Italian football giants AC Milan have for too long been cash-strapped and an increasing embarrassment in Serie A. Now, that might change, after Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol lead an investment group in buying 48 percent of the club from Silvio Berlusconi, hopefully giving them a chance to become the power they were not all that long ago. Milan are a huge team and Italy are better for it when they're good, so make no mistake: even with Berlusconi still holding the majority share, this is a huge deal.
Once one of the shining lights of Italian football, Milan are not exactly the beacon of quality football they were. Gone are the halcyon days of Paolo Maldini, Filippo Inzaghi, Massimo Ambrosini and Franco Baresi. The rossoneri have fallen on hard times in recent years, losing their financial muscle and falling not just out of Europe's elite, but out of the top tier of Italian clubs as well.
The last few years haven't just been disappointing for Milan fans, they've been incredibly frustrating. They've had to watch their beloved club slide out of contention for the Champions League, fail to qualify for it, and become an embarrassingly mid-table side in Serie A, staring up at a number of clubs that fans are used to making fun of. The growing discontent among the ultras and other fans has been more and more palpable, with demonstrations and angry chanting, and most recently a stadium display that simply said "BASTA" -- enough.
So now with Mr. Bee, as Taechaubol is affectionately known, how does the future change for Milan? What can this new minority ownership group bring to bear to fix what's been broken? Can they even fix what's broken?
Money - Do they have it?
The biggest problem in recent years for Milan has been money. They've had to sell some of their best players because they simply couldn't afford to keep them, and the product on the pitch has suffered because of it. This buyout of a large portion -- albeit still a minority share in the club -- of Milan needs real financial backing behind it if the rossoneri are going to turn around the doldrums they've fallen in to.
The trouble is, no one's exactly sure just how wealthy Mr. Bee and his investment backers are. A recent Forbes financial investigation revealed that Taechaubol himself doesn't control anything remotely like the kind of finances necessary to make an impact for Milan's ability to spend money, and we don't really know who makes up the investment group backing him, other than that they're Chinese.
For all we know, they've already poured every euro they have into the share buy, and if Berlusconi and his family aren't going to keep that money in the club -- history suggests that could well be the case -- then Milan could be left high and dry and in the same mess they've been in for the last several years. That won't fix a damn thing, besides adding another name onto the list for fans to blame for Milan's woes.
Who's in, and who's out?
Milan will have a new manager, we know that much. Gone is Filippo Inzaghi, the legendary former striker, who in all honesty, was set up to fail in his first managerial job. Just like his predecessor Clarence Seedorf, Inzaghi didn't have the experience or know-how to manage this team to an actual successful end. This time, though, Milan have gone with a manager with more experience, tapping Sinisa Mihajlovic to replace him. Mihajlovic impressed at Sampdoria this past season, but with how uninspiring his previous record is, Milan fans aren't exactly holding their breath for him to do great things just yet.
What won't change? Adriano Galliani is, apparently, set to remain in his role as Milan's CEO and primary decision-maker, something many fans won't enjoy. There's a general feeling in the fan base that his poor decisions, especially over the last five years, are a major part of why Milan are in the mess they're in now, even beyond the managerial morass they're mired in lately.
Just look at the squad Galliani has assembled, and it's clear that Milan need help no matter who the manager is. Up front, in midfield and in defense, Milan need both quality and depth, and lots of it. They've got a fairly solid core to build around, but right now the players around them are too oft-injured, too old, too mediocre, or some combination of the three to actually be of much use. So, on that front, it's good that Berlusconi has promised a big spending spree this summer -- even if talk of spending €150 million on transfer is wildly unrealistic -- because there's plenty of holes to fill.
Much of the early talk in the transfer market for Milan has been centered on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the rossoneri's one-time star striker before selling him to Paris Saint-Germain three years ago because they couldn't afford to keep him. Zlatan is a mighty player, to be sure, but he's also not the striding godling he once was -- time has worn on the Swedish megastar, and he's been troubled by injuries and his skills starting to slowly wear down. Milan need a lot more than just Zlatan to get back to where they want to be.
Building for the future
One thing that Milan must do better at is developing youth players. Only Stephan El Shaarawy and Mattia De Sciglio are true successes from their youth system in recent years, and even those two have had their first-team impact mitigated thanks to a combination of untimely injuries and poor usage when they were healthy.
With financial fair play and UEFA competition squad rules to consider -- not to mention impending squad rules in Serie A similar to those imposed by UEFA -- a strong academy system is a must for any big club, but for too long now Milan have had mediocre results from their academy, and when a decent player does emerge, they're usually sold off to help finance a mediocre veteran instead of being brought in to the team.
One of the more interesting facets of this deal is that Mr. Bee is getting set to launch a wide-scale youth development initiative. Co-developed in part by Italian defensive legend Fabio Cannavaro, Taechaubol's program is starting in East Asia and is planned to spread to cover the rest of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. They're hoping to involve 20 million children by the end of the year, with a stated goal of 10 times that many within five years.
Having ties to such a program would give Milan unique access to youth talent to recruit in to their system, as well as the ability to better test and develop training systems for youth players to utilize back home in Italy. In 10 or 15 years, this could wind up being a much bigger factor for potential improvements as a club for Milan than the money Mr. Bee and his financial backers bring to the table.
It'd be hard for Taechaubol and company to do worse than the chaotic mess that has been the last few years of Berlusconi's reign, but that doesn't automatically make him a conquering hero and savior of the club. While the signs are certainly promising, Milan fans will need a lot more than just promise before they actually trust Mr. Bee and his backers. Promises are easy to make, after all, and much harder to keep.
Still, there's plenty of reason to hope for the best. Even for fans of Italian teams other than Milan, there has to be a quiet hope that this works out. With a successful Milan team, Serie A gets more attention, more glitz, more glamour and more money. Even with the rampant successes of Juventus over the last few years, the league hasn't gotten nearly the attention as they did when Milan were a top side, even in the rossoneri's off years before the slide.
Mr. Bee had better be for real, and he'd better be successful. Not just for the good of Milan, but for the good of Italian football as a whole.