It’s hard to believe that only four years ago AC Milan secured their 18th Scudetto. Even harder to believe that it was just a year before that Internazionale were on the verge of completing an unprecedented Treble of league title, European Cup and Coppa Italia.
Today both Milan clubs languish in midtable obscurity, the recent scoreless draw between the clubs highlighting the lack of spark in either team. Milan are as close in points to relegation as they are to a Champions League spot. How they have reached this point could be a blueprint on how not to use your transfer funds.
Paolo Maldini, arguably the greatest captain AC Milan ever had, told La Gazette dello Sport in March that he saw the malaise set in at the club as far back as 2007 when Milan saw off Liverpool to win their sixth European Cup. Instead of building on their success by signing promising young talent, they instead looked to secure big names and big sponsorship deals.
In came Ronaldinho at a time when it was generally accepted he was in decline. David Beckham arrived from MLS on loan. Robinho was plucked from his failures at Manchester City and Mark Van Bommel came in to replace Andreas Pirlo. Zlatan Ibrahimovic quickly came and left, taking Thiago Silva with him to Paris.
At one stage, Milan’s annual wage bill stood north of €200m, a club record. Only the 2011 Scudetto was secured as a reward for this outlay.
It was not just that every player they signed had seen their best days. Klass-Jan Huntelaar arrived from Holland and was promptly moved to the wing or left on the bench. Leonardo, the then manager, sometimes showing more faith in the 37-year-old Pippo Inzaghi than his new star striker. Huntelaar eventually left for Schalke and has been a revelation since.
So too has been Pirlo. Deemed too old for Milan in 2011, he is now playing in a Champions League final for Juventus and is rumoured to be signing for Chelsea or Liverpool in the summer. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was another told he was not good enough for the team and has since moved on to greater things. His performances at Borussia Dortmund have already caught the eye of Real Madrid and Arsenal.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos was also sold after a handful of games and is now making a name for himself at Dortmund. Imagine a partnership between the dependable Greek and Thiago Silva, a player, and a Milan fan, who should have been the captain and focal point of the club for this decade. Milan, once a byword for European greatness, has become little more than a stepping-stone for players to move on to better things.
If Milan’s decline can be blamed on poor player recruitment than Inter’s revolving manager’s door must surely be the cause of their fall. Since Jose Mourinho left for Madrid in 2010, the club has hired seven different managers, none reaching their two-year anniversary. Roberto Mancini, back in charge after an absence of six years, will be given until Christmas to have Inter challenging for a top three spot or he will go the way of Rafa Benitez, Claudio Ranieri and Walter Mazzarri before him.
Nevertheless, it was back in Mourinho’s tenure that the current woes truly started to take shape. Inter have always had a knack for spending big and achieving little but Mourinho managed to reverse at least one of those trends. The 2010 Treble marked the high water mark for a club that has long been in the shadows of its more successful brother, but the cost is still felt today.
Big money moves for Ricardo Queresma, Sulley Muntari and Mancini of Roma failed to make a lasting impact. Diego Milito, Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder were successful but offered the club little resale value. The spending under Mourinho was the last great flourish of Massimo Moratti’s ownership of the club. Three years after Mourinho’s departure, his presidency that had begun in the mid-Nineties would be over.
Within two seasons of being crowned, the champions of Europe Inter had slipped down to sixth place. The year after they finished ninth and have struggled to challenge for the Champions League spots ever since. The marquee signings that were once the club’s trademark have dried up – Nemanja Vidic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Gary Medel the most high-profile transfers this season.
Still, the squad Mourinho assembled won the Treble and the real catastrophe for the club was his departure for Madrid just weeks after winning the European Cup. Mourinho is such a force of personality that any club would struggle to fill the gap he leaves.
Arguably, Real Madrid have done so but Porto, Chelsea and Inter all struggled in his wake. Leaving on top was probably best for him, but for Inter it showed that the club had peaked and was in decline before they had even kicked a ball in defence of their European title.
It is hard to see a short-term road back to glory for both clubs. AC Milan have plans for an ambitious new stadium but have yet to announce when they expect work to begin on it. Silvio Berlusconi also retains his position at the head of the club and new owners would be needed to facilitate this move.
With Inter, much depends on their new Indonesian owners. Having taken the reigns in late in 2013, the signs are that they will be more fiscally prudent than Moratti ever was. With a personal wealth of around eight hundred million, it is also difficult to see the club challenging the likes of Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid in the transfer market.
Domestically, Roma and Juventus have taken steps in recent years to boost their finances and have pulled away from their Milan counterparts. In a sport where money trumps history every time, both clubs may find that their new home in Serie A’s midtable will just have to do for a while yet.