in a day, either. Certainly, Maldini's squads have been far more well-thought out and planned in comparison to his predecessors.

Fans were also critical when Maldini mentioned that he specifically chose not to sign Dybala last summer (which also may have been an issue of the owner's salary cap, by the way,) but it was not about instant gratification. Elliott and now Cardinale have always made it very clear that they wanted to invest in young players. It wasn't just Maldini's idea. So if they were going to spend over €30 million on a player, it was not going to be for an older player like the Argentinian. 

The surprise of last summer, Thiaw has already doubled in value.

That said, Maldini fighting for a balance of young and experienced players to create sporting success was always a struggle. Gazidis famously initially blocked the return of Ibrahimović, one of the pillars of Milan's successes (and we could have had one more year with him.) But Maldini had always been right about what was needed at Milan. In 2007, our bandiera infamously told Galliani that the squad was too old and needed renewal. Galliani did not listen, and instead froze the legend out of the club after his retirement. 

Maldini knew more about what Milan needed than Galliani did since the days he was playing for Milan.

It was not until Maldini's return in 2018 that Milan finally began to build back into success. After a year under Leonardo's tutelage, he was appointed as Technical Director, and that is when the real project began to blossom. Despite Boban getting sacked in the process, Maldini fought against Gazidis' scheme to bring in Ralf Rangnick, and he was right about that, too. Okay, sure, he and Massara initially hired Giampaolo, that was a huge mistake. But they corrected with Pioli, and then kept faith in him even when others lost faith, and success followed.

Maldini knew all along that Ibrahimović was exactly what Milan needed.

Speaking of success, many have used Maldini and taken advantage of him to build back the Milan brand: From Elliott, Gazidis, and Scaroni to Cardinale, RedBird, and Furlani, they have all benefitted from Maldini's name, his reputation, and his irrefutable class. What has that gotten him? Maldini worked tirelessly on renewing the contracts of Pioli (2025), Tomori (2027), Krunić (2025), Tonali (2027), Kalulu (2027), Bennacer (2027), and Giroud (2024.) The big one was Leão, who renewed last week through 2028. Three days later, Cardinale sacked Maldini, then Massara. Cardinale pulled the trigger a little too soon, though. as Maignan's current contract is through 2026, but he is on low wages. Maldini and Massara were working on his extension when their own contracts were terminated. 

Gazidis made sure Maldini's job was not all fun and games, either.

The players were reported to be very upset at Maldini's sudden dismissal. Leão tweeted a not-so cryptic reaction, then many of the players posted pictures of Maldini on their social media accounts in support of him. The difference between the statements of Leão, Theo, and Bennacer, for example, and the club's statements, speak volumes about Cardinale's lack of humanity, let alone his comprehension of the scope of his mistake. The influence Maldini had in convincing, signing, mentoring, and renewing players at Milan was immeasurable. They have all talked about it. I even spoke with our backup goalkeeper a few years back on the podcast, and he specifically cited Maldini as his reason for choosing Milan over other destinations. 

Maldini had an excellent relationship with all of the players.

Whether or not the players are upset enough to try to leave remains to be seen. But because Maldini tied down so many key players, RedBird would stand to make massive profits should they leave. For example, Kalulu was purchased for less than €500,000. He is now worth more than €35 million. Some fans will credit Moncada's scouting for successes like this, but he has scouted probably hundreds of players. It was Maldini who actually brought them to the club and mentored them, allowing them to increase in value like Kalulu has. That influence of a living legend, as well as his immense experience of playing for Milan and winning so many trophies, is something that money cannot buy. But you can bet that Cardinale will take credit for any profits he takes in as a result of Maldini's hard work this past five years. Or any other success that comes, while definitely blaming him for anything that goes wrong.

A "vulture fund" treated Maldini, the club, & the fans with more respect than a sports investment fund. 

Cardinale would have done well to try to understand football, Italian culture, but most importantly the massive power of Maldini's influence in the world of football and as a human being. For example, ahead of our Champions League semifinal, the legendary Thierry Henry (Cardinale no doubt does not even know who that is) was completely fangirling over Maldini in an interview with him, and could not say enough good things about him. This week, the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and former teammate and director Leonardo spoke about the travesty of dismissing Maldini from Milan. Reactions are still coming in from plenty of others as the entire footballing world is stunned by such a ridiculous decision. 

