AC Milan in all their glory: Arrigo Sacchi’s inside story of “The Immortals”.

THERE’S A lot of so-called “inside stories” that are nothing but cut-and-paste reports that while being interesting are usually penned by outsiders. Clubs, managers, players rarely provide genuine insight about anything, firstly because when they leave a club, they do not scorch the earth and if they are sacked, they have, doubtless, signed a non-disclosure agreement. So when a book comes along that does actually provide some insight into spectacular success, it has to be read.

Arrigo Sacchi was the mastermind of the AC Milan team that won the Europan Cup in 1989 and 1990. Furthermore, he is considered an innovator who created a fluid style of football built around 4-4-2 that was not only effective but extremely entertaining. Milan had a team of outstanding players, including Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Carlo Ancelotti, Paulo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Frank Rijkaard. They won Serie A in 1988 at a time when Italian domestic football was awash with stars like Diego Maradona, it was the most admired league at the time and arguably provided the blueprint for England’s Premier League.

Sacchi’s book, The Immortals, tells the story of the 1988-89 season when Milan won the European Cup, beating Steaua Bucharest in the final by 4-0. 

Sacchi was a coach confident in his own ability, but there’s no arrogance about him, he was well aware that poor results made him vulnerable. His approach started with intense training and he sometimes comments in the book that he “killed” his team with his exhaustive sessions. He also documented every move in his diaries, from the type of training adopted each week to reviews on the performance of his team.

The book reveals a lot and shatters some myths, but it also gives a very different view on certain individuals. Ruud Gullit sounds like a somewhat fragile player, prone to niggling injuries, Marco van Basten comes across as high maintenance and occasionally difficult but Frank Rijkaard seems a decent individual with strong values. Of course, this is Sacchi’s view and you have to bear in mind, these players were interacting with their boss.

Similarly, Sacchi’s opinion of Silvio Berlusconi contrasts with how people see the former Milan owner. Sacchi seems to admire his employer and portrays him as an inspirational leader in many ways.

The 1988-89 season saw Milan lose their league title to Inter, but their European Cup run was full of drama. Their meeting with Red Star Belgrade, which lasted longer than usual because the second leg in Belgrade was abandoned due to fog, includes a meeting with the notorious Želijko Ražnatović, better known as Arkan, who walked across the pitch with a tiger on a leash. Milan won through and played Real Madrid in the semi-finals, beating them 5-0 in the second leg, a result Berlusconi had requested the day before the game.

Sacchi had just one word to describe the performance of Milan in the final in Barcelona against 1986 winners Steaua, “fantastic”. It was one of the most comprehensive performances in a European Cup final, with two goals apiece from Gullit and van Basten.

The book leaves you wanting more as this is only part of the story, Milan won the cup again in 1990 and they dominated the competition in that period, winning again in 1994, although Sacchi was managing Italy by then after leaving Milan in 1991. 

Milan of that period created a benchmark which the club and Italian football have struggled to live up to. Sacchi, one of key figures in that story, is worth listening to.

The Immortals is published by Backpage.

AC Milan: There is a light that must never go out

THE Serie A title race looks like it may be a struggle to the finish between Inter and AC Milan, the first time the San Siro duo will fight it out for the scudetto since 2010-11. Although Inter were champions and Milan second in 2021, there was a 12-point gap between them. Milan are currently one point behind Inter, although the Nerrazzuri have a game in hand.    

Away from playing matters, AC Milan have made real progress, which after the past few years, must be a great relief for the club’s management. Although they made a loss of € 92 million, they have shaved around € 100 million off their deficit in a year. In the past five years, Milan have lost almost € 600 million. Their revenues, totalling € 240.8 million, were at their highest level since 2013 when they almost reached € 250 million. Calcio de Finanza has forecast the momentum will continue in 2021-22, with total revenues hitting € 300 million. The resurgence of Covid infections and the new (temporary) stadium limit of 5,000 will be a challenge.

Income for 2020-21 was generated from broadcasting and commercial activities, which increased by 18% and 40% respectively. Broadcasting totalled € 138.3 million, while commercial activity amounted to € 102.5 million, thanks to increased sponsorship and advertising. They have built on this fresh impetus with 25 new commercial partnerships since August 2021.

Ninety-two million euros may seem a daunting figure, but Italian clubs, generally, have been making huge losses during the pandemic. The improvements since last year implies Milan are on the way back and being run more proficiently. They returned to the UEFA Champions League in 2021-22, but they were drawn in a particularly tough group with Liverpool, Atlético Madrid and Porto and finished bottom. Regardless, they will have benefitted financially from being involved. If Milan are to regain their competitive edge, regular participation in the competition will be a pre-requisite. Their income from European competition is miniscule compared to Italian rivals Juventus. 

Similarly, Milan need to step-up their player trading efforts. In 2020-21, they made a profit on player sales of € 18 million, and over the past five years, they had earned less than € 100 million from this source. Compare that to the € 1 billion-plus made between Juventus, Napoli and Roma, and it is clear there is significant upside for Milan. In 2020-21, they sold Suso to Sevilla for € 21 million and Lucas Paquetá to Lyon for € 20 million. 

In a transfer market undoubtedly compromised by the pandemic, Milan spent far less than Juventus and Inter last season. Their gross spend was around € 35 million (source: Transfermarkt), while Juve spent € 155 million and Inter € 121 million.

Milan also need to leverage their brand to secure better shirt and kit deals. According to Brand Finance, Milan are inside the top 30 most valuable and strongest brands. Their shirt sponsorship with Emirates yields € 14 million and their Puma kit arrangements amount to € 13 million. Juventus, by contrast have a shirt sponsor, Jeep, that pays € 45 million and Fiorentina’s deal with Mediacom is € 26 million. Even Sassuolo have a better shirt deal with Mapei (€ 18 million).

Key to AC Milan’s future is the new stadium project which seems to have been discussed for years. Interestingly, of the most recent 150 stadiums built around the world, only three happen to be Italian. Milan’s new home, to be shared with Inter, of course, aims to be a revolutionary arena that will take the club’s matchday revenues from the usual € 30 million to € 80 million. Their CEO, Ivan Gazidis, is desperate to drive-up revenues in order to bridge the gap with Europe’s elite group. He knows Milan are still € 100 million from break-even, but hopes this will be achieved within three years.

Milan’s league form has recovered after a sticky patch and they have won their last three games, including a 3-1 home success against Roma. They’ve only lost one away from home, but slipped up before Christmas against Napoli at home. Fans are calling for action during the transfer window to strengthen the squad, but Milan will be only too aware that some of their biggest signings have not worked out too well. Milan are still dependent on 40 year-old in Zlatan Ibrahimović, who is their leading scorer with eight Serie A goals in 13 games. He cannot go on forever. Franck Kessie, a player who has become a target of some of Europe’s top clubs, may decide to leave Milan as he has yet to sign a new deal. This will be a blow to the Rossoneri, but they have been looking at Sven Botman of Lille and Manchester United’s Eric Bailly.

After some grim financial performances, AC Milan still have some way to go, but there is, at least, a light at the end of the tunnel, and when the new stadium arrives, the club can look the future in the eye.