The Maldini Interview: Truth, Narrative, and Results

Six months ago today, Maldini was suddenly and very callously sacked by Cardinale. Since then, much was spoken about his dismissal, mainly by the media and fans. However, on Friday, an interview with Maldini was published in which the former Technical Director and legendary Milan bandiera and captain set the record straight about what really transpired. That interview demonstrated the growing gap between the truth, the narrative in the media, and the results, which speak for themselves.

When the truth aligns with results, the narrative is just a story.

That it took Maldini six months to speak about his experience should not surprise. Some wounds cut deeper than others, and he was far more affected by it than certain people who claim to be lifelong Milanisti who are actually running our club, but in fact, know nothing about football. And one of the first things addressed in the interview was that it was because of relations with that tiny little backstabbing portfolio manager-turned CEO, Furlani, that he and Massara were sacked. However, Maldini was still gracious to those who brought him in and renewed him, and shared his unconditional love for Milan. He pointed out that he never wanted to sue the club, because it would be their second lawsuit in as many years, and they lost that one to Boban, having wrongfully terminated him. Ironically, they terminated him for telling the truth.

Honesty is apparently not the best policy when you work for charlatans.

We know Maldini tells the truth, even when it is uncomfortable. As a player, he called the Curva Sud mercenaries, which was actually quite accurate. They have shown over and over again that they serve only their own interests or to aligh with others they deem powerful, rather than staying true to the interests of the club. They rewarded Maldini's labeling of them with hate, including by insulting him at his farewell match, a blight on the club's history. They finally reconciled with him, admitting they were wrong, when they saw his success as a director. Because unlike him, they are mercenaries, and they follow perceived success, not necessarily the club itself. This was evidenced in their brief farewell to him in June, and their lack of support for him since, as well as their overwhelming support of those-who-spent-€134 million this summer. Support that, of course, has been waning now that results do not match expenditures. 

As a player nearing the end of his career, in 2007, when Milan won the Champions League, Maldini told Galliani that they had not renewed the team. They were a squad of aging players, with no young players being brought in to keep building the project. Whether it was for that, or whatever other reason, Galliani froze Maldini out of the club after he retired in 2009. But Maldini had also spoken the truth then. Unfortunately, he was proven correct when Milan withered away into an unrecognizable club of Galliani's free transfers and trophy-less seasons for many painful years. 

Even Galliani came around, mending fences with Maldini. But Maldini never revised the truth.

Yet just two years in as technical director, Maldini brought Milan back to the Champions League after a seven year absence, then two consecutive years later in the competition, a first semifinal in 16 years. In only three years in charge, he resurrected this club from the trophy--less grave Galliani had cursed it to by winning the first Scudettto in 11 years. He was right about everything, and he proved it with results.

As a director, Maldini also spoke uncomfortable truths, mainly in meetings where he was told by directors "I don't understand anything about football," yet they would block transfer after transfer that he proposed. It is well known, for example, that Gazidis initially blocked the return of Ibrahimović. Yet now he takes credit for his return and the success that came with. In addition to blocking transfers, Gazidis also kept important truths, such as talks with Rangnick or the sale of the club, from his technical director. Maldini persevered in spite of this horrifically disrespectful behavior from management. Occasionally, when the time was right, such as at the end of the season, Maldini would also speak truths publicly. Particularly about the needs of the squad.

We all missed out on an extra year with Ibrahimović because Gazidis blocked the initial move.

Nothing has changed in that regard, Maldini is still speaking truth. For example, in his interview, he pointed out that "...there is no need to consult the algorithms to get Loftus-Cheek, Pulisic, and Chukwueze, just use the money for the market that a company that finally has revenue of €400 million deserves... We always used artificial intelligence, a tool that is now indispensable in any activity, without, however, reasonably thinking that a sports club can be managed by an algorithm. The many variables of football would not allow it. This is perhaps why this sport still excites millions of people.