Angry protestors put the big sign in English so Cardinale could understand it.

Ironically, the Curva Sud, who infamously abused Maldini at his farewell match and had always had a poor relationship with him, also posted a lovely message of support for the Milan legend this week:

"Regarding the events of the last few days, we want to sincerely thank Paolo for the work he has done over the years. Sewing up the relationship that was interrupted on the day of his farewell to football was certainly the most beautiful part of the journey we lived together in these last few seasons, which has brought AC Milan back to winning in Italy and being competitive in Europe. And a good part of these results must certainly be ascribed to Paolo and to the tireless work done, always distinguished by the love for our colors. A sacking will never be able to erase Paolo Maldini's history with the Rossoneri, a great captain on the pitch and an example of Milanismo for all of us."

Curva Sud protested on Sunday asking for a step up in quality.

While they did not make any real protest, and took their typical stance of placing expectations on the management without offering any consequences, this statement about Maldini was notable for a couple of reasons. First of all, it marks a 180° change in their views of him. Because of the respect that Elliott showed for the Milan fans from day one of their tenure, the Curva Sud have brilliantly supported the team, this season especially. Secondly, that this group of fans, which includes many criminals, could make a more appropriate statement about Maldini's departure than the club itself demonstrates even further how poor RedBird have behaved in this matter. Actions speak louder than words. 

Perhaps the biggest betrayal of Maldini is how RedBird are treating the club. Rather than replace Maldini and Massara with a proper Technical Director and Sporting Director, they are going to add those massive tasks to Furlani, head scout Moncada, and Pioli to do all together. Like how Maldini and Massara worked, but without the knowledge, training, or experience that the former directors have. If you have those three – Maldini, Massara, and Pioli – and you can only keep one, Pioli is not that one, and even he would tell you that. Plus, it is clear that it is only a matter of time before he, too, will be sacked. But he is not one to protest or make any waves, so they have allowed him to stay for now.

Pioli, Massara, and Maldini have always worked well together, they have all said so.

Some see Pioli staying on as a lack of loyalty to Maldini, but I don't think so. My personal opinion, based on what we know about Pioli, is that he truly loves his players. After losing Ibrahimović on Sunday to retirement, and then Maldini and Massara being sacked, the players needed someone to keep some consistency. Also, considering that those three, who always worked together well and discussed every transfer, it shouldn't be a surprise that the three were spotted having lunch together in Forte dei Marmi on Friday. But I find it quite ironic that the same fans who wanted Pioli out of the club just weeks ago are happy that he will have to shoulder more responsibility with this "reorganization." That those kinds of lineups and subs that drove us crazy since January could become our roster of players with five year contracts. Think about it.

While some fans do not know what to believe, or want to just "wait and see" what happens, actions speak louder than words. Maldini returned not only glory and honor to the club, but most importantly, its identity. He was always very open and honest about the project and what his intentions were. He has always been humble, and has always been about the football.

The rest of the world sees Maldini for the legend he is and what he did for Milan.

Cardinale, on the other hand, came into the club, telling all of us how important he was and everything he had accomplished. He took until the very last minute to renew Maldini and Massara last year. He immediately cut their transfer budget and interrupted all of the plans they had made last summer, which cost the club all of their pre-agreed transfer targets and precious time. He used Maldini for his own purposes all season, did not spend in January, and the second Leão renewed, he fired him. And he did it badly. No amount of success is worth this level of human failure. Actions speak louder than words. But words could never describe the betrayal of Maldini.

This post inspired by the music of Måneskin's. "Bla Bla Bla"

Forever grateful to Maldini for building this team.

PERSONAL NOTE: This news upset me so much, it took me five days before I could write about it. (If you know me, the first thing I usually do is write when something like this happens.) I have been outraged on Twitter, but it has literally caused me to question everything I love about this club. When Pioli was awarded the Tapiro d'Oro (joke award) after losing the Champions League semifinal to Inter, he said, "When you go so high and then fall, you hurt yourself even more." Despite everything we have been through in the past 10-12 years, this hurts more because we were finally returning to where we were supposed to be. I am truly so very grateful for everything Maldini gave to the club these past five years. It is horrific to watch this happen to him, to the players, to the club, to the fans, and to football.

The Betrayal of Paolo Maldini The Betrayal of Paolo Maldini Reviewed by Elaine on 8:30 AM Rating: 5
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