How Has Corruption & Poor Management Led to the Downfall of the Historic Football Club, AC Milan?

Associazione Calcio Milan was founded in 1899 by Herbert Kilpin and Alfred Edwards, and was later transformed into the Milan Foot-Ball and Cricket Club. The club itself considered the 16th of December as the founding date. Some sources however argue that the club was founded on the 13th of December. “Edwards, a former British vice-consul in Milan and well-known personality of the Milanese high society, was the club’s first elected president. Initially, the team included a cricket section, managed by Edward Berra, and a football section, managed by Kilpin.” (Brivio,  La Rocca 2013). The official colors of the club were red and black. The team managed to gain popularity under the guide of Kilpin rather quickly. The first trophy of the club was the King’s Medal in 1900. Later the team won three national leagues in 1901, 1906 and 1907. Generally they are the winners of “of 18 Scudetto titles, 5 Coppa Italia, 6 Italian Supercoppa and, perhaps most recognisably and impressively, have won 7 European Cups in their history. They sit only behind Real Madrid in the list of European Cup wins.” (Johnson 2015). The history of the team is really rich and the players of the team used to be proud of their club. However, not the whole history of the club was full of success and trophies, they had to go through “the 1980 Totonero scandal, 2006 Calciopoli scandal and the death of 17 year old AS Roma fan Antonio De Falchi in 1989” (Johnson 2015). Irrespective of this the club managed to obtain the iconic status in Europe and became the most supported football club there. Taking into consideration such success of the club, it is clear that many of its supporters and researchers are interested in the reasons of its downfall. The team, which used to be a company of red and black devils, looking to trounce and scaring of their counterparts, suddenly lost its positions. AC Milan was the most famous and outstanding football club in Italy; however strategic mistakes and financial aspects and corruption caused its final decline and downfall.

Generally Italian football is classified as paradoxical, as it is able to produce such teams, which reach their elite level and become the most successful in Europe. The quality of the players is also of such high level that the country is able to boast with the most admired football culture in the whole world. Italian football is famous for its tradition and romance. At the same time this kind of industry is characterized as unstable and unprofitable, impacted by a number of financial scandals. The years 2007 and 2008 were especially rich for sporting scandals.

The first headquarters of AC Milan were established in the ‘Fiaschetteria Toscana’ in Via Berchet in Milan, back in 1899. This is considered to be the moment of the start of the glorious story of Milan, of one of the most successful football teams in the world. “Rossoneri’s history is studded with the legendary names of those men who have made a major contribution to the club’s development: presidents, coaches or players. The first president was a British expatriate, Alfred Edwards, who oversaw the club’s first winning of the national championship – only two years after its foundation.” (Johnson 2015). The president, who managed to earn the greatest number of trophies for the team was Silvio Berlusconi. His major step was to take Milan to the pinnacle of the world after taking control over it in 1986. The team was able to obtain the prestigious wins in various parts of the world and contributed to making the team even stronger. The club was so successful mostly thanks to the appropriate strategies of the leaders of it, and certainly the major role was played by the coaches of the team. Thus success story of Milan is connected to the story of its leaders. “The greatest Italian bosses trained the teams, from Gipo Viani, Nereo Rocco and Nils Liedholm, the masters of the Sixties, from whom Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello took the reins, basing their tactical and strategic philosophy on a modern, brilliant and spectacular football.” (Bagchi 2016). During the years of Berlusconi, Sacchi and Capello won their popularity and presented the fans great emotions. Sacchi gave Milan the chances to win four national championships, two European Cups, two consecutive Intercontinental Cups and two European Super Cups. Capello contributed to the success of the team during European Super Cup and European Cup during the period of five seasons. “In the most recent years, Alberto Zaccheroni kept the rich tradition going as he led the team to the win of a national championship in his first year before Fatih Terim took over for a short time and then passed the reins on to Carlo Ancelotti: a very welcomed return of one of the “invincibles” in Rossoneri’s big family.” (Bagchi 2016).

