THE MILAN derby was a personal triumph for fit-again veteran Zlatan Ibrahimović – two goals and victory over one of his former clubs, but it was also affirmation of the Milanese renaissance that appears to be gathering momentum at the San Siro.
AC Milan ended Inter’s unbeaten run, their first league defeat in those crazy zig-zag shirts, and went two points clear at the top of Serie A. That’s four out of four for Stefano Pioli’s team – not bad for a club that recently announced it made a staggering loss of € 195 million in 2019-20. It should be noted, though, that AC Milan have been the best performing Italian club on the pitch since the lockdown ended.
The 2020-21 season has the potential to be the most open in Serie A for some time. Inter already signalled their intent last year when they finished runners-up to Juventus by one point, losing just four games versus Juve’s seven. With their expensive squad boosted by almost € 100 million of new signings in the last transfer window, including € 40 million on Achraf Hakami of Real Madrid, Inter sent another reminder to the rest of Italian football. The club’s Chinese owners, who have driven revenues up from € 187 million to € 400 million since 2016, want success and after going close last season in Serie A and the Europa League, the pressure will undoubtedly have been increased on Antonio Conte this past few months.
Ibrahimović may be 39 years of age, but the instinct is still there, even if he did get poleaxed by covid-19. He’s netted four of Milan’s nine goals this season. In typical fashion, Zlatan believes nobody can stop him even though he’s now pushing 40 and he thinks Milan can win their first Scudetto since 2011. Not everyone agrees with the confident Swede, though, and most pundits expect both Juventus and Inter to eventually finish above them. By the time Juventus go to the San Siro in January, the position will surely be clearer.
It’s good news for coach Pioli, who was expected to leave the club before the 2020-21 season got underway. Ivan Gazidis, the CEO who divides opinion among fans – “he destroyed Arsenal, now he’s ruining Milan” – wanted to hire former RB Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, a bold signing that would spearhead the kind of revolution Gazidis is looking for at Milan.
The San Siro project will be transformational for both Milan clubs, earning them € 70 million a year each. Both clubs have presented plans for the new stadium and the complete renovation of the surrounding area, a scheme that will cost in excess of € 1 billion but create 3,500 new jobs. Two architectural firms are bidding to handle the project.
The “cathedral” proposal by Populous aims to be one of the most sustainable stadiums in Europe, naturally cooled and topped by panels that generate electricity. The stadium is surrounded by 22 acres of green space and the entire district will be connected to a central heating and cooling system.
The second scheme, by manica/sportium is called “the rings of Milano”, a design that includes two rings, interlocked and set apart. This will also be part of a broader project that reimagines San Siro as a park and entertainment neighbourhood.
There could be further benefits if the proposed link-up between Serie A and CVC Capital Partners and Advent International comes to fruition and devliers a new rights deal worth more than € 1.6 billion. Milan and Inter both voted in favour of the proposals which will see the private equity companies take a 10% stake in a new company managing the league’s broadcasting rights.
This could be a vital transaction because Italian clubs have had a rough time in the pandemic, as evidenced by losses generated by Roma, Lazio, Milan and Inter. Juventus owner Andrea Agnelli, said recently that European clubs could lose between five and six billion euros over the next two seasons. He envisages the full damage will not be known until the autumn of 2021. Juventus reported a loss of almost € 90 million in September 2020.
Milan’s deficit of € 195 million added to the problems inherited from the club’s previous ownership, said their official statement. They gained some mild consolation, however, in declaring that if the impact of the global pandemic is removed, financial performance has actually improved on 2018-19. The club insisted: “It will take time to transform AC Milan, but the club and the ownership share the same confidence in the positive path undertaken.” While the owners have underlined their support of the club to ensure financial stability, Milan has also launched a cost efficiency policy which includes a significant reduction in wages.
Against a background of strict financial management, can AC Milan maintain their challenge at the top of Serie A, or are they merely keeping the seat warm for Juventus? They have some key players who are involved in contract talks, so the club will have to handle things sensitively if they want to keep Ibrahimović, Gianluigi Donnarumma (a Chelsea target) and Hakan Calhanoglu (Juve and Atléti interest).
For students of the game – and non-Juve fans – the reawakening of AC Milan and Inter is a good thing for Italian football. Although neither would admit it, they also need their rivals to flourish in order to spur them on. Milan is, after all, still one of the world’s great football cities.