AC Milan 2020-21 January Transfer Window

The January transfer window found AC Milan top of Serie A, well above the target set by the board for the 2020-21 season. Having only lost just the last two games prior to the New Year, the Club had also qualified out of their Europa League group with SK Brann, Zenit St. Petersburg and GNK Dinamo. Two draws against an indomitable SK Brann, an away draw and home win against GNK Dinamo and two victories against Zenit were enough to see the team progress after having already beaten Icelandic side Knattspyrnufélagið Valur, Dimamo Brest of Belarus and Glasgow Rangers in the qualifiers.

There were no immediate plans to act in order to improve the first team, with the squad playing well in a wide 4-1-2-2-1/4-3-3. Nevertheless, the scouting team had been busy identifying potential targets for the Summer window and looking to find players for the Primavera side to boost the quality of the U19s on a more immediate time frame.

Signings in the off-season transfer window have been receiving minutes, with new-boy Sandro Tonali alternating with the excellent Bennacer as a single pivot in the deep-lying play-maker role. Rodrigo de Paul was rotating in and out of the team with Ante Rebic in the IF – A role on the left of the front three, with Piatek (CF – A) and one of Suso or Buendia, the last of the new signings, playing down the right-hand side (IW – S).

When reading below what transpired during the January transfer window, it’s worth remembering that AC Milan’s standing within Europe is well below what the club should be aspiring to – ranked the 80th club in European coefficients. This, combined with the Serie A success of this season, led to a number of players being wanted by bigger clubs in Europe. The level of change that has taken place has clearly been significant over the last fifteen or so years, a negative change from the viewpoint of the Rossonerri fans. All the first team players that were traded on were looking to move on to their new clubs rather than stay and play at the San Siro. It is hoped that, over time, AC Milan can raise its standing again such that players value playing for this Club and do not see it as a stepping stone onto the next stage of their careers.

The first significant sale, not counting that of Pepe Reina going to Leganés, was that of Ismaël Bennacer. Wanted by a number of clubs after an impressive start to the season, it was the Premier League’s Liverpool which entered into negotiations with the power brokers at Casa Milan. An initial offer was negotiated up to £50m, with two instalments as part of the deal. From the point of view of the Club directors, having signed the player from Empoli for only £14.25m, this represented a good deal, despite the fact that he was one of, if not the, most promising prospects in the AC side. Yet, his desire to play Champions League football, which he so clearly deserved, could not be denied and so it was agreed to let him leave, with Liverpool almost doubling his wages.

Bennacer sale to Liverpool

It was not considered necessary to replace Bennacer, with Tonali able to stand up to first team football on a more regularly to aid his development and Kessié able to fill into the defensive midfielder slot if required. More minutes could also be given to Bonnaventura, if necessary, as the elder statesman in the Milan creativity department had been seeing less action after the arrival of the young pretender, Tonali.

Ricardo Rodriguez had been playing second fiddle to Theo Hernández in the first half of the 2021-22 season. Understandably, he was therefore keen to move to China’s DL Yifang and receive an incredible 197% increase in gross salary. A fee of £28m, with potential for it to rise to £33.5m, for a back-up 28 year-old left back was seen as a good deal, even if it did leave the side temporarily light in the left wing back position.

Rodriguez deal to DL Yifang

Joining Rodriguez on the plane to Dalian was Rade Krunic. Krunic had only managed five starts with six appearances off the bench. Despite his four goals and two assists, he was not able to break past Kessié in the box-to-box role. Considered back-up, the club were happy to receive £10.75m for a player who was also taking up a non-EU player slot. Krunic was also delighted to receive a near doubling of his wages.

Krunic deal to DL Yifang

After the sale of Krunic and, more importantly, Bennacer, the scouts put forward the idea of signing Bruno Guimarães from Brazilian club, Athletico Paranaense. The player was reportedly unsettled and wanting to leave to join a bigger club. Well-liked by the scouting department, Director Franco Baresi was sent to Curitiba to negotiate a deal for the central midfielder who had provided twelve assists and four goals in the Brasileirão. A £17m deal was seen as an incredible bargain for such a well-rounded player, who is able to play across all three of the roles within the central midfield positions in the Rossoneri side. Paquetá was tasked with welcoming his compatriot to the Club and helping settle into life at Milan, with the two looking forward to playing together.

