Berlusconi’s Milanese empire is crumbling piece by piece

by Darren Holland

February 20th 1986; Italian entrepreneur, Silvio Berlusconi bought AC Milan with every intention of turning the club into giants of the footballing world. This was no small task as the club were faced with bankruptcy and had failed to win the Scudetto since 1979.  A club in turmoil, relegated twice in the early eighties – once for involvement in the Totonero scandal, followed by a poor season in 81-82 finishing third from bottom.

Berlusconi invested millions into the club – signing the ‘holy trinity’ of Dutch football; Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.  In the summer of ’88, Milan were champions of Italy for the eleventh time. However, it was the following year which would prove to be the most remarkable. AC Milan scraped by both Red Star Belgrade and Werder Bremen in the early stages before dominating Real Madrid in the semis. From kick-off, Milan continued to play with the same level of dominance and attractive football in the final versus Steaua Bucharest. Gullit and Van Basten proved too much for the Romanian defence; both players scoring a brace to guide Milan to their first European Cup in two decades. Twelve months later, Franco Baresi hoisted the same trophy into the air for the second year running – a feat which has yet to be replicated since.

Using his political influence and media experience, Berlusconi had successfully turned Milan into a global brand and now believed it was time to expand off the pitch. Under his reign, Milan Lab was created; a state of the art facility which used scientific methods to help prevent injuries and prolong careers. Due to the fact that 17 squad members picked up knee injuries in one season, it was believed to be vital for the development of both the club and the players themselves. The project was a breakthrough in football and one which became replicated by various clubs across Europe. Milan continued to succeed throughout the nineties and into the following decade.

However, like Berlusconi’s influence in Italian politics, AC Milan’s stature began to fade. After finishing the 2011-12 season without a major trophy, Milan were forced to sell; most notably Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The club announced that a new strategy was to be adopted by the club, now they shall no longer compete for the signature of the world’s best players but invest ‘heavily’ in youth. An excuse mustered up by Berlusconi and co. to justify the lack of transfers into Milan. Pressure was put on Berlusconi to sell the club in order for them to compete for silverware. Following speculation that Singaporean businessman Peter Lim was interested in buying the club, Berlusconi commented on the subject.

For me, Milan is in my heart. Over the years we’ve spent more and more money, perhaps too much. But this has allowed Milan to become the most successful team in the world.  The club is a part of my family. My daughter Barbara is now part of the company, and I’d like to keep it that way.

 

However, this does not mean that I’d instantly dismiss the idea of foreign investment. If the economic crisis continues, things may have to change.

Better times for Berlusconi – pictured with Inzaghi after the triumph in Athens (2007).

Rossoneri supporters had to endure a miserable campaign last season as the club finished eighth in the Serie A with no European football to show for their struggles. Both Max Allegri and Clarence Seedorf failed to impress the Milanese hierarchy following poor results. Now Filippo Inzaghi has been appointed as head coach; faced with the difficult task of competing domestically with a lacklustre squad.

The day after Mario Balotelli’s departure to Liverpool – yet another talented footballer to exit the club – Silvio Berlusconi himself took the time to speak to the players and staff. According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, he said:

Guys, football has changed and we can’t compete with the sheikhs…but nothing is impossible if I support you.

In an attempt to lift spirits, he added:

You have to stay united, and support Inzaghi with enthusiasm seeing as he is the right coach. You have to show a good image of Milan when you’re on the pitch.

Berlusconi has always held AC Milan close to his heart – that much is true – but it may be time to sell.  The image of seeing his once mighty Milanese empire crumbling piece by piece may be far more harrowing than the sight of another wealthy investor sitting where he once sat in the iconic San Siro stadium.

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