There is no such thing as a quiet summer in Italy. Whether its corruption scandals, managerial merry-go-rounds or sensational transfers, there is never a dull moment in Calcio, and the constant drama, often resembling the most ridiculous of soap operas plots, is just one of the things that makes football on the Peninsula so utterly captivating.
Unfortunately, the headlines are rarely positive. This summer has seen Italian football rocked by the Calcioscommesse match-fixing scandal which, during the most recent set of investigations saw over 13 clubs and 40 people – most notably Juventus manager Antonio Conte, who received a ten-month touchline ban – charged with various offences, has again cast the spotlight on Italy for all the wrong reasons. Given how outdated the Italian sporting justice system is the saga promises to continue throughout the season, too.
That Juve, the defending Scudetto champions, are without their manager on matchdays for at least the start of the season (Conte is appealing the decision and, if successful, the ban may be reduced or even removed) should have been music to their rivals’ ears - particularly Milan, who were runners-up in Serie A last season having challenged the Bianconeri for the title right to the end. Unfortunately for the Rossoneri, they have enough problems of their own to worry about.
This summer was one of begrudging acceptance for Milan as they were forced to sacrifice their top players in a bid to comply with the impending Financial Fair Play regulations. Silvio Berlusconi, the Milan president, claimed the cuts will save the club £150m over the next two seasons, and with the club making losses of around £105m over the past two years, something had to be done as the current fiscal situation was unsustainable. With practically all of Europe in severe economic crisis, football clubs are now starting to feel its affects, too – although few clubs of Milan’s size have been hit as hard as they have.
This summer was one of begrudging acceptance for Milan as they were forced to sacrifice their top players in a bid to comply with the impending Financial Fair Play regulations.
The widely respected Deloitte money league ranks football clubs by the revenue they generate from day to day operations, the latest edition examines the 10/11 season (the season Milan won the Scudetto): Milan’s total revenue was £212.3m, the most of any Italian club which ranked them 7th in the money league, but in comparison that was still way short of then Premiership champions, Manchester United (£331.4m), and La Liga champions, Barcelona (£407m). It shows the true extent of the revenue problem in Italy in relation to their other big leagues in Europe; Man Utd and Barcelona would have not had to make such drastic changes to stay afloat.
To say that it is the end of an era at the San Siro would be an understatement. With the co-ownership deal playing such a prominent role in the Italian transfer mercato, a high turnover of players every season is not unusual. However, this summer Milan have lost a entire first-team eleven who have played for the club over the past two seasons (some, obviously, a lot more than others): Flavio Roma; Gianluca Zambrotta, Alessandro Nesta, Thiago Silva, Massimo Oddo; Mark Van Bommel, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf; Filippo Inzaghi, Antonio Cassano, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Milan are attempting to start another cycle like they did in the early nineties, attempting to bring homegrown players through their primavera squad - their line-up against Bologna this season contained only one non-Italian (Kevin Prince Boateng) which hasn’t happened since 1995 - and giving the squad the injection of youth it has been sorely lacking for years: nine of the aforementioned players who have departed this summer were 30 or older. This process will take time, though, and expectations at a club like Milan will always be high. They have been prudent in the transfer market, making some astute signings but, as can be expected when working on a restricted budget, the old guard’s replacements are vastly inferior and what was once a squad full of talent and experience now looks bereft of genuine quality.
Cristian Zapata, Francesco Acerbi, Kevin Constant, Bakaye Traore, Nigel De Jong, Riccardo Montolivo, Giampaolo Pazzini and Bojan were the summer reinforcements for Milan. The likes of Zapata, De Jong and Montolivo are established, quality players, but not a single signing is an improvement on what Milan had last season. With no Nesta and Silva partnership at the back, and with Ibrahimovic gone and Alexandre Pato again suffering a serious injury (his 16th at Milan), the Rossoneri look devoid of a top class forward - although Stephan El Shaaraway has been a lone bright spark in an otherwise bleak campaign - capable of scoring 20+ goals, and sturdy defenders who will stop goals going in at the other end.
Thi summer Milan have lost a entire first-team eleven who have played for the club over the past two seasons.
Unsurprisingly, things haven’t got off to the best of starts for Max Allegri, who is in danger of losing his job due to circumstances out of his control. Two wins from seven in Serie A sees them adrift of the European places and twelve points off the top of the table. Four points from their first two group games in the Champions League is a solid return, although they dropped points at home to Anderlecht in what is the easiest game they’ll play in the group stage. They face an uphill struggle to maintain their position in the Champions League places (Serie A is only awarded 3 places due to its inferior coefficient to the Premiership, La Liga and the Bundesliga) and are completely incapable of challenging for the Scudetto.
Milan are in a state of transition both on and off the pitch. Off it, the club have spoken of the need to resolve their current stadium predicament: the Giuseppe Meazza, which they share with Inter, is a fine, historic stadium with an 80,000 capacity, but the club rent it from the council and it lacks the modern amenities and commercial facilities that new stadiums possess, preventing their matchday revenue from ever rivalling the other big clubs in Europe. On the pitch, they are at the start of a new beginning; the final pieces of their successful side from the past decade have now gone, and their successors have a momentous task on their hands if they are to replicate their achievements. This promises to be a very interesting, if ultimately underwhelming, season for il Diavolo.
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