Athens, May 2007. Italy’s finest team in Europe had won the holy grail, 2 years on from their most shocking night. AC Milan were European Champions for the 7th time. With a team that included the brightest stars like Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, and future Ballon d’Or holder Kaká, the signs were good. But age was a problem. The simple yet overlooked issue was the start of AC Milan’s decline.
The hero of the night in Athens was 33-year-old Filippo Inzaghi, whose 2 goal haul was enough to bolster past English side, Liverpool. The midfield was powered by Seedorf, Gattuso, Ambrosini, and Pirlo – all in their late 20s and early 30s. The defence had the legendary Paolo Maldini who became the oldest ever outfield player to feature in a Champions League final. He was partnered in defence with Nesta, Oddo, and Jankulovski – once again, all in their 30s. This was with the Brazilian Dida in goal, another one in his 30s. Milan fielded the oldest team in Champions League final history. With an average age of 31 years and 34 days – and Kaká being the only one who was 25 or under, the glory of that night was showing a bleak future.
Fast forward 9 years on from the success of that night, Milan are now reeling from its effects. The San Siro club is in turmoil on the pitch, as well as off it. They’ve finished in mid-table for the last three seasons and are also set to miss out on Champions League football for a third successive year – a failure for Europe’s second most decorated club.
A large blame of AC Milan’s decline is pinned at outgoing owner Silvio Berlusconi, the media tycoon who saved the club from bankruptcy in 1986, and with his large bags of cash, invested heavily in becoming the dominant force domestically and internationally. The story is different now. Moguls from Russia and Sheikhs from the Middle East can pay fees that Berlusconi can’t even dream of. The owner’s investments in his political venture have taken the sting out of the club.
The appointment of his daughter Barbara as co-CEO of the club, alongside Adriano Galliani, has proven to be a controversial decision. Barbara has had no prior experience or ethics as a CEO of any organisation. Legend has it that she was appointed as the CEO only on the basis of her older brothers being CEOs in their respective fields. To be appointed as a CEO of a club with a €200 million turnover, with no business maturity, and to make terror decisions including the failed proposal of a new stadium, wanting to kick out one of the most the most influential figures at the club in the form of Galliani and her willingness to lead the marketing sector of the club have been seen as disasters in the downfall of the club.
With AC Milan falling further and futher behind their rivals, a group of Chinese stakeholders are now interested in gaining a large majority of the club. With the Berlusconi’s still in nostalgia over the club’s glory days, the move is highly welcomed by the AC Milan faithful. The Chinese consortium is expected to provide major funds – something the current owners aren’t able to do – and help rebuild the falling Milan dynasty. With talks reaching a highly advanced stage, the change in ownership seems to be on the cards.
In all fairness to Milan, the general standard of football in Italy has spurned. Rivals Inter have fallen apart since the departure of José Mourinho and their own ownership problems, Roma and Napoli have been on the rise, but failure to bring in top-level talent along with their lack of audiences at games have deteriorated interest. Juventus are the only club with a mixture of stability and success. The Bianconeri have won Serie A for the last 5 seasons, reached a Champions League final and won Coppa Italia twice – putting the infamous Calciopoli scandal well behind them. The Italian national team is serenaded with Juventus players and they are considered a model for the rest of the Italian clubs to f0llow.
Unlike Juventus, AC Milan have been unable to maintain stability on the pitch. Sales of star players to fund their repayment of debts and constant changing of manager has contributed to their lack of glory. French side Paris Saint-Germain‘s rise due to the Qatari takeover has robbed Italian sides of their best players – and Milan have had the worst of it. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva moved to the French Capital in the summer of 2012. Ex-managers Leonardo and Carlo Ancelotti, despite not being in contact with Milan, have had roles at the Paris club. That, compiled with the heinous free sale of Andrea Pirlo to Juventus – who completed the extraordinary process of extending his career have had a large say in Milan’s breakdown.
The quality of Zlatan Ibrahimović, the leadership of Thiago Silva, the aura of Andrea Pirlo and the sternness of Jaap Stam have been handed to inadequate figures like Menez, Alex, Montolivo, and Mexes. The lack of steadiness at the helm of the squad has managed to have a negative effect on the team. From having the highly-successful Carlo Ancelotti in the dugout for 8 seasons to going to 8 managers in the 7 years since his departure – including the likes of ex-players Seedorf, Inzaghi, and Brocchi.
The Rossoneri are now heading into 2016-17 under the guidance of Vincenzo Montella. The 42-year-old has had experience in Italy, having played and managed nearly his entire career there. He’s been a large part of the success Fiorentina have had in recent years, and had done a great job at Sampdoria, before his departure. Known for his brilliant man-management capabilities at Fiorentina, Montella took the club to Europe with his team having a significant balance of youth and experience – a factor he will have to deal with at Milan. His ability has brought through Stevan Jovetić, Adem Ljajić and Juan Cuadrado to the Viola folklore in recent years, and he has an opportunity to enhance his reputation at the Giuseppe Meazza.
Montella will have to play with several bright, young players coming through the Lombardy ranks. With the likes of Gianluigi Donnarumma and M’Baye Niang already established in the first team at the age of 17 and 21, they’ve also got a wealth of talent in the Primavera ranks. Christian Maldini, son of Paolo and Sebastian Gamarra are just few of the names coming through the prestigious academy which has produced the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, and Alessandro Costacurta overtime – the club’s three record appearance makers. It appears to be that after years of stuggle and slump, the red half of Milan will rise to prominence again.