Thursday, 21 December 2017

Of Gufi and Vedove

The Italians call them vedove (widows) of the old regime: fans, former players, pundits and journalists so loyal to Silvio Berlusconi and Adriano Galliani that they can't but cast aspersions on Milan's new ownership.  There are many Milan fans who have wholeheartedly embraced the Chinese project and the prospect, at least, of a diversified revenue portfolio--a modern Milan, in other words.

But there are still others who seem to be in a perpetual state of mourning, nostalgic for the old ownership, even after it corroded the club over the last decade.

Then, there are the gufi (literally, owls), fans of other teams or even Milan who wish to see the club fail.  These come in two forms: either as insincere well-wishers or straightforward haters.  

To be a Milan fan these days is to negotiate a reality away from this psychotic mess.  But it's difficult.  The territory in which a Milan fan can find comfort and patience is thin; the majority has already been ceded to the swelling mass of disinformers and misinformers.

There are legitimate concerns around the transparency of Milan's new ownership.  Is president Yonghong Li, for example, a simple prestanome (frontman) for a group of investors?  If in the absence of official confirmations one clings to every word that Milan CEO Marco Fassone says, it would seem so.  In recent days he has spoken of investors, not an investor.  Plural not singular.

But clinging easily shades into grasping.  It is maddening not to know the identity of the people behind your club, or definitively whether you are in the hands of one amateur speculator, whose personal fortune the New York Times questioned a month ago, or a group of capable investors who won't come out in the open for various political reasons (China's various restrictions on foreign investment, for example).

This uncertainty is the provenance of the attacks against Milan.  Once the ownership is in question, the media takes extraordinary liberty, especially when there is a crosstown rival, Inter, owned by Suning, the large and visible Chinese electronics retailer.  

But there is no even-handedness.  I won't get into the financial state of Inter currently, but Bloomberg and Calcio Finanza recently ran interesting stories that shed light on their debt structure, their bond ratings etc. If the Italian media had wanted to, it could have ran these stories as widely as it does every Milan one.

And it just doesn't stop at the finances.  Every day, Milan's players, apparently, are preparing for a mass exodus.  Milan isn't even afforded the dignity of bidding farewell to them in the summer; they all have their bags ready for January.  

In the summer, every Italian outlet reported of a release clause in Donnarumma's contract.  Depending on the paper's agenda, the clause's value was either nominal or substantial.   Fassone had joked at the time that the media seemed to know more about the contract than he did.  It turned out recently that Donnarumma has no release clause in his contract.

This was an extraordinary revelation for several reasons, chief among which was the fact that Milan had prevailed over the repellent agent Mino Raiola.  Milan will sell Donnarumma on their terms despite Raiola's machinations.  Milan won. Raiola lost.  Milan 1 - 0 Raiola.

Rather than admit their failings, the media adeptly changed the subject.  The focus became UEFA's rejection of Milan's Voluntary Agreement. This, the media argued, would cause a firesale anyway, and Milan would lose Donnarumma, Leonardo Bonucci, Suso, and Alessio Romagnoli.  Mercifully, they spared Milanello in their speculation.

Never mind that Milan were the first club to try for a VA.  Never mind that the Settlement Agreement, the alternative to the VA, is something Inter and Roma have already opted for, despite the solidity of Suning and the transparency of James Pallotta.  

When Fassone said that UEFA's demands were unrealistic, the media scoffed.  I treat "media" as a monolith here, which despite its individual biases has been in lockstep in smearing Milan.  The media said the real issue was Milan's lack of resources, transparency, debt etc.  The gufi and vedove gleefully joined in.

Yesterday, however, Umberto Lago, the former president of the Chamber of Commerce, essentially said that there was a solid basis to agreeing to the VA and that UEFA's decision was political, something Fassone echoed later.

Lago's words were a footnote for the media.  So, in summary, an eminent expert and his opinion hold little weight and value.

We need a degree of honesty from everyone involved.  When Milan announced their ritiro (retreat in which the team is not allowed outside contact) a few days ago, a prominent journalist, Enzo Bucchioni, branded the move as something from the 80s.  In reality, the ritiro has been employed several times in recent memory.  Former Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic opted for it in April of 2016.   It is hardly an anachronism.  But perhaps Bucchioni preferred the ownership of a year ago.  The same ownership that let this club languish in mediocrity for the last decade; the same ownership who collected ageing and forgettable players as a hobby. 

There are many more examples of scurrilous attacks, but we shouldn't lose sight of the concrete achievements of this new ownership.  They have resolved a large portion of Milan's debt with banks.  They have delivered the most exciting transfer market in years.  They have been utterly transparent in their communication, and have never once prevaricated like Galliani did.

We are in December, and the team has yet to find itself. They deserve patience.  They deserve better.  

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