29 April ~ "Berlusconi is still very much in love with Milan." Addressing a meeting of rossoneri shareholders last week, vice president Adriano Galliani was at pains to reassure everyone that the beleaguered Italian prime minister remains committed to the club that he took over nearly 25 years ago. Milan's accounts, presented during the meeting, showed a loss of €9.8 million (£8.5m) last year; reasonably healthy figures when compared with 2008's €66.8m debt, but that's all thanks to the hugely controversial sale of Kakà to Real Madrid. The fear now among supporters is that another big name will leave this summer.
A projected transfer budget of €20-30m may not seem too shabby, but it's been obvious for some time that wholesale changes are needed to restructure the team. Selling Pato (who continues to be linked with Chelsea) and/or Thiago Silva would certainly free up funds, but add to the humbling impression that Milan have now become a selling club. Galliani has been busily spinning this new prudence as part of the club's preparations for life under UEFA's financial fair play rulings, coming into force from 2012. A snipe at neighbours Inter ("We can't go spending €809m in five years") was telling. The usual line is that the nerazzurri did very well out of Calciopoli, but just as crucial is that club president Massimo Moratti's millions emerged from the global recession relatively unscathed, in contrast to Berlusconi's Fininvest, or Fiat or Italpetroli (the Sensi family holding company which owns Roma).
The dithering last summer over the signing of Edin Dzeko, who opted to stay at Wolfsburg and could now end up at Juventus, set alarm bells ringing. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has failed to find any sort of consistency. Compare him to Real Madrid's other surplus Dutchman Wesley Sneijder at Inter, who Milan were rumoured to have first dibs on. Berlusconi created the global template for publicity-generating (and season-ticket selling) top-name summer signings. It's what now defines a "big club". Never mind another trophy-less season, fans are just as upset that Genoa and Napoli have spent more than them in recent transfer windows.
Juve's ongoing period of acrimonious underachievement has taken some of the media pressure off Milan, but Saturday's defeat at Palermo leaves the club with just one win in seven games. Leonardo is expected to leave over the coming months and head back to Brazil, with an untried (though presumably cheap) Mauro Tassotti-Filippo Galli coupling lined up to replace him. Third spot should now be safe, but the final three games of this campaign – Fiorentina, Genoa and then Juventus at home – won't be easy. The season began with angry ultra groups staging demonstrations on the first day of training at Milanello; it could well end up with similar scenes at the Meazza next month. Matthew Barker