Guimarães deal from Athletico Paranaense

In trying to find a replacement for Rodriguez to act as back up to Theo Hernández, the scouts hit upon Marc Cucurella from Barcelona. The left wing back found himself out of favour at the Nou Camp behind Jordi Alba and Lenglet, and so was available for an incredibly low initial price of £2.6m, rising to £3.4m. With Baresi on the flight back from Brazil with Guimarães, Frederic Massara, the Club’s Director of Football had been tasked to negotiate and structure the deal with both club and the player’s agent. Whilst no data was available on the player due to his lack of playing time, it is hoped that La Masia graduate would join the list of Olmo, Onana and Icardi (among others) to go onto prosperous careers beyond their brief time at the Spanish giants having never made a senior team appearance. Suso was happy to welcome his fellow countryman to the Club and would be training directly up against him in full squad games.

Cucarella deal from Barcelona

Having already completed more deals than anticipated in the January window, the Club’s directors had hoped not to have any more incoming bids to avoid unsettling the team any further. Unfortunately, bids were still coming in for their players, despite their public protestations. The Real Madrid had identified Franck Kessié’s seven goals in sixteen appearances and a further three goals in eleven starts in the Europa League as a good way to reduce the age of their midfield, whilst not forgoing quality. With Modric having already moved onto Milan’s Serie A rivals, Juventus, Kessié could offer an alternative to Kroos, Ceballos and Valverde. Kessié had only joined the club at the start of the prior season for £16.25m, but was extremely keen to join La Liga giants and Champions League regulars – the deal was therefore negotiate upwards to £70m, which Real Madrid had no hesitation in agreeing to – perhaps this deal was priced too low by AC?

Kessié deal to Real Madrid

With time running short in the transfer window, a replacement had to be found quickly. The scouting team had already identified Nicolás Domínguez sitting in Bologna’s team unable to be registered for I Rossoblù, having just returned from a loan at Velez. With Bologna having already utilised all their non-EU player slots, the player was set for six months of no football without a further loan. AC Milan had no intention to loan the player and, fortunately for I Rossoneri, the Serie A player rules are somewhat perverse. AC Milan were able to pick up the Argentine central midfielder with no registration difficulties as non-EU players transferring within Serie A do not count towards the limit. A £33m deal was struck – quite the mark-up for a player that never played for Bologna, but there was little doubt of the quality of player that had been brought in, if his attributes were to be believed. The deep-lying play-maker offered the perfect rotation option to Tonali, with his strong first touch, vision, passing and player trait of plays killer balls often. The board had some concern that this gave the squad an imbalance towards central midfield, but for the manager there was little concern about the spread of minutes. With Tonali, Domínguez, Guimarães, Paquetá and the experienced Bonaventura, these five players were able to rotate across the Serie A and Europa League fixtures without too much issue over player fatigue and danger of upsetting squad harmony.

Deal to sign Domínguez from Bologna

On deadline day itself, the Club received a further bid from Man City for the first-choice left back, Theo Hernández. Hernández was understandably keen to move to the Premier League and a considerably higher ranked club, and whilst his fee of £30m looks cheap, the club felt there was little they could do but accept a locked in offer as Hernández was threatening to upset squad morale if he was not given the chance to negotiate his side of the deal. Having made fifteen starts and contributed three assists, his input would be hard to match, especially given that he fit the profile of player that new-look AC Milan were looking to build around being a high quality player aged 23 years.

Theo Hernández deal to Man City

In response, the Club had to act quickly to find a replacement. The scouting network had once again already identified Maximilian Wöber playing at RB Salzburg in the Champions League and Austria tipico-Bundesliga as a transfer target for the Club.

With a high recommended rating from the scouts, the player fits the Club vision of signing under-23 year old players for the first team. Cucurella will be thrust into becoming first choice left back, with Wöber given time to adjust to the requirements of the AC Milan system and the prospect of playing at left wing back rather than as a left-sided centre back. It is considered unlikely that Romagnoli will be vacating this latter role in the side soon, given his captaincy of the team.

