MAX LOMBARDIA | 6th March 2020

“What does this move mean for Milan?”

Anyone asking themselves this question first needs a brief about Ralf Rangnick’s previous employers, RB Leipzig, a club founded in just 2009 in cooperation with the famous company, Red Bull which purchased the playing rights of fifth-tier side SSV Markranstädt with the intent of advancing the new club in and among the top-flight ranks of the Bundesliga. Not only did they succeed but came 2nd in their debut Bundesliga season, qualifying for the 2017-2018 Champions League.

Rangnick, an instrumental part of Leipzig’s recent success boasts an impressive managerial career, but where his skills really lie are in the development of clubs; the use of sponsorships and branding to increase revenue and exposure of these teams to global markets. The head of Sports and Development at RB Leipzig has an extremely impressive CV, managing other Bundesliga outfits such as Schalke and Stuttgart previously, however, it’s East Germany where he has soared the highest.

So, where are RB Leipzig now? Sitting 2nd in the Bundesliga behind league leaders Bayern and with Dortmund on their heels by being just a point behind, they are Europe’s most unexpected title challengers. Since Leipzig’s promotion to the top tier, they’ve missed out on Champions League qualification only once in 2017-2018; an extremely impressive record for an 11-year old club in a world of institutions that have transcended centuries. What RB Leipzig are, is an embodiment of the term, ‘successful project’ when football and finance join hands.

Players like Timo Werner and Patrik Schick are the faces of this project, making serious waves and overperforming massively according to their initial price tags. The newly added Dani Olmo, a burgeoning talent who was heavily involved in Spain’s impressive triumph in the U21 European Championships is a player who snubbed Milan to sign for Leipzig. One can’t really blame the Spaniard as Leipzig topped their Champions League group this year and has witnessed his side lead against Tottenham 1-0 on aggregate in their first leg of the round of 16. Both of these teams have become regulars in Europe’s most elite competition, a far cry from the AC Milan of today.

So back to the original question, what does this move mean for Milan?

There’s been a lot of movement at Milan in terms of management and ownership. The club has exchanged hands three times in the past few seasons with millionaire businessman and politician, Silvio Berlusconi selling the club to Chinese owner Li Yonghong in 2017 after a host of poor seasons saw Milan come as low as 10th.The Chinese businessmen bought in Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone who were responsible for one of the club’s biggest and most expensive summer transfer windows to date, spending over €200 million to bring the likes of Leonardo Bonnuci and Hakan Çalhanoğlu.

This was seen in Italy as a monumental failure as the Milanistas suffered heartache yet again, witnessing their side finishing the league in 6th, the exact same position as the year before.

Li Yonghong then lost the club to the Elliott Management Corporation, a hedge fund over some missed payments who hired Leonardo and Paulo Maldini as the sporting directors and cleared Milan’s massive debt. Another anno zero for AC Milan proved fruitless yet again and further saw the club crash and burn to reach a mutual settlement with UEFA to not participate in the Europa League due to breaches of FFP in the Berlusconi era.

Milan again followed another path with Ivan Gazidis, Zvonimir Boban and Paulo Maldini at the beginning of the 2019-2020 season , taking a new stance with regards the transfer Market by trying to be more economical this time around and rely more on experienced players such as the legendary Zlatan Ibrahimović who put pen to paper in January.

Another season and another year of complete uncertainty for the club amongst FFP rulings and very poor form in the league saw new coach Marco Gian-Paolo sacked after a record 7 games and replaced with Stefano Pioli. Tension between the management in recent weeks has led to the rumored dismissal of Boban after a very revealing interview from the Croatian on national television along with the potential resignation of the Milan favorite Paolo Maldini.

Maldini and Boban, along with their transfer strategies may be out of the door next season

Rangnick to Milan would firstly cement a much-needed sense of security in and around the club, especially among the fans who will smile at the prospect of seeing one of football’s most astute men walk through the San Siro gates .The ex-Schalke boss would play a Wenger-esque role as not only the coach, but also the sporting director. He would be able to handpick his own players as well as handle fee negotiations, handing him complete control over most things, on and off the pitch. Rangnick has a proven record for overachieving on a shoestring budget- crucial for Milan during their current FFP obligations.

Since 2015, Rangnick has negotiated some eye-watering transfer deals such as those of Werner(€14 million), Olmo (€20M) and Forsberg (€3.75 million), costing Leipzig lesser in total than Milan paid for Andre Silva(€38 million) who proved to be another Mirabelli flop to say the least.

Rangnick’s acquisition of Timo Werner is testament to his footballing and business brain

The 61-year-old German’s eye for a brilliant deal is as sharp as his keen eye for spotting talent, something Milan are in desperate need of. The likes of Ibrahima Konaté on a free, who now has 49 appearances to his name as well as Willi Orban who cost the Bundesliga title-challengers a mere €2 million have not only formed one of the league’s most formidable partnerships, but the latter has also gone on to captain Leipzig. To put this into context, this centre-half partnership cost 3 times less than Milan payed for Fabio Borini at €6M. This kind of savvy transfer budget management could potentially mean the return of Milan to their holy grail, the Champions League, a competition the 7-time winners haven’t participated in since 2013.

With Rangnick rumored to bring his own staff with him, this could potentially see Maldini out of a job, something that would concern the Milan faithful. Remember, Maldini Is arguably Milan’s greatest ever player and captain, having won countless trophies, however, their new man means business and it will come at a cost; not in terms of finances but giving control to Rangnick who has a track record worth that demands trust and patience in heaps.

Gazidis is keen to re-structure the club into a profit welding machine and sees Rangnick as the overall answer to all of Milan’s problems. What Milan lack is a clear direction and identity, one that incorporates results and profit in an ever-changing and uncertain market.

Rangnick’s footballing philosophy and perception is very different to anything Milan have been used to in recent years.

“If you want to increase the speed of your game, you have to develop quicker minds rather than quicker feet, At RB, we work on increasing the memory space and the processing pace. We put players into the Soccerbot, for example – a machine that simulates previous games and allows players to relive key moments of matches. It’s PlayStation football, but with your feet. The players enjoy it so much we have a hard time getting some of them to stop.”

Such tactics are completely alien to this Milan team and it’s old school Calcio approach, but this is an exciting insight into Rangnick’ s one-of-a-kind footballing mind.

Milan fans are custom to hearing the word ‘project’ over and over again. Rangnick is that ‘project’, everything he stands for and has achieved so far has been built on solid foundations, structure and ca meticulous planning. The mere mention of his name in Milan’s direction clearly hints at a long-term rebuilding of the club but will the club have the patience for yet another transitional period under a new manager? Will the Milanistas back Rangnick?

At the core, every Milanista can tell you that all that matters to them is seeing Milan winning games, qualifying for the Champions League and becoming a European superpower again. This move for Ralf Rangnick not only makes perfect sense, but could finally put one of the beautiful game’s most decorated institutions back on the map after so many years of disappointment.