Maldini is also speaking the truth now, telling us the truth about how he was never supported at the club, and that management like Scaroni, Furlani, and even Gazidis would leave matches when Milan conceded or were losing, rather than stick around to support the team. Yet Scaroni was front and center when Milan won the Scudetto. This is definitely not something he could lie about, even if he were capable, there would be proof of his claims in photos and stadium security footage everywhere.

This was actual teamwork and support, a tangible synergy that created success.

We have seen evidence of this continued trend. While Maldini would be close to Pioli and the team at Milanello regularly, and on the pitch whether it was a win, draw, or loss, any one of Cardinale, Furlani, Moncada, and d'Ottavio are very rarely at Milanello. They are never seen in the case of a loss, and they certainly never speak in times of crisis. There is zero public support from management. (Remember the obvious physical pain with which Maldini faced the press to concede after the fifth consecutive loss to Inter in May, in the Champions League, no less? He was always there for them, win, lose, or draw, putting a buffer between the team and the press.) And in the case of a win, they are celebrating themselves before (and if) they congratulate the team. Remember the Genoa win? When some fans thought it was cool that Furlani and Moncada immediately ran to the Curva to celebrate? The team who actually won the match were on the pitch, not being congratulated or supported, while Furlani and Moncada were taking credit for their win with the fans. Disgusting.

This is very different than Maldini's approach. He was never in this for himself, never visible because of his own ego, but rather because it was his job to support the manager and the team. He did everything that he did for the love of Milan, not for himself or his own ego. But he also never shied away from accountability. He spoke profusely of the need to support both Pioli and the players. He mentioned that the signing of De Ketelaere had been contested, for example, and pointed out that "young players have to be waited on helped, supported, and taken back, continuously."

Maldini was there for the players even in the worst of times, such as racial abuse in March of last year.
Can you picture any of the directors now doing anything like this?

"Anyone who thinks that the job of the sports area is only to make a transfer is completely wrong: coaches, players and staff need continuous support. Often, we bet on talent only, without knowing how to develop it. The most obvious examples of this are Chelsea and Manchester United: huge investments in the market and insufficient management lead to very poor results. Talent is not always recognized, when you bet on the potential of young players, the risk of failure is very high. After just three months of work, Boban, Massara, and I were called to London by the owners and CEOs and practically stripped of our authority, delegitimized to carry out our roles, because they didn't like the various signings of Leão, Bennacer, and Theo." (And yet, Gazidis numbers those signings amongst his accomplishments as well.)

Results speak for themselves. When Maldini was first hired to assist Leonardo in 2018, the squad they inherited was worth about €200 million, but the wage bill was €150 million annually. With Maldini, Boban, and Massara's careful expertise, they restructured the sporting sector over four years. The net cost of all the transfers was €120 million, less than Cardinale and friends spent this singular past transfer window. Over four years. Yet the wage bill dropped to €120 million the first year, then €100 million the next three years. Maldini explained, "in the strategic plan, the salary cut had led to the non-renewal of players like Calhanoglu and Kessié, with whom we would have had one of the strongest midfields in Europe."

What these two did in terms of both sporting and economic success for Milan is actually unbelievable.

Yes, even stronger than the midfield rebuilt this summer with far more money comparably (and higher wages than those players were making, too.) This summer, the number of players in the team dropped, but the wage bill increased, and proposed renewals of key players like Giroud, Theo Hernández, and Maignan, whom we have seen are absolutely vital to this team, will see that wage bill increase even more. The truth is that "the sporting and economic objectives at the beginning of the season had been sensationally exceeded" by Maldini, with Champions League success bringing in the first profit for the club in 17 years. So why fire someone who was so successful?