Wöber deal from RB Salzburg

Further deals were completed in the January transfer window for youth prospects, Bulgarian Stanislav Shopov (£3.4m) and Leonidas Stergiou (£5.75m). Both will be kept in the U23 team to learn Italian and adjust to the AC Milan playing style, acting as back up for the first team, with a view to loaning both players out to gain first team experience to aid their player development next season. The Club are particularly excited about the potential of wonderkid prospect, Stergiou as he appears to have the solid foundations and higher ceiling of the two. At 18, he already appears to be adept in the basic fundamentals of defending and is comfortable with the ball at his feet.

Shopov deal
Shopov statistical profile – based against U18 central attacking midfielders
Stergiou statistical profile – based against U18 central defenders

In what was a far busier transfer window than expected, and indeed hoped for, the AC Milan hierarchy hope that the new players can bed themselves in quickly to their new environment and the rigour of Europa League and Serie A football to continue their good form in both. An update on the full 2020-21 season will be the focus of the next post.

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AC Milan Squad Analysis & Summer Transfers

The previous post explained the reasoning for the choice of AC Milan. This post will look at the approach to squad analysis alongside player recruitment and retention.

With a desire to use data to evaluate squad performance and inform player trading decisions, the game has been holidayed for a full year to 1st June 2020. It’s worth noting that upon creating the save, the first transfer window was disabled and no transfer activity took place over the Winter transfer window, so as such, the squad remains the same as it was in 2019.

AC Milan finished 7th, landing them Europa League football for 2020-21, but in part thanks to the poor UEFA Club Coefficient discussed in the last post, AC were going to have to undergo three qualifying rounds before the Group Stage. Juventus achieved their 9th consecutive scudetto. This will be some mountain to climb to overtake them.

Serie A 19-20

Scoring only 43 goals in 38 games tells a sorry picture of low-scoring football games, especially given that they finished the season with a goal difference of +7. Thirteen draws, some 34%, represents some 26 points dropped on its own, before even touching upon the ten losses. Where do the issues lie – is it with uncreative players, or with the forwards not being efficient in their finishing of the chances that were made for them?

In order to dive into the squad analysis, a squad view was set up to show all the metrics available within FM20 using the chalkboard statistics available in the ‘Customise Current View‘ drop down. Then, using the print screen facility within FM20 (Ctrl + P) and saving as a web page, an Excel file was created.

Squad analysis spreadsheet

Using this information, the squad was assessed on their ability to create goals, shooting efficiency and tackle efficiencies.

Given the clear issue over goal-scoring, the priority went towards looking at chance creation and shooting efficiency. When looking at the creativity of the AC Milan squad during the 2019/20 season, Bonaventura and Bennacer are the stand out players, consistently creating chances and one that are (presumably) of reasonably high quality given that they’ve led to the most Assists/90. Both clearly played in playmaker roles looking at these metrics and so should be placed into these roles in any tactic adopted for the 2020-21 season. These figures are clearly low, and this is not surprising given the lack of goals that the team have scored. This is perhaps an indication that the team were playing low-paced football against defensively organised teams? Further investigation is needed on this.

Using a slight variation of metrics, this time Passes Completed/90 against Chances Created/90, a familiar pattern emerged. Bonaventura and Bennacer were again stand out in turning more of their passes into chances for the rest of the team to score. Biglia on the other hand, who has a broken ankle and is set to be out for a further two months, is far less efficient in turning his passes into chances for other players. Given his injury and the fact that he is on a substantial contract, over £105k/week, which is expiring at the end of the season, it looks wise to let him go, as Kessié can be used to more effectively make runs for either or both Bonaventura and Bennacer. Rade Krunic is also a concern – he may have played far fewer minutes (529) compared to Bennacer (2,986) and Bonaventura (2,178), but his play does not look to be adding much to the team. What is also of note in these metrics is that Piatek does not look to be involving himself in play that much, with just over 15 passes/90, pointing towards his role being more advanced (and perhaps isolated?), whilst the full backs are creating around a half chance per game each – Conti (0.49), Calabria (0.61), Rodriguez (0.72) and Hernandez (0.32). More clearly need to be done to convert passes into chances – and crucially good quality chances.

