Can you buy your way to the top?

Milan Fassone

AC Milan have recently started an ambitious (and expensive) offensive to find its place back among the European elite.

After spending more than €200m on new players, they are making a big claim to mount a serious title challenge. In fact, any place outside the top three would be seen as a huge disappointment.

But I am straying.

Today’s question is: can you, like AC Milan, buy your way to the top?

This is of course nothing new and history is rife with past examples of super-rich owners like Bernard Tapie, Silvio Berlusconi, Roman Abramovich, Moratti-father and Moratti-son, etc etc etc.

Milan’s Chinese owners must think they are doing what’s right, guided by expert operators Fassone and Mirabelli, to claw their way back to the top.

Bad news is that they’re not exactly the only ones with deep pockets, in today’s world where paying 50 million pounds on a right-back almost looks like an afterthought.

Going one step beyond (putting Madness on Spotify), today’s hierarchy of football is restricted to 16 clubs.

The Gods of Olympus

Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Chelsea, Juventus, PSG, Man City, Man Utd

The Up-and-Coming (but not there yet)

Atletico Madrid, Liverpool, Tottenham, Milan

The Watching from Afar

Dortmund, Arsenal, Napoli, Roma, (Monaco)

And that’s it, really.

One may object that I am leaving aside plenty of big clubs such as Everton, Benfica, Ajax, Inter, Schalke, Marseille, RB Leipzig, the Istanbul Bigs, Zenit and the Moscow clubs.

The fact is that I don’t see any of these anywhere close the 16+1 identified above.

There is even an enormous gap between the Gods and the Up-and-Comings. This has been demonstrated repeatedly in games between Real and Atletico or when Spurs or Liverpool played in the Champions League. The Gods see a semi in the CL as a must (and anything else as an abysmal failure) or feel obliged to win it in the case of Madrid and Barcelona, and increasingly so for PSG and Juve.

Teams in the “Up and Comings” category bring together clubs with two different types of success path: Milan and Liverpool aren’t afraid to spend lavishly, Spurs and Atletico are rich but very cautious with their finances (both will have a brand new stadium, this explains that).

Never mind the teams “Watching from afar”… This is where I have placed Arsenal, whose reluctance to change is risky, and Monaco, between brackets, as we don’t know how they will be after selling all their key players.

Monaco, interestingly, went from a “spending like there’s no tomorrow” policy as recently as 2013 to a youth development u-turn, generating the amounts we read in the press.

This makes me wonder in fact if ASM, for all their brilliance and flair in Europe last year, have been the only ones to understand this was an unfair game and that, instead of trying to become a European giant, making them pay through the nose might instead be a better reason to be in football today…


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