Maldini surmised it was a decision taken months earlier, and evidence seems to point that way. Despite budgets being set in all other sectors well in advance, Furlani only relayed to Maldini his meager transfer budget for the summer just a few days before he was fired, even though the sporting sector is the most important sector of the club. (And also, the transfer budget was more than doubled after they sacked him, in addition to the income from Tonali's sale. A sale which Maldini emphasized was not necessary, either.) That definitely seemed very inappropriate from management, even at the time, but much more so now that we have more firsthand information.

One of these things is not like the others.

After Cardinale asked for a strategic plan to win the Champions League, Maldini, Massara, and a consultant friend spent four months developing that 35 page plan, sent it to Cardinale, Furlani, and others, and never heard back. He realizes in hindsight that was a red flag, but did not notice it in the fervor of his work. Maldini pointed out in the interview that he had really only spoken to Cardinale in passing a few times, and only ever received four text messages from him. Of Cardinale, he said:

"The first thing he told me, when we met, was that we had to trust each other... I trusted, and honestly, everyone knows how it went... In hindsight, I am forced to reconsider the relationship with some people who worked with me and who certainly, I find it difficult to imagine otherwise, were already already aware of that decision [to sack him]. On the other hand, my contract, for two years with an option to renew, was only renewed on 30 June 2022 at 10pm. I believe that at the time, it would have been too unpopular to send us away, because we had just won the Scudetto." 

One of these people knows football, the other thinks hot air balloons are good sports marketing tools.

Yet for all the truths and the results, there was a narrative that started to build in the media after Cardinale bought the club, one that intensified once Furlani took over as CEO. It was a narrative of criticism, then hypercriticism of Maldini and Massara and their work. Despite the initial shock and horror of the footballing community that Maldini was fired by a brash American businessman and his banker sidekick, the Italian media was soon filled with rumor after rumor about why, and what had happened behind the scenes. Cardinale, Furlani, and Scaroni limited their public statements, even on important matters such as appointments in the technical sector or changes at the club. None of them have accepted any responsibility for what happened. Instead, they were clearly feeding both the club news and their narrative to the media. In fact, the information they were sharing was actually gaslighting fans about their culpability, taking credit for things they did not do and placing blame wrongfully on others.

"There is no point in hiding the fact that all those who have had anything to do with the Milan galaxy in recent years have been directed to convey a certain story to the complacent media: anyone who says otherwise knows they are lying to themselves. I thought about the exclusive interests of the team... believing that the results would prevail over a proposed narrative, regardless of whether it corresponds or not to reality." Since June fifth, we have learned that both the media and many fans actually do believe the narrative over results, which is a huge tragedy.

Putting themselves, their own interests, and their own narrative ahead of the club.

Many have criticized both Maldini and those who question their narrative with actual facts, simply on the basis that he is a former player. However, Maldini noted that he, Boban, Leonardo, and other former footballers never went beyond the scope of their competence. One example that comes to my mind here is that none of them were portfolio managers posing as CEOs of a major football club. They were former footballers who knew football and worked in football. "It's called, if I'm not mistaken, professionalism," he pointed out.

Yet it only took a few days after this interview was released for the media to start countering with their old narratives again. 'Maldini wanted to sack Pioli,' they write. Yet Maldini explicitly said, "We were the ones who renewed his contract until 2025, because he deserved it. If there had been, as in past years, a unity of intent and vision with the company's objectives, I don't see why we would have had to change things." And why are they pushing the narrative so hard that Maldini wanted to sack him anyway? Don't they realize that a majority of the Milan fan base actually want him sacked? Why would they fight to give credit for that idea to someone else? This management absolutely do not know how to read a room.

The narrative around Pioli has been absurd, and has already started back up.

Other narratives that the media and fans have used to defame Maldini since June include that his summer 2022 transfer market was a failure (it wasn't, Thiaw, for example, is a huge success, and the club did not give De Ketelaere or the others time.) Or that he and Massara worked autonomously. (They did not, all player purchases were approved by management, and he never signed a single contract, someone else always did.) He said he understood that there were sometimes reductions in budgets, or even interference by the owners in the technical choices of the sports area, despite it being "the core business of the company... And then I think that the owners, especially if foreign, have not yet achieved a full awareness of the amount and type of work carried out within the club by the various areas, in particular, the sports one, especially in the Italian market."

