Not even a global health emergency could mellow the madness at Milan. Only last summer, Elliott Management backed Zvonimir Boban and Paolo Maldini to return the club to greatness. Less than 12 months on and the pair are about to be consigned to the Rossoneri’s history books for the second time. Instead, a man with no official connections to the red half of San Siro has been allowed to call the shots, seemingly without informing his colleagues at the club.
The arrival of Ivan Gazidis as CEO back in December 2018 not only seemed to confirm Elliott’s commitment to Milan, but it was also supposed to signal a much-needed change of direction. Silvio Berlusconi’s running of the club was characterised by substantial spending and success until 2012, when those things were replaced by cost-cutting and chaos. Chinese businessman Yonghong Li took over in the summer of 2017, in a reign with none of the cost-cutting, but all the chaos.
The 55-year-old Gazidis was rightfully considered a safe pair of hands. He was Arsenal’s CEO for the past decade, overseeing their transition to the Emirates Stadium and the departure of long-serving coach Arsene Wenger, all while keeping the Gunners competitive on the pitch with Champions League qualifications and three FA Cups in four seasons. Before that, he was a key figure in the development of MLS, which culminated in David Beckham’s historic transfer to the LA Galaxy.
His move to Milan had been preceded by the returns of Maldini and Leonardo as directors, with the pair apparently given full control of club affairs, alongside coach and ex-teammate Gennaro Gattuso. But then the cracks began to emerge. In January 2019, Leo was busy trying to orchestrate moves for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cesc Fabregas. Elliott was initially in favour, backing the Brazilian in his belief that established players were needed to fast-track the Rossoneri’s revival.
That was until Gazidis vetoed both deals, preferring his sporting director pursued the younger Krzysztof Piatek and Lucas Paqueta. Five months later, unhappy with the lack of funds available to him, Leonardo left San Siro and Maldini was promoted to the newly-created role of technical director, flanked by Ricky Massara and former teammate Boban, who was hired as Chief Football Officer. The trio were tasked with lowering the age of Milan’s squad and their wage bill, all while ensuring progress on the pitch.
However, their choice of Marco Giampaolo as coach backfired and he was sacked just seven games into this season. Maldini and Boban turned to Stefano Pioli on a contract until 2021, yet Gazidis and Elliott had other ideas. While Pioli was turning around the side’s fortunes on the field, they were negotiating with Ralf Rangnick behind the scenes, planning to entrust total authority to the RB Leipzig chief over coaching and recruitment. Boban accused the CEO of stabbing him in the back, but he was sacked before he could walk.
“My interview was legally impeccable and it arrived after many questions and demands for clarification in-house went unanswered," Boban told Il Giornale in March. "They closed a deal with Rangnick in December. I can wish him all the luck in the world, but they have to at least tell me about this. I deserve to be informed of the initiative.”
Speculation began to swirl over Maldini’s position, given he had been blatantly undermined by Gazidis, but Milan preferred to stay silent on the topic of the legendary defender’s future. Instead, the Greek-South African executive offered Pioli his ‘full support’ without denying he had been talking to Rangnick, until the German openly confirmed there had been an approach from Milan before coronavirus became a pandemic. All of this, while he was still under contract with Leipzig.
Last week, Rangnick publicly declared he was ready to absorb the powers of not only Pioli, but also sporting director Massara and Maldini. It’s entirely understandable that Maldini had enough and vented his frustration at the “lack of respect” going on here, but he aimed it at the wrong man. Rangnick is at least being honest. He hasn’t been angling for the job, he was approached months ago and negotiations have never really stopped. The fact Pioli and even Maldini were unaware of that is not down to the German, but the blame lies squarely at the feet of Gazidis.
Milan, of course, are not in a minority when it comes to a lack of transparency with their coaches. Luciano Spalletti went through a similar ordeal during the second half of last season, when the Inter board publicly sided with the former Roma boss, yet were unashamedly offering millions to Antonio Conte in the background. Finally, the announcement came on May 31 that the Nerazzurri had appointed Conte - just one day after they sacked Spalletti.
I’ve already argued that Rangnick is the right man to take Milan forward, but his impending arrival didn’t have to be so destructive. Gazidis must be applauded for his efforts in trying to make the Diavolo more modern and self-sustainable, but at the same time he is actively ripping the heart out of the club, turning them into nothing more than another corporate machine. If this is how he treats legends, then what hope do the fans have?