Nowadays there are a lot of positions, regarding the role of Silvio Berlusconi for the team. He was the prime minister of Italy, he used to be a really successful businessman in his country, thus most probably he was aware of the situation of a Gordian knot, which had destructive impact upon AC Milan. Some of the experts consider Berlusconi to be a kind of the Messiah for Rossoneri, leading them towards revolution. Silvio Berlusconi took the position of the Milan’s 20th President officially in March 1986. Upon purchasing the club, he gave the press conference, where he claimed that “Milan is a team, but it’s also a product to sell; something to offer on the market.” (Sherman 2018). Berlusconi developed really serious plans for his club and there were not related purely to winning games and obtaining trophies. His final aim was to make this club a kind of representative of a unique lifestyle. This is the reason, why he took the decision to open apparel shot not far from Duomo and the publication of the Forza Milan magazine. Milan turned into modern and progressive club in reality, which had its entrepreneurial spirit within the family –run world of the Italian football. Such strategies contributed to increase of the team’s profits and record number of tickers was sold. Berlusconi also wanted to create such a team, which would attract all attention to Milan and he tried to do this via assembling of the best sides from all over the world. The first season of Berlusconi in charge revealed a significant progress. “Milan would finish fifth in Serie A, riding on Pietro Paolo Virdis’ league-leading 17 goals, in addition to qualifying for the UEFA Cup thanks to a victory in their playoff encounter against Sampdoria.” (Sherman 2018). Milan was expected to enter the new campaign mostly intact, but the president had different position. Juventus was busy with their blueprint of catenaccio and at the same time Berlusconi preferred attacking style of play, which could attract attention of the mass audience. He wanted to have a new manager and thus chose Arrigo Sacchi, who used to be a shoe salesman. The Milan press met this decision about Sacchi’s appointment with criticism. They did not expect that this person could become a successful coach, especially for such a prestigious club. Sacchi had his own position about the situation and he claimed: “I never realized that in order to become a jockey you have to have been a horse first.” (Sherman 2018). Thus Sacchi devised a blueprint and Berlusconi secured the chequebook. “Sacchi favored a full press, with each of his players relentlessly attacking the ball. An added emphasis on fluidity and space were staples of his 4-4-2 formation. His philosophy would yield immediate results: Milan would capture the Scudetto in 1988 for the first time in nine years.” (Sherman 2018). He took the decision to obtain such players as Marco Van Basten, Rudd Gullit and Frank Rijkaard and then Arrigo Sacchi, leading the team towards the period of its glory and success. His greatest mistake is considered to be his perception of the sportsmen, who in fact are just the physical bodies, absolutely earthly and human. In other words, it is never enough to find the best players forever, as there is a need to substitute them at a certain moment of time with adequate new players, otherwise, the whole team would turn into a failure. Some of the experts insist that Berlusconi made a great mistake, when he ignored the fact that Paolo Maldini was already 39, when he led the team to the final. Along with this, other great players, including Seedorf or Nesta, were also over 30, which meant that their sporting career was very close to its end. To conclude here, Silvio Berlusconi preferred to ignore the age parameter and this was one of the serious reasons of his incorrect calculations. “And for not taking care when it mattered, from being the adored saviour that he was, the Italian owner was all of a sudden the demon that the Milan faithful wanted to banish from their beloved club.” (Gosavi 2018).

