Milan face exodus after running up £100m debt

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The Independent Football

Milan, the five-times European Cup winners owned by the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, are facing a financial crisis that could cost the manager and vice-president their jobs and see a host of the club's biggest names sold off to pay debts, which stand at more than £100m.

Under immediate threat is Carlo Ancelotti, whose side are trailing well behind the leaders in Serie A and look destined, on current form, to miss out on qualification for next season's Champions' League. They face Atalanta at San Siro today in a match where any result except victory could lead to Ancelotti's dismissal. He has only been in the job since the sacking of Fatih Terim in November but has failed to turn things around quickly enough.

Adriano Galliani, Milan's vice-president, said recently he will not be making wholesale changes until the summer. But that statement came before a disappointing draw against a Perugia side reduced to nine men. Furthermore, Galliani's own future has been questioned. Speculation in Italy has suggested that Berlusconi's son, Pier Silvio, may even be brought in to replace him.

Three other recent developments have brought fresh cause for concern over Milan's future. Officials from Fininvest, the holding company for Berlusconi's business empire, have said that owning a football club does not make sound economic sense. There was no suggestion that the club would be sold but it was taken as an admission that it was a huge financial drain.

Secondly, Galliani has made it known that he would like the Italian authorities to impose a ceiling on the number of players in the each club's rosa (squad list). He wants it set at 25 players, which has fuelled talk of a drastic sell-off. The strikers Andrei Shevchenko and Javi Moreno are among those who could bring substantial revenue, while the defenders Martin Laursen and Cosmin Contra (reportedly of interest to Liverpool and Manchester United) could do likewise. Milan are open to offers for all of them and more.

Galliani also indicated financial desperation this week at a meeting of the G-14 Group of Europe's leading clubs. "Clubs can't keep on paying such high salaries, with costs exceeding incomes that haven't improved in the past few years," he said. "I am convinced that if we reduce salaries and transfer fees, we can turn this situation around."

All this seems a far cry from the halcyon days of the 1980s, when Berlusconi took over, injected huge sums of money and made Milan into the world's most successful club. Arrigo Sacchi assembled a team including the Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, and a defence that saw Paolo Maldini alongside Franco Baresi (now in charge of the youth team). A European Cup double, in 1989 and 1990, was followed by a third recent win in the competition, under Fabio Capello, in 1994. Domestic titles and cups also came easily, but a three-year drought of major honours now seems certain to be extended and is taking a heavy toll.

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