On the narrative that Maldini was an 'individualist,' not a team player, he pointed out that Cardinale confused individualism with taking responsibility. "I have never shied away from confrontation: daily confrontation stimulates ingenuity and opens up different viewpoints. We are often surrounded by people who always tell us we are right: having friends or colleagues who challenge your certainties is a blessing...Those who have played football at a high level are less afraid of failure, having been judged every three days throughout their lives. This represents a great advantage and has a great impact on a company, but it may not be appreciated by those who are not open to discussion and do not even share the idea of answering for their own mistakes, which for me is very normal, healthy, and dialectical of any self-respecting management group."

Removing people who don't agree with you is not being a team player, it's being a narcissist.
(And claiming to want to be Berlusconi 2.0 right after he passed is beyond disrespectful.)

Something the media has not spoken about, yet Maldini revealed last week, was that he clashed with management over the stadium project. He wanted a larger stadium, with plenty of seats accessible to all fans. "I couldn't put my face on a project with 55,000-60,000 seats, almost all corporate and with very few tickets for the general population. I couldn't leave such a legacy to the new AC Milan generations. I couldn't support this plan. I fought to make it  clear that we needed a bigger stadium with some seats accessible to all. The average of over 70,000 spectators at San Siro last season proves that I was right." 

Yes, once again, Maldini was right. He is always right. Even when the truth is uncomfortable. No matter what the narrative is, he is always on the side of truth, and it is unfortunate that people have forgotten that since June. Especially when he always has our best interests in mind, as with the stadium project. Now, with this owner having spent €134 million on transfers this summer, with Milan on the brink of elimination from the Champions League, risking losing a further €100 million in revenue, the results are already demonstrating that he was right, and this management are going about it all wrong.

Chukwueze will not receive the same support to continue develop as Leão did, for example.

And it is not just the big stuff, either. It is also the little things that are so telling. The transfer photos welcoming the new players to the club with no one else in the photos to actually welcome them. The new players are very literally and metaphorically on their own. The lack of any public accountability or support in the media when the team have a tough match or a loss. They were even so petty as to not wish Maldini's son, Daniel, a happy birthday on the Club's official social media channels in October, even though he is still a Milan-owned player. They celebrate the birthdays of players who are in their 70's and 80's or who have died, but not their own player. Just because his name is Maldini. That is just pathetic.

This management refuse to acknowledge Maldini's work, his part in the historic accomplishments last year or the previous years, or even say his name. They literally cannot say his name in public. But that should not surprise too much, considering that their preferred form of communication is no longer public announcements, but rather feeding information and narratives through the media. This makes it more difficult for fans to distinguish what is real and what is gossip. They control the narrative, whether it is truth or fiction, and they never intervene when it is not the truth.

He is Milan's compass and guiding star, and even mercenaries find their way back to him.

Fans do feel the results, however. The sporting results have greatly impacted the mood at San Siro recently, which is very subdued and more negative than it has been since Maldini returned to the club. At least Elliott respected the fans. First, fans stopped singing "Pioli is on Fire" earlier this season, now they barely cheer at all, even when the team is playing well. There have already been incidents of fans behaving badly, and the team themselves certainly have the worst disciplinary record in Serie A this season, even Pioli is getting cards left and right. That is a significant change from the past five years. These are not coincidences. The entire culture of the club changed when Maldini was sacked.

