(Reuters) - AC Milan’s dream of returning to the elite of European football looked more distant than ever after they gave what their own director described as an “embarrassing” performance in a 5-0 defeat to Atalanta on Sunday.
The seven-times European champions were outplayed in every department as they reached the Christmas break in eleventh place in Serie A - a familiar part of the table for them over the last few seasons - and it was difficult to know where they will go next.
“The performance wasn’t there,” said the club’s chief football officer Zvonimir Boban, a former Milan player. “It hurts a lot, it was embarrassing, this can’t be Milan. It was very painful to see their (Atalanta’s) domination.”
Milan have had eight coaches and changed hands twice since winning the last of their 18 Serie A titles in 2011 and they have not taken part in the Champions League since 2013-14.
Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, at the helm during Milan’s heyday, sold the club to a Chinese-led consortium in a 740 million-euro ($832 million) deal in April 2017 and it was taken over by U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management the following year.
That led to a further re-structuring which saw Ivan Gazidis appointed chief executive, Boban brought in for the newly-created post as chief football officer and Frederic Massara named as sporting director, reporting to technical director Paolo Maldini.
At the same time, Milan have battled with UEFA’s break-even rule known as financial fair play. They were banned from European football for one season in 2018 for breaching the rules but won an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
However, UEFA opened another investigation this year and, in a negotiated settlement, Milan agreed to a one-year suspension which means they missed out on this season’s Europa League.
A lack of spending has not been the problem. This year alone, Milan have spent more than 150 million euros on new players including Krzysztof Piatek, Lucas Paqueta, Rafael Leao and Ismael Bennacer. Yet, none of those have performed in anything more than fits and starts.
“What is missing? Perhaps stability after an era as successful as that of Berlusconi and with the almost total change in the world of football,” said Leonardo Araujo, who left as the club’s sporting director in July after only one year in the post.
“It is not easy for a team with the expectation of Milan.”
Boban said that more time was needed, although fans may feel their team has been in transition for long enough already.
“We wanted to be competitive right away. But recreating Berlusconi’s Milan in a year or two is impossible,” he said. “It’s not going to be a good Christmas.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Andrew Heavens