|Umberto Gandini – Organising Director, AC Milan / Vice-Chair, ECA|
|Profile of the week|
Monday, 18 April 2011 09:19
Umberto Gandini is the organising Director of Italian Football Club AC Milan. Having obtained his degree in law, he started his career in the sports industry as a consultant for TV rights for the sports programme at RTI (now Mediaset Group). For more than 17 years, he has been working for AC Milan. In his current position, he is responsible for all first-team activities as well as negotiation of TV and New Media rights. He is a member of the Professional Football Strategy Council of UEFA and the FIFA Club Committee and he is First Vice-Chairman of ECA European Club Association.
You studied law at the University of Milan, how do you believe this has supported you since your involvement in football began?
It definitely helped me a lot at the start of my career as I originally began by working for the Acquisition Department of TV rights for Sports for Mr Berlusconi’s commercial TV group. Therefore, the law degree gave me a lot of help into the contractual aspects of the job, and that started my career.
When moving from the TV business to the club (AC Milan), the preparation given by my degree in international law helped me to apply my skills in helping the sport management, assisting in contractual negotiations and activities in player transfers, sponsorship agreements and the supervision of the job done by our offices.
As vice-president of the European Clubs Association what does your role involve and what is the mission of the organisation?
It is something that is very important and very close to my heart because the involvement of club football into the governing bodies has always been very poor. Historically my club was at the base of the creation of the G14 and we started then by opening up a dialogue with the institutions, especially with UEFA and FIFA, in order to give club football its proper position into the football family.
It has been a long discussion and fight in a sense, with good and bad times, but I think with the creation of the ECA we have at least got to a good starting point. The application of the Memorandum of Understanding with UEFA and the development of the relationship compared to the reality are not so easy to secure, especially because you have to deal with organisations which are based on national associations support and not with the direct involvement of the clubs.
I think the most important aspect of the role that I have is to try to put the balance back on the reality, the basics of the game has been constantly developing towards the importance of club football. The clubs are the ones who are developing players, signing players, paying their contracts and using the players on a daily basis, but then all of a sudden they have to give up their players to competitors, the national associations, for their business and reward.
At the ECA, we honestly think that it is time to change the scope of the relationship and bring the clubs into the decision making process in a proper way.
How pivotal was the election of Michel Platini as UEFA President in securing communication with the ECA?
First of all, we have to be honest and clarify that it is not true that before Platini, with President (Lennart) Johansson, we didn’t have good communication with UEFA, but Michel’s election was an important change. He came into UEFA’s presidency with a clear design of bringing the football families together; meaning associations and clubs, and players and leagues, would all be under the same roof. He was pivotal into convincing the major clubs to renounce their positions by joining the family and creating the ECA, in reality, merging the UEFA European Club Forum and the G14 into this new organisation.
Would it be fair to say that ECA's relationship with UEFA is a simpler and more successful one than that with FIFA and if so how?
Yes and no.
Yes because we are European clubs and our first counterpart is the European Confederation, UEFA. Therefore it is much faster and more normal to have a relationship with UEFA. You see the effects of this into the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League are shaped and how we discuss and agree with UEFA in its committees and so on.
The problem lies within the fact that the majority of our issues, such as the release of players, the international calendar and transfer regulations are all FIFA matters. It is a more difficult route to obtain access to FIFA, especially because FIFA represents all confederations, and the other confederations have not developed in the same way that UEFA has. The club football in the other confederations is not developed as it is in Europe so that is the complication we have to face every time we talk to the two organisations.
Italy's clubs have been less impressive in Europe thus far this term, despite Inter winning the Champions League last year, in your opinion where does the current state of the game lay in Italy in relation to the other major leagues?
I think the reality is what you have just said. From a pure sporting point of view the results are not what we used to have into the Champions League final rounds and into the Europa League in general. This has been highly detrimental to the status of Italian football within the European scenario.
On the other side we can say that we have one of the most competitive leagues today among the top 5 in Europe. The difference between the clubs in the top tier of the league is not as big as it is in Spain for example, or that could be in the Premier League sometimes.
However, we obviously pay the price for a huge lack of stadia developments and the development of a centralised concept of the Italian football as a system. Notwithstanding the fact that we have a stand-alone Serie A League now, separated from the second division, there are still way too many interests among the 20 clubs who are part of the league and conflicts occur on a daily basis in various fields. This fact really takes away a lot of our attention and concentration on the real aspects of the game, such as the development of talent and the improvement of the results on the pitch and in the books.
Milan is currently topping the Serie A and set to regain its place in the Champions League next season, from the point of view of revenue, how important is the club's progression in such tournaments?
Well it’s fundamental. It’s absolutely basic.
Even if it is important to say that 80-85% of our current revenues come from our domestic championship, the bread and butter, the contribution of a European participation is very important.
Naturally it has to be Champions League, as it is very important for us to close the gap with its revenues with the other top European clubs, and the difference between the Europa League and the UCL is still huge. Without Champions League revenues, the club would be forced to resize its objectives in the long run.
Having signed a major sponsorship deal with Emirates last season, was it a conscious decision from the club to promote its brand in the increasingly prominent Middle Eastern market in sport?
Yes, but not the only one. The main reason why we strongly pursued and concluded the sponsorship with Emirates is because we always wanted for a premier brand, like AC Milan is in football, to be partnered with a top brand into the general business industry.
Emirates is definitely the most prominent brand in the airline industry, in commercial aspects, and into sports in general because of their huge investment into sponsoring different sports branches. The company has ties in football, rugby, cricket, golf, sailing, horse racing to name a few, and we always felt they were the right partner.
We have always had major players in the industry as sponsors, with Bwin in the past seasons, now one of the major online betting companies. Before then we had Opel which was part of General Motors car company, then the biggest industrial group in the world, and we have a long lasting relationship with adidas , so we always try to be associated with top brands.