Milan's Mercato: A Team in Decline

Each year, at this time of the year, male fans everywhere develop some sort of fever that leads to irrational behaviors and beliefs surrounding the transfer window. Not unlike preteen girls, they spend their time daydreaming about things that never come to fruition. But this year, it is much more sinister. There is so much anger from these transfer market fantasy boys. They are in denial of what is actually happening to the club, they have turned their backs on Maldini and Tonali, and lash out in attack of anyone who says anything to burst their little inflated daydreams. Yet the reality is so much further from the truth, and we have seen this cycle before create a horrible environment for the players when the team fails to live up to these unrealistic expectations. Reality may not be fun, but it is important to acknowledge that this transfer window is creating a team in decline.

Our current starting midfield duo, formerly Tonali and Bennacer.

Starting from the top, Cardinale has cut the expected transfer budget for the second year running. This, despite earning around €100 million in Champions League monies from UEFA and television rights this past season. That money is literally given to teams to improve their squad so they will be more competitive the following season. But Cardinale absorbed most of it and refuses to reinforce properly.

In fact, when asked by Maldini for proper reinforcements, something the Curva Sud and fans worldwide have also asked for, he fired Maldini, and then Massara. This was like playing transfer window Jenga, pulling out the two most important pieces from the bottom of a tower, which is now crashing down. 

Removing the foundation of the project brings the project crashing down

Just on paper alone, we lost our award-winning Technical Director and Sporting Director. Both of whom were not only capable, but also skilled and experienced in their area of expertise. They had a project in place that was remarkably successful, and was in motion, but now has been completely interrupted and is being slowly dismantled. That actually began last year, with the delay of their own contract renewal and the slashing of the transfer budget last summer, which saw them lose a few important transfer targets in the process. The project was further impacted by the timing and the lack of budget given them in January.

Now this new "working group" that our technical sector has become is now down two qualified and talented individuals. Three people who have other responsibilities are now expected to do more work for the same pay, and there is no clear plan in place, no communication with the fans, no direction at all. Worse still, Massara is now linked with Napoli. They let their Sporting Director go to Juventus, and if Massara goes to Napoli, we have actually had a hand in strengthening the technical areas of two of our strongest rivals while simultaneously making a joke out of our own.

Also losing the head of the Youth Sector for the past four years.

Not only Maldini and Massara are leaving, though. They also let Angelo Carbone, longtime scout and for the past four years, head of Milan's Youth Sector go. Flavio Roma, our Goalkeeping Coach, is also gone. They are removing so many qualified people from the sporting sector simultaneously, and have a portfolio manager overseeing their replacement. Literally, Furlani's experience is entirely in the investment banking industry, he has been CEO of Milan for six months, by virtue of having worked for Elliott for a number of years. Now he is being entrusted with the sporting sector, including the women's and youth teams, of a €1.2 billion club with one of the most important histories in European football.

And what about Moncada? In addition to the seven players whose contracts ended on Friday, and those of Carbone and Flavio Roma, Moncada's contract was also up. They announced a one year renewal of Abate's contract, but nothing about Moncada. No extension, renewal, or promotion as announced. This is worrisome as his contract renewal has been discussed for at least a year now, with reports that an agreement was reached multiple times, yet no contract was ever signed.

And that is just what is happening in management.

Have you seen this man? Or his contract? Milan fans want to know.

On the pitch, with Tonali's transfer announced today, we are officially down eight players. Plus, Bennacer is out for at least six months with his serious knee injury (I still hate you for breaking him, Calhanoglu.) That means we start the season without the heart of Pioli's system. Even if somehow this dysfunctional management wins the lottery and replaces Tonali and brings in someone to deputize for Bennacer, they will need to not only learn the system, but also develop a chemistry with all of the other players. That takes time. Also, People are talking about non-EU spots in the team, but Tonali was raised in an Italian club, so is a precious homegrown player for the Champions League roster. We were already limited the past two years because of a lack of Italian players. We need more Italians in the squad.

So what players are being brought in? The first signing was a new second keeper, Marco Sportiello. This was a deal Maldini had been working on all year. He had tried to bring him in when Maignan was injured, but Atalanta would not let him go due to an injury to their first keeper at the same time. While Tatarusanu is definitely leaving, there are reports that Mirante could renew for another year. The only real concern in this area is if the club decides to accept an offer for Maignan. That would be utterly devastating. And I would not put it past them, either. Not that he is even replaceable, but there are not a lot of decent goalkeepers available.

Will he perform at Milan? He struggled at Chelsea.

The only other player they have signed is Ruben Loftus-Cheek. He is a 27 year old midfielder who has struggled at Chelsea and had a season-long injury a couple of years back. He is a longtime friend of Tomori, who will help him acclimate, but that friendship is not enough to build chemistry and understanding quickly with the entire team with a new language in a new country. Maldini had also been negotiating for him, but as an addition to the team, not a replacement for Tonali. And Maldini reportedly had the price down to €15 million, but this "working group" paid €20 million. To put that in perspective, that is nearly half of the money they will receive for Tonali. Spent on someone who should have been a reinforcement player, but will now need to be relied on by Pioli, if he can stay healthy. 

