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What does Maldini’s new role mean for AC Milan?

Everything has changed since Elliot took control of AC Milan, but the return of Paolo Maldini means more than what it seems.

FIGC Press Conference Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

When Elliot took control of AC Milan in July nobody really knew what that could mean for future of the club, from the management to the players, but it took only a month to transform everything. So, let’s take a quick look at what has happened since the change of ownership and what it means for the Rossoneri.

We start from how Milan looked before Li Yonghong had to sell the club to the U.S. hedge fund Elliot Management:

  • Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli controlled the entire Sporting Area of the club and were planning questionable moves.
  • Pep Reina, Ivan Strinic — who are not bad — and Alen Halilovic were the only three signings of the summer window of the calciomercato and they were free.
  • Gennaro Gattuso, who was given a contract extension at the end of the last season, was likely to be replaced by Antonio Conte, who was sacked by Chelsea at the beginning of the offseason.
  • AC Milan would not participate in 2018/2019 UEFA Europa League due to the Financial Fair Play rules and the appeal didn’t look like something that would reverse this decision.
  • Leonardo Bonucci was still the captain and one of the most representative players.

It looked like the plan for the future of the club had to be discussed again and the goals for the sporting area needed to be set properly. So, everything looked not so clear and the fans were starting to feel the negativity around AC Milan, especially when the media started to talk about the economical situation of the Li family.

However, it has been a completely different story since hedge fund Elliot Management took control of the club and injected €50 million to stabilize the financial situation. The new owner started a rebuilding project that seems to be a long term one:

  • Fassone and Mirabelli were immediately sacked and replaced by the current President and CEO Paolo Scaroni, who’s already been part of Milan’s Board of Directors in the past.
  • Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo — and not Bonucci this time — was named AC Milan’s Sporting Director and immediately showed why he’s always been considered one of the best at his job.
  • Bonucci was traded to Juventus in exchange for Mattia Caldara and Milan also acquired Gonzalo Higuain for €18 million loan fee with the rights to make it permanent for another €36 million.
  • Gattuso’s position as Milan’s head coach seems solid and will have time to work with his new roster in order to improve last year’s results, including the UEFA Europa League.
  • The Rossoneri are still active on the market and are trying to make a few moves to fix their problems at midfield and add more depth on the wings.

But this is not enough, since the new ownership’s last move is the one that really changed the perception of this new cycle: Paolo Maldini, former captain and legend of the club, has been named Sporting Strategy & Development Director. It’s been the first time since his retirement that Maldini has accepted a role in his former club and this means more than it seems due to what happened in the last 9 years.

The son of Milan legend Cesare Maldini has been offered a role in the club’s front office many times since the end of his playing career, but he never accepted any offer. He clearly wanted an active position in the Sporting Area of the club but neither Adriano Galliani nor Fassone offered something that was interesting for him. Also, he wanted to be part of a solid long-term project, which was not the case of the last 6 years with Galliani and Berlusconi and even the Chinese version of Milan did not have any clear plan.

Now the situation looks different and it was confirmed during Maldini’s first press conference as Sporting Strategy & Development Director — which still looks an undefined role, but we’ll explain later. Leonardo and “the Paolos”, both Maldini and Scaroni, clearly told the media that the idea of the new owner is to “give AC Milan back to the Milanisti” and gradually rebuild that winning mentality that led the club to many victories in the past. It was also made clear that the team can’t be back at the top of Europe in a couple of years, but it all starts from the work ethic and the mentality, which is what the board of the sporting area will focus on.

So, let’s talk about Maldini’s role in club, since it was not clear at the time Milan announced it and it still might be. The Rossoneri won’t have a real Sporting Director, even if formally it will be Leonardo, but Maldini will work with his former teammate and will have the same responsibilities. They will take decisions on the first team, the youth team and will operate on the market, which is exactly what Maldini has always asked since his retirement. Also, two men will be better than one since Milan will be in a strict financial regime for a couple of years due to the FFP rules, which will make their job more complicated.

Now, from a fan’s perspective, this move is just awesome. We were all waiting for the moment Maldini would make his return to the Rossoneri, let’s be honest. Also, the fact that he’s going to have a lot of responsibility makes his return to Milan unique: Javier Zanetti and even Francesco Totti both have a role in their former clubs, but it’s more a representative one.

The enthusiasm around the club has never been so big in the last few years and the signing of a legend like Paolo Maldini is the sign that the club is moving in the right direction now.