Passes Completed/90 against Chances Created/90

So if, at least some, chances are being created – how efficient are the forwards at finishing these chances? Are there further problems here too?

Piatek’s stands out from the crowd with his 3.92 Shots/90 and 1.66 Shots on Target/90. Pioli clearly preferred a single striker formation, most likely with Suso and Rebic playing out wide. Both Suso and Rebic actually outperform Piatek’s shot efficiency, with 47% and 57% respectively, to Piatek’s 42%. Yet as Wayne Gretzky famously said, “You miss 100% of shots you don’t take”. At least Piatek is buying a ticket to the lottery. However, averaging below than 0.35 Goals per 90 is less than impressive. Whether the quality of the shots he was taking were low, we’ll never know, but this needs to improve if the team is to improve. 13 goals in 39 games is certainly not going to cut it. Pioili clearly also didn’t have much faith in Piatek’s back-up, Rafael Leão, with Leão only playing 182 minutes over the season – ten substitute appearances and no starts. This at least indicates that Piatek should be fit to start most games in a season and appears to avoid suspensions. Qualifying for the Europa League for 2020-21 will only increase the workload – Leão should therefore reasonably expect more game time going forward.

The above evidence points towards the fact that the team did not appear to take many shots during the season, and when they did, they were largely funnelled through Piatek. If the opposition could shut Piatek down, they drastically reduce the chance of AC Milan scoring against them. With Serie A typically having deep set defences, with at least one, if not two pivots in the defensive midfield slot, more creative players and players who are willing to find their way into the box will need to be recruited. To improve his shot accuracy and efficiency, Piatek will be put onto a personalised training plan to give him the places shots trait.

Tackle success rates against Tackles/90

Investigation into the defence is worthwhile on the back of their somewhat stellar performance of allowing less than a goal a game – 36 goals in 38 games. It’s worth noting that at this point, none of these stats are possession adjusted, so these are the raw figures. With regards to the centre backs, Romagnoli has the most appearances, unsurprising given he’s club captain, and Musacchio and Caldara have 17 a piece. Léo Duarte should be ignored – he only made six starts and ten substitute appearances. His average rating of 6.56 also indicates that when he did play, he did not play well.

It’s remarkable how similar both left backs are with their tackle percentages and the frequency of their Tackles/90. This could be an area to improve upon but may also highlight that opposition teams looked to exploit the gap in behind Suso and target either Calabria or Conti in the right back position. This will need to be assessed as the season goes on. Given the well-established defence, there does not seem to be an imminent need to address any areas in this department. AC Milan have well-balanced squad when it comes to the defensive set-up, with four quality central defenders, all possessing solid attributes for positioning, heading, marking and tackling and two good left and right backs for each position. Transfer spending allocation can be better utilised elsewhere.

AC Milan 2020 finances

Looking at the initial finances available to spend, this is clearly going to need to be controlled wisely and wait for sponsorship deals to come in so as not to plunge the club further into debt. Fortunately, despite the clubs recent downturn in European standing, the sponsorship deals do come flooding in. When combined with TV revenue and season ticket sales, the club goes from red to black – pun intended. There is some concern that some of these deals only last for one year, but hopefully, if the club is able to return to the Champions League as per the ambition, then these deals could be improved upon.

AC Milan 2020-21 sponsorship deals

With creativity an absolute priority, the Club move quickly to add depth and quality to the side. The Directors, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Zvonimir Boban, head East to Brescia to bring Sandro Tonali back with them, the natural successor to former AC Milan great, Andrea Pirlo, whose career also began at ‘Le Rondinelle’ (the little swallows). His pass completion statistics are well above average, but it’s the frequency of chances created that sticks out – 0.16 more chances than the average.

