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AC Milan are on the brink of crisis

Only 12 months ago, the outlook at AC Milan was overwhelmingly positive. The Rossoneri had just clinched their first Serie A title for 11 years and were looking forward to being in the Champions League for a second successive season after eight seasons out of European club soccer’s most prestigious competition.

A lot has changed since then.

Stefano Pioli’s team put up a feeble defence of their Scudetto crown last term, only managing to scrap a fourth place finish to keep them in the Champions League. While AC Milan’s 21/22 title triumph was built on a strong defensive foundation, they managed to concede 43 times in 38 games last season – 15 more than champions Napoli.

This summer, AC Milan’s squad is deteriorating further. Zlatan Ibrahimovic retired at the end of the 2022/23 campaign while Brahim Diaz returned to Real Madrid after three years at the San Siro.

On top of this, Sandro Tonali is expected to join Newcastle United in the coming days after the Rossoneri agreed to sell the midfielder for a fee of around €70m.

AC Milan were able to tie down Rafael Leao to a new long-term contract amid interest from several Premier League clubs, but further player sales could still happen this summer. Theo Hernandez is reportedly on the radar of Manchester City with Mike Maignan a potential target for Manchester United.

It’s not as if AC Milan are expected to replace many of their outgoing stars. Marcus Thuram was identified as a key target, but the French forward has instead chosen to sign for Inter. Franck Kessie has been linked with a return to the Rossoneri from Barcelona, but Inter are expected to once again beat their rivals to the punch. 

This comes after the firing of Paolo Maldini as AC Milan technical director in early June, with club owner Gerry Cardinale planning sweeping changes behind the scenes. As things stand, AC Milan CEO Giorgio Furlani is leading the club’s transfer strategy and recruitment. This hasn’t filled fans with much encouragement.

Cardinale is part of the Redbird Capital group that bought AC Milan for $1.2 billion last year. The investment firm which has ties to the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox want to return the Italian club to the top of the European game, but supporters are far from convinced by the early impression made by the new owners.

RedBird’s first year in charge at San Siro has been marred by boardroom power struggles. Maldini’s exit might give Cardinale and Furlani the control they desire, but it’s not yet clear how quickly they will rebuild AC Milan’s front office. This summer’s transfer window could be something of a write off with nobody in place to guide strategy.

Many fans believed Pioli should have been fired as manager last season. AC Milan were a long way from challenging for the Scudetto and plenty pointed the finger at the 57-year-old who struggled to find answers to the questions being asked of him. A poor start to next season could see RedBird fire Pioli just as they fired Maldini.

Competition at the top of Serie A hasn’t been this stiff in a long time. Napoli set a new standard by running away with the Scudetto last season while Inter reached the Champions League final. Juventus struggled for consistency and played an insipid brand of soccer under Max Allegri, but still would have finished second had it not been for their points deduction.

Roma failed to crack the top four last season, but Jose Mourinho’s team still reached the Europa League final. Then there’s Atalanta, who have gone through a generational transition over the last two seasons and look ready to compete near the top-end of Serie A again. AC Milan can’t afford to take a step backwards.

This is a club with heritage. AC Milan have been a superpower of the Italian game for decades. Only Real Madrid have won more European Cups and Champions League titles than the Rossoneri, but Italian soccer as a whole is in a precarious position right now, with more and more clubs looking to outside investors.

There is undeniable potential for growth in Serie A, but owners like RedBird risk dismantling the character that made Italian soccer so special in the first place. AC Milan might emerge from their current condition in better shape, but many fear this could be the start of a crisis that plunges them to deeper depths.

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