AC Milan’s big summer signing will be Charles De Ketelaere, after a long and drawn-out soap opera that ended up lasting for weeks.
La Gazzetta dello Sport have given a full background on the arrival of De Ketelaere, one which starts in the year of 2020 when Milan began following the playmaker. First he was in the group of interesting players, then he climbed the positions of the scouting department to gain more and more attention.
At that point Barcelona asked for his price tag, then West Ham, Newcastle, Arsenal came forward, and Club Brugge said in January 2020 that they would take €8m plus bonuses for their talent. Just 18 months later, it would become €25m.
Interest grew and while Milan did not negotiate with the Belgian club directly they asked for information from his agents Tom De Mul and Yama Sharifi.
Another interesting moment came in 2021 when Club Brugge announced that they wanted to go public to raise money for a new stadium, something that the sale of players could help and as such potential suitors for De Ketelaere deemed it to be an assist.
Barcelona were thinking of a move and Milan’s interest began to grow, and then in 2021-22 everything exploded. He scored 14 goals, showed all of his intelligence, ability to play in many positions and his particular physical structure.
Vincent Mannaert – the managing director of Brugge – told Sportweek: “Milan called us for the first time in June. Before, we never spoke with them.”
De Mul and Sharifi called Maldini and Massara in May 2022 and told him in no uncertain terms: “If you want Charles, it’s time. Run.” However, Maldini and Massara’s signature on the renewal is needed and they were also planning a big investment on Sven Botman, the defender to whom three quarters of the budget was allocated.
Botman signed with Newcastle and Milan changed their plans, focusing on an attacking player and putting De Ketelaere at the top of the list. The Rossoneri offered €20m plus bonuses, but Brugge asked for €30m.
On 6 July De Mul was at Casa Milan and an agreement on the salary was found without major problems. However, Leeds United then came forward and offered Brugge €40m which made Milan aware that they would not be able to get him for less than €30-35m and that they would have to rely on the will of the player.
De Mul told the Belgian newspapers: “I told him: ‘Do you want to go to Milan? Well. But get ready for six difficult weeks’. Choosing Leeds was the simplest thing, financially the most interesting for Brugge, for Charles and for us.”
De Ketelaere said he only wants Milan but Mannaert is tough and waited. In the meantime, the Diavolo knew that if a team like Chelsea, Liverpool or one of the Manchester clubs came forward then CDK would be going there.
On July 20, Maldini and Massara went to Bruges. The Milan fans expected a deal to be done that day, but instead there was still distance and the operation remained. Looking back on the trip, Mannaert himself admitted: “I never saw a collapse being close. If you are Milan and you come to Bruges, it means that you want the player.”
De Ketelaere asked not to play the first game of the season for Club Brugge and the tension rose, while Milan lost to ZTE and Brahim Diaz struggled. De Mul was on vacation near Lugano and there he organized a meeting that would be vital.
Milan raised their offer and Brugge took a step towards them, as Mannaert again admitted: “The key moment was Lugano. You don’t make two appointments if you don’t want a player. At that point, I was calm.”
An offer of €32m plus €3m in bonuses (easy to achieve) and a 12.5% of proceeds on a future resale ended up being enough to finally get the green light.
On July 28-29, the bureaucracy began. Three law firms in three different countries wrote the contracts, while the player did not train on July 28 and in the night between August 1 and 2 he was in Italy with his parents, girlfriend and agents.
The medical visits and official announcement followed, and the most recent episode of the TV series ended with De Ketelaere making his debut at San Siro and winking at the fans while leaving the field. The next episode is in Bergamo tomorrow, where CDK hopes to write a new chapter.