Off-field worries remain
22 December ~ All is not well at AC Milan. Struggling after a summer clearout brought on by financial problems, their woes were compounded by a fine imposed upon the holding company that funds them and a club president facing jail having been convicted of tax evasion. The fine relates to a long-standing bribery charge and legal dispute dating back over 20 years. Fininvest – an arm of club president and former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's media empire – were found guilty of bribing a court judge to approve a company takeover.
It resulted in the company being ordered to pay €560 million (£455m) to rival company CIR, from which they illegally wrestled control of publishing company Mondadori. The knock-on effect for Milan, whose losses have been covered by Fininvest in recent years, has been significant. The company has put forward €210m in the past five years to help the club, €87m of which came in 2011 alone.
With Italy in the midst of an economic crisis, Milan's struggles are symptomatic of those faced by the country as a whole. With that, it is fair to say the personal struggles of the club reflect deep-rooted institutional problems that undermine the precarious state of the Italian game. Across Italy, attendance figures have been poor for a number of years now; total attendances in Serie A fell from 9.4 million in 2008-09 to 8.9 million in 2010-11. Furthermore, attendance at Milan's games is down by around 20 per cent on last season, with last year's average at San Siro – 51,400, the highest in the country – representing a significant drop from the 64,500 average achieved in 2002-03.
The introduction of a new collective TV rights distribution set-up, intended to benefit the league in the long term, has further weakened Milan's annual revenue stream. To put the situation into perspective, Real Madrid and Barcelona earn almost twice as much in TV rights and sponsorship and almost three times as much in matchday revenue.
The club has had to adapt and this summer underwent something of a rebuilding process. In a bid to raise funds and significantly reduce what had become an unsustainably high wage bill, their best two players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, were sold to Paris Saint-Germain and a core group representing the old guard, many of whom had become something of an institution at Milan (Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Gianluca Zambrotta, Mark van Bommel and Filippo Inzaghi), were moved on.
A new era beckoned, yet things did not go to plan. Milan marked the start of the new season by losing five of their first eight league matches, their worst start to a league campaign in nearly 80 years. Manager Max Allegri has come under pressure and new signings have been criticised. Since then, things have improved and Allegri looks to have steadied the ship. Encouraging signs in the shape of qualification for the second round of the Champions League and the prospect of a lucrative tie against Barcelona, as well as a win over last year's champions and current league leaders Juventus, means Milan are now up to a much more respectable seventh in Serie A.
The new signings, notably Riccardo Montolivo and Francesco Acerbi, are improving. And with 14 goals already this season, youngster Stephan El Shaarawy is proving to be a much better player than many people expected. There has also been talk of opening the club up to outside investment. For now, all Milan can do is continue to improve on the pitch. Starting with a tough match away to Roma this weekend, the obvious priority is to keep winning games and climb up the table. Isidore Lewis