Last November I did an article for this site about the trials and tribulations that Italian giants AC Milan faced under new owner Li Yonghong, a Chinese businessman who was unheard of in both Italy and his home country.
Having a soft spot for Milan, this concerned me. I was bemused as to how an unknown businessman could buy one of the biggest football clubs in the world, seemingly without having to prove he had the finances to keep them solvent.
Such was the enigma around Li Yonghong and his consortium, that a minority of Milan fans were concerned by the fact that money had to be borrowed from an American vulture fund called Elliot Management.
As part of the deal all monies borrowed had to be paid back by October 2018. At the time of the purchase of the club, manager Vincenzo Montello was sacked and former fan favourite Gennaro Gattuso came in to replace him.
For Gattuso, the instructions were simple, progress as far as you can in Europe make sure the club qualified for the money laden Champions League. As you might expect, this was to prove easier said than done. Milan finished the Serie A season outside the Champions League spots and were issued with a transfer ban by UEFA after apparently falling foul of FFP regulations.
Hearing this I was worried for the future of one of Italy and Europe’s biggest teams. The money owed to the vulture fund had the potential to destroy the club, and it would force the club to sell off its assets.
This put them backwards by 10 years in terms of building a team that was capable of challenging for any silverware in Italy. That is of course if the club somehow managed to avoid folding like another giant of Italian football, Parma.
Last season the stakes were high for Milan. With a vulture fund debt in excess of €300 million and problems on the pitch, it looked as if the end was near. Teams in and around them were straightening out, and even though Milan brought in 11 players at the start of the 2017/2018 season it didn’t appear to be happening for the Rossoneri.
A Italian cup final papered over the cracks but the poor start to the season had killed off any reasonable chance of winning the league.
Eventful winners Juventus only won the league title on their third to last game of the season.
I had that sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach that the Milan that I have a soft spot would fold to be replaced by a new entity of unknown quantity.
I wasn’t expecting any signings to come in, in fact I expected the nucleus of the team to be stripped bare and everything sold to pay off the debt that the owners had created. Then out of no where it was announced that ex Liverpool, Barcelona and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Pepe Reina had signed for the club.
In the weeks that followed Juventus striker Gonzolo Higuain also signed. The capture of Higuain was a massive statement of intent.
While the signings of both Reina and Higuain were specular I wondered where the money was coming from. And then I learned that Milan once again had new principle owners.
Elliot Management bought the club outright after Li Yonghong failed to make a payment deadline, and straight away the new ownership started to make improvements both on and off the pitch.
Their idea was simple: turn Milan back in to the club it was in the late nineties and early noughties.
They started by bringing back club legends Paolo Maldini and Leonardo de Araujo to recreate the ‘Milan Spirit’. Next on their list is bringing back ex Milan director Umberto Gandini to be the club’s liaison between UEFA and FIFA.
Former Arsenal shareholder Ivan Gazidis is coming in as the club’s new CEO, as Eliot Management look to stabilise the club’s future both short and long term.
As I already mentioned, thanks to the work of Leonardo the club have been able to bring in Higuain from Juventus. He has also managed to sign Mattia Caldara from the Old Lady which saw Leonardo Bonucci move back to Juventus. This move has upset a lot of the Juve faithful as Caldara could possibly be the next big defensive sensation to come out of Italy.
With their debts cleared and the rumoured FFP problems sorted, the 2018/2019 season looks to be bright for the Rossonari.
With rumours of ex Chelsea boss Antonio Conte coming in to replace Gattuso, Milan getting back in to the Champions League is nearly a certainly.
I would even put them as outside favourites to stop Juventus from winning a record eighth straight Serie A title.