Angelo Ogbonna looks to be going to Juventus—highlighting AC Milan's inability to buy top-level players without first selling their own.
The deal was supposedly on cruise control until Napoli interjected with an offer of their own, but according to Football-Italia's information from Tuttosport, Ogbonna would only go to Juve. The deal is reportedly worth €12 million up front with an additional €3 million available to Torino in performance-based incentives.
If the deal indeed becomes official, it would be another transfer coup for the two-time defending champions. Beppe Marotta has already fortified his team's most glaring weakness by bringing in Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez. Now, he may have acquired the best defender on the Italian market this season.
If it becomes official, it will be a blow to every team pursuing the Bianconeri, but particularly to AC Milan.
The Rossoneri's biggest weakness by far last season was their central defense. The combination of Philippe Mexes and Christian Zapata was not up to par for a team with championship designs. The addition of a center-back was considered a huge priority in the transfer window this summer.
Ogbonna was considered a prime candidate for that improvement, but Milan has now been pipped to his signature by their main rivals to the title.
Milan has been in period of transition in terms of finance lately. Over the last two years they have displayed a previously absent obsession to balance their books. So much so has Milan cut back that last year their two best players, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, were off-loaded to Paris Saint-Germain.
While commenting last month on the potential of a move for Tevez, Milan CEO Adriano Galliani was quoted on Goal.com as saying "Before we will try to bring in new players, we will have to sell some of our own players first."
It's a shocking departure from Milan's old spendthrift ways. For many years Silvio Berlusconi, one of Italy's answers to the late New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, was willing to throw money at any potential weakness in his side—or just because he wanted a particular player.
Indeed, in the six years since Berlusconi bought Milan, he broke the international transfer fee record three times—including twice in one year. Over the years Berlusconi continued to spend huge sums of money on players like Andrey Shevchenko and Kaka.
So what is the reason behind the sudden tightening of Milan's belt? The financial crisis in Italy is one obvious cause. The Italian economy has simply reduced the buying power of most of Serie A. Juventus' first-of-its-kind, club-owned stadium has given them more punch than the rest of Italy during the crisis, but other clubs, even giants like Milan, have been forced to rein themselves in.
Another possible reason could be Berlusconi's own legal issues. The former Italian Prime Minister has been convicted of several crimes related to tax fraud and underage prostitution and faces at least 13 years in prison between them.
The labyrinthine nature of the Italian justice system may mean that he'll never actually spend a day behind bars. Milan has denied that their owner's problems have limited them, but an outside observer has to think that Berlusconi is spending quite a bit at the moment on legal fees, which may hamper his ability to pay for a player on his soccer club.
Is money Milan's Achilles heel?
ESPNFC's Ben Gladwell reported on Tuesday that Berlusconi believes his team is strong enough to win the title as it stands. That's an almost laughable prospect. The only significant additions that have been made to the squad this transfer window are Andrea Poli and talented but unproven youngster Riccardo Saponara.
Last year's biggest weakness—central defense—is unchanged No additions have been made to the back line, and one of the best players available is about to come off the board.
Mario Balotelli will be beginning his first full season with the team, and Stephan El Shaarawy will (hopefully) be invigorated after a summer of rest following the Confederations Cup, but the more realistic view of things is the one manager Massimiliano Allegri espoused in the same ESPNFC article.
"Juve are still favorites," said Allegri. "They've strengthened with two excellent players and we've still got to improve to close in further on the Bianconeri—but we have great potential."
That last bit is true. Milan has great potential. But that potential will likely be realized in fits and starts.
At the moment Milan has not demonstrated the financial ability to make a paradigm-shifting move that would swing the balance of power away from Juventus. Unless something changes drastically, things are going to stay that way for a long time.