That's it. We are down eight players, they have signed two. All of the players Maldini had been negotiating for as upgrades have gone to other clubs. Most notoriously, Marcus Thuram, widely linked with Milan, and previously had talks with Maldini that had reportedly gone well, suddenly signed for Inter instead. He literally chose a club who might not be able to pay his wages over this club. That's how catastrophic this management is.

Bennacer is also out for at least six months, so we have no starting midfield right now.

Which brings me to the immeasurable part that the club lost with Cardinale's absurd decision to sack Maldini. First of all, his influence. Every player that came to Milan under Maldini's tenure talked about how influential Maldini was in their choice. Three years ago, I personally spoke to one of our players on the podcast who said exactly that. We have already seen the consequences in that Moncada and Pioli calling the players to speak to them has zero power to actually bring them to the club. Yet Maldini was able to convince plenty of young, talented players not only to come to Milan, but to sign and play for very low wages. And renew, too.

Then there is the support that Maldini and Massara provided to Pioli. In addition to regular consultations with him about the kinds of players he was looking for in the transfer windows, they were always at Milanello and at all of the matches. This provided support for him directly, as well as the experience and mentoring they were able to offer the players, which strengthened the team and indirectly supported Pioli's work as well. That is in addition to the incredible influence Maldini had in the football world in general, as we talked about on the last podcast. That is now gone, too.

Pioli is on his own now.

The players, especially the key players who are all starters, were reportedly very upset when Maldini was suddenly sacked. Their response thus far on social media to Tonali's move has also been emotional. So as they return to Milanello next week, or later, for those who were on National Team duty, Pioli will have his hands full trying to manage intense emotions and uncertainties around all of the changes at the club. Then they travel to the United States, departing July 21st, for their preseason tour. 

Yes, they are professional footballers, but they are human beings, too. Most if not all of the players signed onto the project because of Maldini and what he brought to the club, now their sporting future is uncertain. Tonali was a fierce teammate and friend, and now he is gone as well. In addition to the other seven players out of contract. Many will be questioning whether or not they will stay, or whether or not they will be pushed out, too. The mentality that has been the strength of Pioli's side and the driving force behind the Scudetto and Champions League successes has been irreparably damaged by this management.

All of this loss all at once will definitely impact mentality.

Physically, as in numbers of players and in terms of quality of players, there is so much left to do in this transfer window. Sure, there is time. And with Tonali's exit, there is some money, as well, even though Cardinale will not spend the UEFA money intended for transfers. But given the way they are already spending it, there is little hope of improvement. 

This "working group" has strayed completely from the "sign young, talented players for low fees and wages" policy and are scouting mainly older, established players with big transfer fees and wages. And they cannot even convince them to sign on to this project. Even with Champions League next season, players recognize that there is no project anymore. No direction, no plan, no spokesperson, no future. They are negotiating with a portfolio manager. And a scout who may or may not even have a contract with the club itself anymore.

When you're really a portfolio manager, but you're pretending to be a CEO.

Above all, though, they see how this management treats those who love Milan. How it treated a legend, a bandiera past and then one for the future. They see that there is no monetary future in the club. The highest paid player is Leão, who gave everything to this club the past four years, only to be renewed for a mere €5 million annually. Players with a fraction of his talent make twice that much in the Premier League, and he could have, too. But he stayed out of loyalty to Maldini and to Milan. And how three days later, they were happy to shamefully repay Maldini's loyalty by firing him after five years of impressive work as a Director.

At the head of this club now, the owner does not know football at all. He claims to be a successful businessman, yet did not do his homework about the sport, the Club, or the culture to understand how to actually make money in this €1.2 billion venture. Instead, he has behaved like an ignorant, arrogant, narcissistic American. He will not be able to build his stadium, which could inevitably lead to him losing the club. 

There is no personal or emotional investment in this venture, this is just business.

But for him, this is just a business venture. One investment that he got wrong. A big one, sure, but just money. For the players and employees of the club, these are their careers and livelihoods he is destroying. For us fans, this is our passion and joy, what fuels us and the blood that courses through our veins. And for the Club, it is the brand, image, and reputation of a club with over 123 years of history

This mercato is not just any transfer window. This isn't about money and rumors and grown men dreaming of players like prepubescent girls dream about their first kisses. It marks the end of a project, the sudden disruption of a club returning from ruins to greatness, only to be dragged back down again by a man who wants to drain our wallets to line his own. Players' careers are being altered, and the trajectory of this club was changed overnight. Milan are going from a club about to return to glory to a team in decline.

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

Milan's Mercato: A Team in Decline Milan's Mercato: A Team in Decline Reviewed by Elaine on 12:01 PM Rating: 5
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