Further funds were raised from player sales, including Diego Laxalt (£4.4m) and Alen Halilovic (£4.7m). Manchester United had interest in Hakan Çalhanoglu, so he left for £17.5m – not a disappointing sum given he had only one year left on his deal with the Rossoneri and had an underwhelming season with only five goal involvements in seventeen starts and eleven substitute appearances. The further sale of Fabio Borini to Frankfurt for an initial £3.9m (with potential uplift to £4.8m depending upon appearances) led to on-loan Ante Rebic being the first-choice option for the left-hand side of the attacking trident, with winger, Samu Castillejo, a back-up option. Further depth was required so Rodrigo De Paul was signed from relegated Udinese.

Profile – Rodrigo De Paul

With Suso’s contract containing a £31.5m release clause and the player having a market value of £35m, Tottenham were sniffing around. Suso was unwilling to renegotiate his contract in light of this interest from a Champions League club, so to provide further depth and prepare for the scenario of Suso being taken from us, scouts were sent out to look for someone to play in the AMR slot. These players needed to be adept at playing in similar roles to the Spanish wide man and aged 23 or under to fit with the Club Philosophy. They came back with Emi Buendia as the top prospect, above the likes of Victor Tsygankov, David Neres, Jacob Bruun Larsen and Artur.

Profile – Emi Buendia

It is hoped that these three players will add quality to the squad, as well as depth, ready for Europa League football. These signings will be analysed at the end of the 2020-21 season to check their metrics against how they performed the previous season to see how well, or otherwise, they have adapted to life at Milan.

Taking into consideration the paucity of quality youth prospects and the Club Vision, the Chief Scout, Geoffrey Moncada, has been provided with the following brief:

Scouting Focus

At the start of the season, the media and bookmakers have AC Milan down to finish 4th behind Juventus, Napoli and city rivals, Inter Milan. The next blog will be an update following the closure of the January transfer window.

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* Player radars have been created using the website http://cboutaud.github.io/radar/radar.html


FM20 – The Preamble and Save Reveal

Serie A has been in relative decline for a number of years now, with Inter Milan the last Italian side to win the Champions League under Jose Mourinho back in 2010. The treble-winning side came after Internazionale racked up losses of in excess of £1bn over the preceding decade, funded by oil-backed Moratti, who openly admitted to buying success. Before that, AC Milan were the last team to win the prize for the best European club, exacting revenge over their 2005 defeat to Liverpool, lifting the trophy in 2007.

Italy as a nation ranks third amongst the list of countries to have had a side win the Champions League (previously the European Cup), shared between AC Milan, Inter and Juventus. Yet sides from the boot of the continent have yet to win the pinnacle of European football in any of the last nine years.

If you take the Ballon d’Or as a measure of footballing pedigree of a league, and remove the ‘Ronaldo effect’ (CR7, not R9), then Serie A hasn’t had a player in the top three since Fabio Cannavaro won the prize in 2006 – and even then, during the Summer of 2006, he had transferred to Real Madrid following Italy’s World Cup win. Italy even failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, for the first time since 1958. Why?

It has been well documented amongst football-centric economists that success is strongly correlated to wage expenditure – put simply, when it comes to employing footballers, you get what you paid for. Using the data available within Football Manager, I was able to put together a rough idea of the number of players over £100k at each club within four leagues – England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – to examine the ability for the clubs to pay players big contracts, which should predicate success on the football field.

The graphic above clearly documents that Serie A is well behind the likes of the Premier League when it comes to the ability for sides to spend money on paying high wages, with twelve sides able to pay wages of £100k/week or more. Combine this with the graphic below demonstrates just how seriously the likes of AC Milan have fallen in their ability to pay big contracts to big name players, and also highlights how dominant Juventus are when it comes to their wage bill within their respective league.

It’s telling that, at least according to the game database, both West Ham and Leicester have the same number of players on contract of £100k/week or above and Crystal Palace have one player more than AC Milan. This graphic, if accurate, probably also helps to explain the gripes of Spurs players and the contracts on offer from Daniel Levy.

