Tuesday November 12 2019
The worst €200m ever spent

Just two signings from Milan's summer transfer splurge of 2017 started against Juventus. For Emmet Gates, it perfectly encapsulated the sheer recklessness of the Yonghong Li era...

Take a look at Milan’s starting XI in their 1-0 defeat to Juventus on Sunday, what do you notice? If you don’t have the time, or patience, to figure it out, it’s this: Hakan Calhanoglu and Andrea Conti were the only starters that were bought from Yonghong Li’s hedonistic summer spending spree of 2017. The sole survivors.

As they currently languish in the bottom half of Sere A, those heady days of July and August 2017 seem nothing but a distant memory to Rossoneri fans now, when Mr. Li’s mysterious Chinese money bankrolled a spending spree never before seen by an Italian side. Yes, there had been big spending before - Massimo Moratti and Sergio Cragnotti in the 1990s, even their own Silvio Berlusconi before that, for example - but this was an entirely different beast.

It felt like every single day in that two-month window, Milan were buying a new player. The first signing was Mateo Musacchio for €18m, then Franck Kessie (€28m) and Ricardo Rodriguez (€15m) arrived a week later. Andre Silva (€38m), Calhanoglu (€20m), Andrea Conti (€24m), Leonardo Bonucci (€42m), Fabio Borini (€5m), Lucas Biglia (€17m) and Nikola Kalinic (€25m) all came via Malpensa airport, ready to be part of the Diavolo’s new Chinese revolution.

Fast forward two years, and what has become of Milan’s €200m+ outlay? Silva, who was 22 when signed, had the biggest potential of all the new signings, and had been ordained by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo himself as his eventual heir in the Portuguese national side. He lasted a single season, struggling to adapt to Serie A as he scored just two goals, and left on loan, first to Sevilla and later to Eintracht Frankfurt.

Whilst it’s perhaps unfair to judge Silva that harshly given his age, the same cannot be said for the biggest signing, Bonucci, who arrived as a serial Scudetto winner with Juve and had just played in the Champions League Final. 

Bonucci was a train wreck in his single season in red and black. His defensive frailties were badly exposed without Giorgio Chiellini to cover him, and indeed it was the actual signing of Bonucci that railroaded the strategic thinking of directors Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli.

Fassone and Mirabelli have since said that the signing of Bonucci wasn’t planned, and in fact they had set money aside to buy an experienced striker, with Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the first target. Yet the possibility emerged to sign Bonucci, who’d fallen out with Max Allegri before a Champions League game against Porto the previous season and their relationship never recovered, and so Fassone and Mirabelli felt signing Bonucci - a genuinely world-class player on paper - was an opportunity not to be missed.

This is the fork-in-the-road moment. How different would Milan’s current fortunes be had they went for Aubameyang and passed up Bonucci? Milan’s top scorer in 2017-18 was Patrick Cutrone with 10 goals, 18 in all competitions. Milan scored the fewest amount of goals from any side in the top seven, and it isn’t in the realm of fantasy to suggest that the signing of the current Arsenal striker could’ve propelled the Rossoneri back into the top four.

Kessie, Calhanoglu, Musacchio and Rodriguez have all flitted between decent and poor. Kessie, a mainstay under Rino Gattuso, clocked up more minutes than any other Milan player last season but overall has scarcely resembled the player who was so good for Atalanta. Andrea Conti has been dreadfully unfortunate, suffering two serious knee injuries, and pretty much missed the entire Li era. 

Nikola Kalinic lasted a single season, scoring only three League goals, and was sent on loan to Atletico Madrid. Biglia and Borini have added next to nothing, with the former now firmly replaced by Ismael Bennacer as the midfield fulcrum since Stefano Pioli took charge. Rodriguez has also been dropped for Theo Fernandez. Calhanoglu is the last of the Mohicans, the last emblem of the chaotic and cryptic Li reign.

When all aspects are combined; the financial outlay on fees and wages, player performances and their inability to move players on, there is a very good case that Milan’s 2017 summer transfer business is the worst ever conducted by a club in Europe’s five biggest Leagues. Not a single signing has been an outright success.

The club recently posted record losses of €146m and, with Champions League football about as likely as a Yonghong Li return, that summer of 2017 - when expectations ran wild, when 65,000 fans turned up to see Milan play Universitatea Craiova in a Europa League qualifying match in early August, and when anything seemed plausible - will hang over the red side of San Siro for a long time.