"There are people who are passing through institutions like Milan, in the world of football clubs with an international profile, who have no real respect for its identity and history. They are not in charge and do not act to provide a vision for new generations of fans. They are often managers who come to work in a large club of great prestige and popularity to improve their CV and then also go somewhere else. On the other hand, however, there are people who care about all these things, much more long-term, and are much more linked to the ideals that the club, throughout its history, has taught so many, on and off the pitch. Unfortunately, in modern professional football, the population of the first type of people is becoming more and more numerous. I believe that we should hold on to those who are bearers of ideals and direct their work to safeguard their values and identity." As fans, we want good football, we want success. But most of us fell in love with this club because of the ideals and values Maldini spoke of here. That this owner and management have no regard for Milan's history or culture or values is what really hurts deep down inside.

"History cannot be erased... Please respect Milan's history."

At the end of the day, that is all Maldini wanted. He was asked if, after 31 years as a Milan player, from youth until retirement, then five years as a director, if his Milan story was really over. "I don't know, the bond is too strong and will remain so forever. History cannot be erased... I wouldn't have started being a manager anywhere else... And now I read the representation of a new era, of a Berlusconi 2.0: perhaps a review of Italian, political, and entrepreneurial history of the last 40 years would be good for everyone. I said it that same day, before my leave: today you are in charge, but please respect Milan's history."

And that is the most important key that the people who create, propagate, or believe the narrative over the truth are missing: All of this is impacting Milan's history. Not just that some ignorant foreign owner who did not even know Milan's history came in and fired a second generation club legend like Maldini over some self-serving banker who wants to build his CV. But the work they are doing, what they are attempting to do, and the result of those decisions made in grand delusions, spending sprees, and a black hole of football illiteracy is impacting the sporting and economic results of the club now, changing the history. That they want to build such a narrow-minded stadium for only the wealthy to attend is yet another slap in the face to us fans as a whole. Are the Curva Sud listening? They have been boycotting ticket prices at away matches, do they realize what Cardinale is planning? Or do they actually care?

Imposters who don't care if fans are pushed out of the stadium, they're building their own CVs.

Those without morals or conscience may not like Maldini, they may criticize him or envy his accomplishments or status. People with integrity are often considered "difficult" by those who do not have that word in their vocabulary. But Paolo Maldini is respected amongst any self-respecting human being because he is honest, direct, and always has the best interests of Milan at heart. Even ahead of his own. Those who thought his interview was timed badly did not pay attention. It was timed perfectly to distract the toxic, vile media away from devouring the team with unfounded criticism before and after the match. 

And it worked like a charm. On Saturday, the team were finally free from the weight of all these secrets, and performed united, despite missing so many players. Or, perhaps they were angered by the revelations, and that united them. Either way, it worked. The media did not criticize them ahead of the match. They did not criticize them for conceding a goal. They did not criticize them at all since then, and it even took them three days before they started in on their toxic narrative about Maldini again. For a few days, they were almost decent human beings, actually doing their jobs, after having their fictional stories debunked firsthand by someone who is respected and known to tell the truth. Maybe, they even took a look at results, too, realizing that their stories did not align with reality.

Truth. Results. And the true love and respect for Milan, its history, the players, and the fans.

History will show that, once again, Maldini was right. That this is the truth. Those who fabricated, disseminated, or even believed the narrative will be on the wrong side of history. Perhaps, like the Curva Sud, they will have regrets. But as Maldini clearly pointed out, "history cannot be erased." That is true of his legacy as a second generation Milan bandiera and captain, winning seven Scudetti, five Champions League titles, and numerous other team and individual awards as both a player and a director. That is also true of the legacy of lies, greed, corruption and failure that this management are creating right now. Sometimes, even the results on the pitch do not tell the whole story. But which story you believe depends on whether you buy into the narrative, or if you are willing to cherish the truth. Even when it is uncomfortable.

This post inspired by the music of New Order's "Power, Corruption, and Lies" album

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 15
Atalanta vs. Milan
Saturday, December 9, 2023 • 18:00 CET (12noon EST)

The Maldini Interview: Truth, Narrative, and Results The Maldini Interview: Truth, Narrative, and Results Reviewed by Elaine on 11:57 PM Rating: 5
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