Concentrating this down onto just Serie A, looking specifically into player age for comparison, and remembering that player wages have a strong correlation to success in a league, then again we can perhaps see why Juventus won their eighth Serie A in a row in 2019. No prizes for guessing which dot represents Ronaldo in the below graphic. If we ignore Buffon, at 41, then in nine of the different age brackets below, Juventus come out on top. They also are the leading wage payers across age profiles, a clear sign of forethought and consideration of the future of the Club.

Besides Donnarumma, at 20, AC Milan don’t feature close to the top of the wage outlay, until Pepe Reina, the back up goalkeeper at 36. Having two goalkeepers being the highest paid at their respective age is not necessarily a sign of strength and planning for a club.

Serie A Player Age-Wage comparison

Whilst not necessarily a good guide, measuring the domestic success of a club by how many players make up the national team squad sees only two players in the AC Milan team deemed good enough for the Nerazzurri – Donnarumma and Romagnoli, the club captain.

Taken from https://www.ft.com/content/bbc841e0-8689-11e8-96dd-fa565ec55929

AC have considerably declined from their last zenith back at the start of the millennia. Forbes list AC Milan at 18th in their Business of Soccer list, with a current brand value of $583m. This is lower than both Schalke O4 and West Ham and their brand is valued at only a third of that of Juventus’s $1.512bn. The only other club inside Forbes’s top twenty clubs to also make a net operating loss in 2018 were Everton and they find themselves in a similar ignominious state when it comes to their 2019 league position.

There have been a number of factors which have contributed to the demise of one of the world’s former favourite team.

Juventus’s monopoly, taken from Latin monopolium meaning to have exclusive control of a commodity or trade, over the Scudetto in the last eight years has seen regular influx of Champions League money into Turin to help fill the coffers of the Agnelli family (owners of Fiat). They have been able to report positive operating income in all but one of the last ten years, in part thanks to their move to their fully club-owned stadium, the Allianz Stadium, back in 2011. They’ve used this money wisely in the transfer market, picking up high profile signings on free transfers (whilst admittedly paying considerable signing on and agent fees). They have also signed players, such as Bernardeschi, Pjanic and Higuaín, who have performed well in their domestic league, strengthening their side and weakening rivals.

In comparison, AC Milan have fallen from pillar to post following the withdrawal of Berlusconi’s money back in 2017. In each of the last four years, AC Milan have reported a net operating loss, and in 2018, control of the club was taken over by Elliott Management – a hedge fund – following the disastrous short-lived takeover by Chinese businessman, Li Yonghong. Li’s takeover of the Rossoneri was partially financed through borrowing from Elliott Management, with high interest loans, loans which Mr Li was not able to repay, meaning that ownership transferred into the hands of the hedge fund owners. More on this in the fantastic TiFo video below.

Elliott Management seem determined not to be the long-run holders of the keys to AC Milan, stating their intent to raise the level of success before selling the club on for a profit. To achieve this, they recognise the need to increase the frequency of wins on the pitch.

Yet winning isn’t necessarily going to help build up the bank balance, at least not domestically. Prize money for places between the top Italian and English leagues are barely comparable – the winners of Serie A receive just £3.87m, which is roughly equal to the team finishing 19th in the Premier League. When taking into consideration the Bundesliga prize money on offer, this blows both the English Premier League and Serie A out of the water, with the bottom team earning over £26m in prize money.

Income generated by the sale of TV rights is also well behind those of the other major leagues in Europe. The latest domestic TV deal in Italy sees Italian teams receive around half that of English Premier League teams from their deals – the Premier League is also generating far greater sums from the sale of international TV rights. This clearly impacts upon their ability to buy the top players but also demonstrates that TV companies are unwilling to invest heavily into showing football with half empty stadiums. AC Milan’s stadium can hold a capacity of 80,018, yet last year the average attendance was 54,651 (according to worldfootball.net), a capacity utilisation of 68.19%. Compared this to the average attendance at the Allianz Stadium, which is lower at 39,193, but has a far better capacity utilisation of 95%.

The San Siro is an iconic stadium in world football and is probably a contributing factor to the attraction of foreign players wanting to play in the famed arena. Yet the council-owned stadium is in a state of decay. Both Inter and AC Milan are in talks with the council to build a new stadium. Parts of the stadium remain unopened when games are held, as they are deemed unsafe and visitors describe the place literally shaking when goals are scored.