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Have your say...
(Cont'd). Calhanoglu has never been good at Milan. Ever. Pioli has injected some energy into him, but that's it. Kalinic? Who is Kalinic anyway? Silva is a weird bust. That's the one that's most inexplicable to me. Maybe he's really sensitive and needs lots of love and confidence? The article gets Bonucci spot on. He's a Robin to Chiellini's Batman. Once De Ligt adjusts to Serie A he will be his Robin too. Kessie is fine, but not worth 28m. Maybe 20. Biglia is trash. (Cont'd 2)
on the 12th November, 2019 at 8:54pm
@Pinturicchio... so every single author, contributor and/or user here in FI is dumb expect you! With that statement, you've already claimed the position of being dumbest. You never fail in that department, do you? congrats!
on the 12th November, 2019 at 8:47pm
@Pinturicchio, yes there has been a management merry go round. I was one of the ones that called for Gattuso to be replaced. Objectively I stand by that, given that many results in his reign were complete underperformances, but had I seen this disaster coming I would have said it's best we stay with him for another season. That said, it does not disprove the thesis of the article. Even last year, with the now famous 5th-place-1pt-from-CL finish, many of these players were mediocre. (Cont'd)
on the 12th November, 2019 at 8:47pm
@Pintu,, yeah dude you and me like fire and water. Keep level your hate flames though poop brain.
on the 12th November, 2019 at 8:13pm
HEY FOOTBALL ITALIA recruiters when you put a article on your site stating recruiting reports, thats fine, just recruit a reporter who has knowledge on italian football and can report objectively.

Second thing is learn about finance and not just football finance.

If you buy a player for £100m with a 5 year contract but sell him the next year then his cost value is £80m. Then when you sell him for £80m you break even, not lose money. Thats the concept.
on the 12th November, 2019 at 7:51pm
I agree with almost anything, but I don't think several players are judged accordingly. Borini for 5 mln, for the amount of work he's done in the time - it's definitely a good signing.

Everything else is pretty much spot on. They've either been decent with several great and several bad games (Kessie, Mussachio, Rodriguez), mediocre at best (Calhanoglu), injured all the time (Conti) or outright failures (everyone else). Borini is the only good signing and that's because it was for only 5 mln.
on the 12th November, 2019 at 7:18pm
@Dtooth... this article is about Milan and Milan only, for a very specific time period, nowhere in the article the author talks about another team or compare with another team. Keep your hatred in control to not look like a complete idiot.
on the 12th November, 2019 at 6:49pm
Pathetic blog.

If the author would've applied a little more pressure on his tiny brain, he'd have noticed the merry-go-round of coaches at Milan.

THAT stupidity in manhandling the coaching position with an iron fist - as if Milan weren't in a rebuilding phase but world beaters - is actually the main reason of the current pitiful condition of Milan.

PS: spirit_willy - I swear you never surprise me, you're the dumbest chump on this site without a shadow of a doubt...
on the 12th November, 2019 at 6:48pm
we have to look at some of the decisions Elliott are making though. they don't care about the sport, they don't even care about the rossoneri. they just want to sell the club with a new stadium and make money. yeah Li made some mistakes but at least he actually cared about investing in the team. bring back an owner who actually loves the red and black like we do
on the 12th November, 2019 at 6:36pm
Why doesn’t this article make any mention of its current mismanagement? Elliott took over the club, using dubious tactics, two years ago. And the company probably could care less about players, team spirit, and the game itself. Elliott’s record speaks for itself.
on the 12th November, 2019 at 6:35pm
Inter surely has been the most extravagantly wasteful team in history.
on the 12th November, 2019 at 5:47pm
I don't. know what is the need to highlight the milan failure rather than Juventas one when then multi million signings Deigo melo and co. had failed to live up to expectations or Man Utd's post Ferguson wasteland. How many pennies have been wasted there still now to get back to their oldself?? What harm in that??? Who knows how speciffically this footballing world works?? Many Legends have ideas but nothing is guranteed in FOOTBALL....
on the 12th November, 2019 at 5:31pm
Do you guys have nothing better to post than this? In the last week I've read what a disaster milan is to Milan are finally back on track after positive signs against Juventus, to now this. We get it they've been a roller coaster but it's nothing new. Unless they start a hot win streak there shouldn't be any articles about them
on the 12th November, 2019 at 5:11pm

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