By Kris Voakes & Gaia Brunelli
As they humiliatingly trudged off the Vicente Calderon pitch last night, AC Milan’s players were not only left contemplating a Champions League exit. Nor was it just the end of their 2013-14 season.
With the combination of elimination from Europe and the 20-point gap between themselves and third-placed Napoli in Serie A, the Rossoneri are faced with the fact that their 2014-15 campaign has already been rendered a going concern.
So big has the Champions League become since its inception 22 years ago, the very idea of missing out sends shivers down the spines of football administrators everywhere. And for Italian clubs in particular, the loss of the cash bonanza the competition provides is a very real issue given the comparative lack of commercial and broadcasting revenue currently winging its way to the game in the peninsula.
|THE KEY LOSSES
Of course, this is not a new experience for Milan. In 2007-08, they finished fifth in Serie A and found themselves heading for the Uefa Cup, with Fiorentina taking the fourth Champions League spot. The following season, the club lost around €60 million (£50m) on projected revenue thanks to their absence from the big money-making machine. While they managed to hold onto their star asset, Kaka, he would only be in a Milan shirt for 12 more months.
This time around things may be different. The club has privately settled for a fight for Europa League football since November, but they remain eight points off the pace in that regard. Should they have a phenomenal run between now and May and claim the final Europa spot, the Rossoneri could yet make something of next season.
For starters, the competition will carry the reward of a Champions League place for the winning club, meaning there would be a sporting aim of great value. Add in the significant gains Milan make from Keisuke Honda’s image rights clause every time he steps onto the field, and a Europa League campaign – involving up to 19 games – could well plug at least some of the gap financially.
However, current form does not suggest a top six finish, and should Milan miss out on Europe entirely – as happened to neighbours Inter only 12 months ago – then the club hierarchy could be left scrambling around for ways to make up the shortfall.
Mario Balotelli may not officially be on the transfer list, but privately the club are ready to sell for any offer of €30m (£25m) or more. And this stance only strengthened following another miserable personal display during the 4-1 defeat to Atletico on Tuesday. The Diavolo are hopeful that the striker will have a significant run at the World Cup with Italy in order to drive up his sale price by a crucial few extra million.
Also expendable are the likes of Philippe Mexes and Robinho, who may well not carry the weight in the transfer market of a Balotelli but both command significant salaries. Shearing such figures off the wage bill will be almost as important as an exit for the No.45 in a money-making sense. Milan have already tried to sell the Brazilian in summers past, but will hope to finally extract him from Milanello this time around regardless of their finishing position on the ladder.
Of course, some money will be needed to back a new project without the likes of Balotelli, Mexes and Robinho if they are to return to the top table any time soon.
The reality, though, is that the club is not currently making anywhere near enough to weave the Champions League back into its DNA any time soon, and nor does the Berlusconi family have the kind of expendable riches anymore to inject millions of euros into the project during these times of Financial Fair Play.
There have been rumours that the club may be sold, and while there is no definitive sign that a sale will transpire, there is thought to be a great deal of interest from within the Al-Jazeera TV empire. In the meantime it appears the uneasy truce between Adriano Galliani and Barbara Berlusconi will continue behind the scenes.
Defeats are part and parcel of football, but ones like that against Atletico can alter the course of a club’s future for some years to come. The great Rossoneri rebuilding job starts now.
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