Despite this, the Rossoneri’s fans are not keen to move on from the stadium, due to the memories that are tied up in the stadium. It will likely take years for AC and Inter to gain permission from the local council to build a new shared stadium, given that the council would then be forfeiting valuable rents it can charge the two teams for the privilege of playing games at the stadium. Renting the stadium means that both AC and Inter give up a large portion of match day revenues to the Milanese council – something that many of their other European counterparts do not have to do. AC Milan posted $99m match day revenues over the last financial year, which pales compared to $557m that Arsenal achieved over the same period, in part thanks to the corporate facilities they can provide at the Emirates stadium. This is not something that solely affects AC Milan. The majority of Serie A stadiums are council-owned and many of them are falling into a state of disrepair, with only a handful receiving an ‘upgrade’ in time for the 1990 Italia World Cup, and many have not been brought up to modern standards in the following 29 years, to include what would be consider de rigueur in new stadiums, for instance, modern turnstiles and large TV screens.

San Siro with its famous spiral staircases

Poor transfer business has also seen the team under perform their expenditure. The failure to transition smoothly from the mid-to-late 2000s away from the ageing team of Maldini, Pirlo, Kaka and Filippo Inzaghi, has seen significant investment into the squad, with little in the way of return. Recruitment of players at the back end of their careers, such as Beckham, the returns of Shevchenko and Ronaldinho, saw AC Milan rely upon its much vaunted medical department to maintain player fitness, whilst these players also benefited from playing in a slower tempo league than they may have come from. 2012 in particular saw a tranche of big name players leave, including Seedorf, Nesta, Gattuso, and van Bommel seven of which on a free as their contracts expired or they called time on their careers. This has led to AC Milan having a negative net spend of £438.86m over the last decade – the largest transfer deficit of the top five teams.

Data from http://www.transfermarkt.com

This is still affecting AC Milan to this day, as the club is still under performing based against the relative cost of its squad. In 2018-19, the team finished fifth, behind city rivals Inter, but notably behind relative minnows Atalanta, from whom AC Milan have bought a number of players from in the past.

Through the continually poor recruitment, AC Milan have been left with little opportunity but to shift their focus towards youth. The squad now has the lowest average age in Serie A.

The clear shift towards buying youth prospects is mirrored in their requirements of a coach as part of the club vision. Having a preference to sign U23 players and relatively firm declaration of desire to sign no players over the age of 30, combined with locking in first-team players for at least four years on their contracts seems designed to maximise players re-sale value after development from minutes on the pitch.

The added benefit of signing younger players from Elliott Management’s point of view is that they typically demand lower wages – which fits neatly with AC Milan’s need to bring back their wage expenditure under control, back into line with their revenue generation to avoid issues with FFP. Milan negotiated with UEFA to withdraw from the Europa League in 2019/20 due to their failure to meet FFP in past years, as part of a compromise and show a willingness to control their wage bill and balance their books after years of misspending.

Young players will be required too. Not a single Il Diavolo academy graduate currently at the club is deemed good enough to be in any of the Italian youth teams. Recruitment will need to start within the borders of Italy if the team is going to be able to fulfil its quota of home-grown players for Europa League squads. Signing young players is not without risk – player development is not guaranteed, in spite of minutes played. The squad lacks experienced leaders to mentor the youth and help them during difficult moments in games.

Without European football to generate extra revenue and increase their Club Coefficient, AC Milan look like they may only fall further from grace. At the start of the game, according to Football Manager, AC Milan find themselves in 80th position with only two years of European football in the past five years, both times in the Europa League. AC Milan have not seen Champions League football since 2013-14 since finishing 3rd in the preceding year.

Therefore, AC Milan will be the main save this year. The aims will be to:

1. Return AC Milan to Champions League football (for the 2021-22 season – more on why this season in my next post)
2. Oversee the move to a new, modern stadium
3. Continue to balance the books, using smart acquisitions and player sales
4. Win Serie A (within 3-5 years)

The next post will focus on analysing the current playing squad and the player recruitment approach to be taken.

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