On Sunday, two sides with top four objectives at the start of the season meet at San Siro, desperately chasing their previous heights to overcome a worrying situation, both sporting and financially.
Finances in today’s football goes hand in hand with the sporting merit and the troubling results of late cast a shadow over the future at both clubs.
It’s hard not to refer to Milan as giants in Italy, but the current crop are actually far from it and by sacking Gennaro Gattuso for finishing fifth in Serie A last year, Elliott Management underlined their goal to keep chasing the elite of European football. But only to an extent.
The six-year long absence from the Champions League has limited the club from meeting their required ambitions both in terms of results on the pitch and on the transfer market. Overpaying for underachievers has become a trademark, also due to the brand that is Milan.
But the outcome of deciding to part ways with Gattuso has worsened the club’s situation during the course of this campaign and the poor start under Marco Giampaolo, who was sacked after a mere seven games in charge, has kept them chasing the European candidates ever since Stefano Pioli took over.
CEO Ivan Gazidis cast further doubt over the current coach’s future by announcing the club’s plans of a revival by changing the structure in Via Aldo Rossi completely and by contacting Ralf Rangnick mid-season, adding a third party to the equation. It caused chaos immediately and prepared Milan fans for another summer of uncertainty surrounding the long-term project at San Siro.
How long will it take before Milan are a club that won’t have to rely on loan deals and ageing champions to side a competitive XI in Serie A? That’s exactly what the club hopes will change under Rangnick, but they will need restructuring and patience. The new stadium project will also cost them and the financial crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic has already seen them put Gazidis to the task of cutting wages, a job he seems destined for.
On Sunday, a side in a similar trajectory arrive at the Giuseppe Meazza. Another season outside of the top four could be crucial for their future plans. The Giallorossi, though, are closer than their hosts of achieving the feat, but still seem so far away from another European adventure.
One should expect a top four meeting and a direct rivalry when Milan and Roma face one another in Serie A. But Roma, who arguably have been more tactical on the transfer market of late, are also going through their share of the drama this term.
On top of the takeover that never materialised, the sporting director who didn’t last the full season and the lack of financial muscles to bring in the big names, their younger stars Nicolò Zaniolo and Lorenzo Pellegrini have risen to form and attracted interest from the bigger fish. The truth is that La Lupa have turned into to somewhat of a stepping-stone rather than a preferred final destination, also displayed by the low release clause in Pellegrini’s contract.
These players have been linked with a move away from the club this summer and without the Champions League, Roma might be financially forced to sell their stars – again.
As for Milan, they are once again set for a revolution. Italy international Gianluigi Donnarumma seems set to sign another €6m-a-year contract, but it’s not official yet, and Hakan Calhanoglu has expressed his wish to play in the Champions League. When Calhanoglu feels you aren’t ambitious enough for him, then something is seriously wrong.
Fabio Capello pointed out that the gap in points between the two sides was not representative of the players in the squad, but a direct comparison doesn’t make them what they sought out to be. In fact, none of them are quite Champions League material.
Both sides have established Europe as a set target ahead of the season, but the economic uncertainty and previous spending have limited them. Roma are through to the last 16 in the Europa League and could qualify for the Champions League by winning the secondary European Cup, but both sides rely on loan deals to establish a competitive XI, and the current economical uncertainty forces them to think again ahead of next season.
On one hand, it underlines the great job Paulo Fonseca has done since taking over at the Olimpico, they are still in with a chance of catching Atalanta, but the truth is that they replaced Kostas Manolas by bringing Chris Smalling in on loan and now reports emerged regarding the uncertainty of affording to make the deal permanent.
Milan and Roma are both perfect examples of teams resting on their laurels and another season without the benefit of European revenue will make them fall even further behind economically and it will become even harder getting access to the material needed to compete at the top.
Inter and Juventus were always expected to fight for the Scudetto due to their wealth and ambitions, whilst Atalanta and Lazio are currently the perfect examples of stable projects developing with time, currently completing the top four and ready to upset things even further. They have spent their money wisely and are now preparing to establish themselves at the top by slowly raising the bar.
Picking up three comfortable points at home against Roma should enhance belief that Milan are moving in the right direction, but they face a side who must win to resume their hopes of Champions League football and a better future. More’s at stake than meets the eye, but the anti-climax for the fans is undeniable.
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