One more serious reason of AC Milan downfall is said to be the financial side of the issue. As any giant, Milan was not an exception and had to face the financial conundrums, having negative impact upon the club. Silvio Berlusconi was well-known for his extravagant spending and he failed to cut off the debs. As a result the club remained under the pressure of these debts for around ten years. This was only one factor, which caused financial difficulties for the club. Their bank account became smaller because of their attempts to build a new stadium to belong to them only.The global financial crisis of 2007 had also played its role. “It’s unequivocal how the Serie A has not been up to snuff when pitted against other major leagues in Europe in terms of the popularity; the Italian league has seen its appeal plummeting in the recent years. Their adamance on sticking to their age-old defensive style of play and failing to adopt a more offensive and fast-paced method of football can be deemed responsible for the same.” (Gosavi 2018).This led to the situation, when the revenues of the league from TV rights were reduced and the club was not able to compete financially with other English, Spanish and German counterparts. The elections in Italy of 2013 were followed by the deprival of the financial inputs from Berlusconi. Berlusconi continued to be the richest man in Italy, he could continue his spending and transfers, but he was not allowed to do that by his political advisers. Gradually it turned out that the political career of Silvio Berlusconi had unexpectedly negative impact upon the club. It was evident that the Rossoneri reached their period of decline and losing of power in Europe. In similar situation the only choice could be budget cutting. AC Milan tried to solve the problem via making up for the losses with the help of signing mediocre players. The outcomes of these decisions were of little help for the club. Then they bought one more famous player “personality in Gianluca Zambrotta – another player past his thirties – followed by the loan acquisitions of the suave David Beckham and their former legendary marksman, Andriy Shevchenko.” (Gosavi 2018).The reduction of the supplies from Berlusconi, the attempts to cover the gaps with the help of signing of such players like Shevchenko and Beckham led to obtaining of the third place in the league, eliminating in the round of 16 in Coppa Italia and the first round in the UEFA Cup.

The year 2006 was famous for the great Italian football scandal in the Italian-speaking world. The top professional football leagues of Italy were involved into this scandal – Serie A and Serie B. The scandal was officially uncovered in May 2006 and it was related to the major teams, including Milan. On the basis of illegal telephone interceptions, the police revealed the network of relations, established between team members and referee organizations. As a consequence, they were accused of organization of the selection of favorable referees. The scandal led to the series of punishments and in July 2006 the Italian Football Federation’s prosecutor Stefano Palazzi demanded that all four major clubs to be taken out of Serie A. Milan was supposed to be downloaded to last place in the 2005-2006 championship and moved to Serie B.

In 2011 AC Milan managed to secure the 18th Serie A title. At that moment of time the expectations of Milan’s fan were as high as never before. The whole team was in the state of euphoria and endless enthusiasm regarding their future after several years of despair. The club seemed to be ready to their next significant target – the Champions League. Most of the fans were convinced that AC Milan was the second most successfully club in the whole history of competition. Club officials in their turn had to look for the midfielder. The player was called ‘Mister X” by Adriano Galliani, who kept on giving slight hints about the real identity of this player: “Mister X is 183 cm tall, has thick hair and blue eyes. He plays with fantastic technical ability, is a left-sided midfielder, has an EU-passport and will arrive late in August.” (Fesyukov 2017). Upon the closing of the transfer market, Galliani informed that Mister X was Aquilani. Some of the fans revealed their disappointment about this. In fact, Galliani never informed officially who was that Mister X, not all fans wanted to believe that it was exactly Aquiilani, whom Milan was chasing for the whole summer period. In addition he did not actually fit the provided description. Later the information was spread that Mister X was Marek Hamsik, but after the Mondatory sentence the club was not able to afford him. According to the Mondatori sentence Silvio Berlusconi was to pay €560million in damages to a rival media company. This led to the situation, when Milan spent some sum, very close to nothing in 2011 transfer market. Most of the researchers agree that this was the moment of the very start of AC Milan’s downfall. Due to the fact that Berlusconi got a huge fine, he lost the opportunity to provide adequate support for the club. At the moment it is not possible to make any predictions, regarding the way, how the Milan’s season could look like with the Slovakian superstar entering their team. At any rate his contribution would have been much stronger than that of Alberto Aquilani. This fact was not the decisive one of the overall downfall of AC Milan, still it had definitely played its role for the club and its future.

