The drama has resumed. Four years later, the club, the player, the agent and the fans are back at it. Much like in another season of a soap opera styled show, there will be conflict, mudslinging and a hammy climax of Gianluigi Donnarumma apologizing to the fans for coming across as an avaricious opportunist, yet again.
The image of the three-way handshake between Massimiliano Mirabelli, Marco Fassone & Donnarumma post signing the renewed contract back in 2017 is still fresh in the minds of many. Fortunately, for Elliot Management and AC Milan fans, the current leadership comprises of financially astute professionals who are unlikely to cave into super-agent Mino Raiola’s astronomical demands of €10 million a season for the gloved superstar and a hefty commission to go with it.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) July 11, 2017
Gianluigi Donnarumma – homegrown, generational, international
Football clubs and fans possess an inexplicable degree of endearment for homegrown players. There is a great deal of pride in seeing talent groomed in-house storming the world stage and establishing dominance.
Donnarumma burst onto the scene in his mid-teens and became an overnight phenomenon. The lanky, awkwardly tall youngster would go on to succeed the legendary Gianluigi Buffon as Gli Azzurri’s netminder. He is, what is widely regarded, as a generational talent.
His tender age and mind-numbing shot-stopping abilities propelled him into global notoriety. Without clocking a single minute in the Champions League, Donnarrumma was heralded as among the top five goalkeepers in Europe.
Milan, almost by accident, had stumbled upon a rare jewel. The club’s rapid decline from being a star-studded powerhouse to becoming a collection of mercenaries and rag-tag players possibly dictated the need to hold onto Donnarumma in 2017, even if it meant agreeing to Raiola’s ludicrous demands of renewing a contract from €500,000 per season to €6 million per season. Or, maybe, this is a lousy attempt at justifying Mirabelli and Fassone’s abhorrent decision-making at the time.
Donnarumma may not have the same lure today as he did back then. But, he still remains one of the most recognized faces in the red and black of Milan.
Renewing at a high cost could be a problem
Mino Raiola often receives a lot of hate from fans for doing his job – securing the best financial deal for his client and for himself. He owes no obligation toward the club and its finances. The club, on the contrary, must consider the most prudent option when at the negotiation table.
Donnarumma is the best-paid goalkeeper in Italy. At €10.4 million a season, he’d potentially become the second-highest-paid goalkeeper in Europe, behind Manchester United’s David De Gea. There can be plenty of debate around whether he deserves to be second in that list, given there are (arguably) better goalkeepers in the form of Jan Oblak and Keylor Navas. However, the more pressing concern is if Milan are in an economic position to facilitate this jump. If the latest balance sheet is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding no.
The management’s penny-pinching ways have led to a squad being constructed on loans with options to buy and low cost, data-driven recruiting. Milan’s revenues prohibit having one of the world’s highest-paid players in the club’s ranks. Agreeing to Raiola, and effectively Donnarrumma’s demands, would also set the wrong precedent for others in the side, as Paolo Maldini enters into a sensitive phase of contract renewal talks with several key players.
Milan are well placed to qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League. The revenue generated from this qualification will be split between contract renewals and squad upgradation. Amidst the frustrating yet understandable attempts to comply with Financial Fair Play, it comes as no surprise that Milan have offered renewed terms to Donnarumma at €7.5 million a season, only a 25% hike over his present pay.
Renew and sell?
Milan could agree to renew Donnarumma’s contract at a high wage, even if for a short period, in order to cash-in on the player in contrast to losing him on a free. The idea isn’t so bad if there is a demand in the market for the flying Italian. Is there?
Every top European club either owns an excellent goalkeeper or has one waiting in the wings. Some clubs, like Manchester United and Chelsea, are burdened with under-performing, expensive goalkeepers warming the bench.
The plight of these clubs does indicate that the current market isn’t conducive to selling high-value goalkeepers. Milan may have taken note of the same.
Moving on from Donnarumma, if necessary
Raiola may favour Donnarumma leaving Milan on a free. After all, he is likely to earn a higher sum in commission and agent fees if Donnarumma joins a new club on a free transfer. If Milan’s no. 99 were to leave this summer, the management might experience a backlash from their fans and will have to begrudgingly concede one of the few internationally marketable players in the squad. On the bright side, at a sporting level, there is no dearth of high-quality goalkeepers in Europe for Maldini to think about.
25 year-old Mike Maignan of Lille is reported to be the preferred option. Rated by many that closely follow Ligue 1, Maignan will soon be entering the last year of his contract. Lille have financial problems of their own and may be willing to sell the Cayenne-born Frenchman at a cut-price.
Other pocket-friendly options could include the criminally underrated Sergio Asenjo and Napoli’s Alex Meret. 31 year-old Asenjo’s contract expires in 2022 and could be available for a song and a dance. The recently turned 24 year-old Meret is struggling to impress at Naples and could benefit from a change in scene.
While losing Donnarumma will be a blow, he is perhaps one of the easier players to replace. This time, hopefully, Milan don’t imply a sense of desperation while negotiating the renewal. Although, Milan could have, and definitely should have, handled the situation much in advance to avoid being in this vulnerable position all over again.