Gone Are the Days of the Condor

Chinese-owned AC Milan make their supporters dream after years of low-profile transfer market sessions

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A scene seen many times already in this calciomercato session: Rossoneri‘s new CEO Marco Fassone (left) and Director of Football Massimiliano Mirabelli (right) present to fans their latest purchase – top class defender Leonardo Bonucci in this case. Notice AC Milan’s logotype transliterated in Chinese characters on the background…

 

Italian summer transfer market – aka calciomercato – traditionally heats up in August, yet this year football aficionados have already had much to discuss and comment about. AC Milan and its brand new Chinese proprietors totally stole the spotlight, launching a massive, lightning fast reinforcement campaign that has already delivered 9 new players to coach Vincenzo Montella.

Gone are the Days of the Condor, where Rossoneri’s former CEO Adriano Galliani had to scramble in the last transfer window days to close a few minor deals and save the appearance of yet another disappointing market session. Galliani prided himself with his capacity to snatch such last-minute deals. “Those are the 3 Days of the Condor,” he used to say as the end of the summer approached, “and I always strike.”

But while in the past he had managed to bring to Milan players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, his most recent efforts, fueled by the dwindling resources of a disengaged management, couldn’t result in more than signing up a few free agents well past their prime, or getting some players on loan.

The “Days of the Condor” became a derisive evidence of AC Milan’s loss of competitiveness and market power. After multiple transfer sessions spent spectating at other clubs as they battled for the top players, those supposedly redeeming days did only confirm that Rossoneri were out of the game. You kept waiting and hoping for Galliani to strike hard, you ended up getting just another free agent, much to the frustration of a deluded fan base.

Rewind to only a few months ago, and the prospect for the summer of 2017 was not looking any better. Here are some little-known entrepreneurs and investors come from far away to relieve a glorious club from the agony of a proprietorship – Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest –  with no fuel left in the tank, and yet struggling to find the capitals even to close the deal with Fininvest itself. The sale of AC Milan was somehow completed last April, and Mr Li Yonghong became the new owner and chairman only thanks to a loan received from a hedge fund management firm.

However, supporters’ skepticism quickly turned into awe as Mr Li did live up to his promises and started pumping new economic resources to finance a much needed restyling of the squad. Galliani’s familiar but worn out face disappeared, and the spot was taken by Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli, respectively new CEO and Director of Football of the club.

The duo has become known for their videos on the club’s channel in which they elegantly introduce every new player to the public and document live the signing of their contract – a ritual seen many times in these hot summer days, and that is already a trademark of AC Milan’s new leadership.

On that note, Fassone and Mirabelli’s past track of records in rival sides like Juventus and Inter does represent another sign of discontinuity versus the past, for a team that had been governed by the same managerial staff for 30 years, and that preferred putting homegrown figures into its key positions.

Their blitzkrieg-like approach to the current transfer market session produced some deals one might consider a gamble – such as the signing of Portuguese forward Andre Silva for €38 million – but climaxed this week when Leonardo Bonucci, Juventus and Azzurri’s granitic center-back, shocked the world of Italian football as he decided to leave the Bianconeri after 7 years, to join the Chinese’s project.

With 9 new players on the payroll and possibly a few more to come, without forgetting the troubled but successful contract renewal of golden boy Gianluigi Donnarumma, coach Montella has no excuse to fail bringing AC Milan back to the top spots of Serie A and the Champions League. That is going to be the only way to generate a virtuous cycle of revenue the club needs to balance their audacious calciomercato campaign, before UEFA financial fair play obligations knock at the door.

As a club that experienced a change of control in the last 12 months, Rossoneri are now likely to benefit of a voluntary agreement with UEFA which, in a nutshell, will allow them to keep spending for one additional year without having to stick to the net loss limit set by fair play regulations. That is why you see them partying hard this summer, while other squads scratch at their heads trying to meet UEFA’s complicated parameters.

But as the final showdown with the European governing body’s watchdogs is eventually to be expected, spending will need to be followed soon by results and a return to competitiveness, as well as by the exploitation of the team brand on the huge Chinese market.

If AC Milan does not start putting cash in the box according to plans, the time might come for a painful reality check.

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