At the beginning of 2012 Alexander Pato, who obtained the status of the golden boy in the team, informed about his intention to leave Milan for the sake of PSG interests and selling himself for €35million offer. The Rossoneri were to replace him with Manchester City’s Carlos Tevez in a loan. However, in the last minute, Paro refused from the PSG’s offer and wanted to remain loyal to Milan. Correspondingly Carlos Tevez was not transferred to Milan. As a result of this Milan signed Maxi Lopez for half a season. The season in 2011/12 was hard for Pato, as he had problems with injuries. Inzaghi reached the end of his career, Cassano had heart surgery and Robinho did not play according to his maximum. Signing Tevez to play together with Ibrahimovic could be a great chance, especially under consideration of his contribution for the Bianconeri. The season turned out to be poor for Milan, as Juventus won four points above it. It is not clear at the moment, whether the presence of Tevez could change the situation completely, but the fact was that that unlucky season had its impact upon Silvio Berlusconi, making him saving his costs, selling Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG. It is difficult to state, whether the presence of Hamsik and Tevez could have changed the situation completely, whether Berlusconi would have taken different decisions regarding maintaining of the club. The only fact is clear that starting from that season, the situation started to worsen for AC Milan.

Considering the events of the summer 2006, it is possible to find out why it was exactly Inter and not Milan, managing to make Lombardy the center of power. “History would justify Milan’s decision to sell the hugely-popular Shevchenko to Chelsea for £37million – the last six years of his career after moving to Stamford Bridge yielded just 54 goals in 186 games, the same number as he had managed in just 80 games in his final two years at San Siro – but where Milan erred was in failing to replace the Ukrainian.”(Chicken 2017). The case with Ronaldo was rather an exception, he proved to be the greatest striker of his generation, but the problem was that he arrived to Milan upon his scarce experience in league games for Real Madrid in the previous season. However, here the club was not successful either, as he played only 20 times in his two seasons for Milan before he faced problems with his knees again. The club was forced to rely upon Filippo Inzaghi and Alberto Gilardino, they were rather capable, but limited. Milan managed to have a good start of the season after such difficult summer. “With their Champions League place restored on appeal but an eight-point deduction in force in the league, Ancelotti’s men focused their efforts on their European campaign, overcoming Celtic, Bayern Munich and Manchester United en route to a final that gave them both vengeance against Liverpool and their seventh European Cup.” (Chicken 2017). In April 2017 Silvio Berlusconi sold Milan for  €740 million to Rossoneri Sports Investment Lux, the new owners of the club were Yonghong Li and Han Li. AC Milan could boast the best transfer market of the decade in 2017.

Overall, AC Milan is one of the greatest football teams in the history of Italian football. The strategies and approaches of Silvio Berlusconi, the financial support contributed to creating a strong and motivated team. However, the inability to take timely and correct decisions and corruption have played negative role for the club and led it to its downfall.

Works cited:

Bagchi, Rob. The rise and fall of AC Milan and Inter – why both clubs must ditch imperious self-regard and accept the old days are gone.  The Telegraph, 2016

Brivio, Pierangelo, La Rocca, Luigi. Seconda Pelle. The Complete History of AC Milan Jerseys 1899-2013. Kiver Digital, 2013

Chicken, Steven. Fallen Giants: Lamenting the loss of Milan as European heavyweights, 2017

Fesyukov, Nikita. Why 2011/12 was the start of AC Milan’s decline. 2017

Gosavi, Atharva. The Fall of the Mighty: AC Milan’s descent to Inferno. ANALYST, 2018 

Johnson, Rhys. AC Milan: The Decline of Italy’s Legendary Football ClubSport. Cultured Vultures, 2015

Sherman, Justin. The devil’s odyssey: how Silvio Berlusconi turned AC Milan into a superpower, 2018

Tigani, Frank. Calciopoli: Who Was Really Responsible? BR, 2010

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

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