Milan’s contract conundrum

After Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu walked away for free last summer, Milan weigh and assess how to handle the contract situations of several key players, writes Matt Santangelo.

Amidst all of the success swirling around Milan this season domestically, the conversation over the futures of Franck Kessie and Alessio Romagnoli cannot be ignored. A key signing in the massive spending spree of summer 2017, Kessie has emerged as an impactful midfielder in Stefano Pioli’s double pivot over the last 18 months.

The Ivorian’s breakthrough, though long-awaited, made him irreplaceable in last year’s push towards a UEFA Champions League berth. His quoted love and affirmation of the shirt cast him as a fan favourite, one many envisioned committing to the project for the foreseeable future.

Now, that relationship seems to have soured as his agent George Antangana moves the goalposts and demands in excess of €9m a season to strike a new deal, a sizable difference from the reported €6,5m the Rossoneri are offering. On the other hand, Romagnoli could accept to get a pay cut and extend his expiring contract at San Siro.

Di Marzio: Kessie wants €9m Milan salary

His agent Mino Raiola ruled out reports that Milan are negotiating a new deal with Romagnoli without talking to him and has suggested that the former Sampdoria defender could remain at Milan beyond 2022. Recently, the club announced the extensions of Alexis Saelemaekers and Simon Kjaer, and soon, talks over new deals for Rafael Leão, Theo Hernandez and Ismaël Bennacer are likely to be held.

Papers out of Italy speculate both the French left-back and Algerian midfielder, who are currently on €1,5m net per season until 2024 respectively, would see their wages doubled with added bonus potential in a renewal; as for the Portuguese attacker, he projects to earn
twice his current €2m net as well until 2026 in any new deal.

Based on performances, you will not find many scoffing at the idea of dishing these wages out to Hernandez, Bennacer and Leão – three fundamental pieces to the project. These reported figures align more with the current wage bill and rewards for their contributions while also leaving ample room to stockpile more premium talent required to compete at a higher level.

Unlike former directors Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone, who spent irresponsibly and excessively overpaid players, Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara operate with a more calculated and curtailed approach to matters.

Raiola has no regrets about Donnarumma’s move to PSG

Kessie is a fine player in his own right, and Romagnoli has served this club admirably through a dark, grim period. But Milan’s refusal to be bullied by agents’ high demands and instead trust in the process of quality scouting, proper budget allocation and committing to those who will not hold the club ransom should at the very least be respected. This is not to say that players running down their contracts to leave for free should be accepted and become a theme.

Sometimes though, the best moves are the ones you do not make. Though the controversial exits of Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu were met with criticism, Milan’s firm stance and unwillingness to cave to such ludicrous demands opened more doors for various market opportunities and frees up money to renew those mentioned above.

What is reportedly being offered to Kessie is more than a fair wage proposal and one that demonstrates respect for both his talent and what he has accomplished. But if the signing of Mike Maignan and shrewd loan operation for Brahim to play as the primary playmaker tells us anything, it is that Milan are equipped with the right brain trust to adequately bring in winning players that fit the club ethos and wish to play a part in an exciting project.