Bye-Bye Berlusconi? Chinese Interest in AC Milan

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/22/2016 01:37:00 PM
AC Milan in its mid-1990s heyday. It's very far from there now.
Italian club AC Milan is, in a way, emblematic of wider fortunes of its home nation. For such a long time a giant of European and hence world football, it has since fallen on hard times. I recall visiting Italy in 1994 and seeing joyful celebrations as it won not only the Serie A title but also the European Cup (today's Champions League). Its owner was of course the media magnate Silvio Berlusconi, still unaffected by the later scandals that would tarnish his image and very much the industrialist of the age. How it was back in the day!

Nowadays, things are rather different. Berlusconi has made him a laughingstock in bunga-bunga land. AC Milan struggles to compete in the second-tier continental competition, the Europa League, let alone the Champions League which it used to be a dominant participant of. The weekend's loss in the Coppa Italia to Juventus, which has won the Italian league for five straight years now, means the seventh-placed AC Milan will not qualify for the Europa League. It will be three years that they have not qualified for European competition. Prior to the game, Berlusconi even threatened not to pay his players' wages if they lost:
We cannot afford to carry on making fools of ourselves. These people here [turning to point at the camera] are the ones who give us a living because they give us money as sponsors.

They have just told me now that if you keep playing the way you are, they aren't going to give us any more money. So I won't pay you. In fact, if you want your money you would have to take me to court for it, and do you know how long it takes for a civil action case to be heard in Italy? Eight years.
While I trust former Prime Minister Berlusconi on the parlous state of Italy's judicial system--not that it reflects well on him--he remains a businessperson at heart no matter what else he has become. With an asset rapidly losing its luster, a lack of money probably accounts for their inability to build a new stadium, it's perhaps time to cut losses and move on. As it so happens, the Chinese are looking into buying this still-storied name:
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's family company is likely to open exclusive talks next week with a group of Chinese investors interested in buying AC Milan soccer club, one of his most cherished assets, a source said on Saturday. The tycoon is under pressure to finally relax his grip on the club he calls "my Milan", which has failed to win any major silverware in the past five years and is now in the red.

However, the club remains one of the most famous names in world soccer, having being crowned champions of Europe seven times and winning 18 Italian titles. "It's very likely that an agreement will be reached next week that will lead to a deal in the next month," a source familiar with the situation said on Saturday. The agreement would be between the consortium, and Berlusconi's family holding company, Fininvest. The makeup of the Chinese group is not clear.
The club still commands a fair sum...for now:
The consortium has valued the club at 700 million euros ($798 million), including debt, another source said last week. The club had 188.5 million euros in debt at end-2015 and made a net loss of 89.3 million euros. A deal to sell all of AC Milan is still far from certain. Berlusconi, 79, has proven very reluctant to relinquish control of the club, though he has said he cannot give it the kind of additional capital that wealthy Arab and Asian investors have been pumping into AC Milan's European rivals. 
Shadowy unnamed Chinese, an Italian mogul admitting he cannot generate Middle Eastern or Asian levels of footballing's a sign of the times as the world turns. Fascinating globalization-themed stuff, no?