After 31 years the Berlusconi era came to an end on April 13 2017. The Chinese take over led by new team president Yonghong Li arrived just in time for the latest edition of the Milan derby.
After some two years of searching for new investment or owners and continuous delays Milan is in the hands of Chinese owners, much like local rivals Inter Milan. The saga that began with Mr.Bee’s attempt to buy minority shares while keeping Silvio Berlusconi as president dragged on for months before the Thai businessman’s attempt to gather funds evaporated without much fanfare. As Fininvest, Berlusconi’s holding company, refused to remain involved in a money losing football operation one where they had to write off the team’s losses every year the search for new investment continued. Late last Spring news emerged that Berlusconi has found new investors willing to pay €500 million for over 99% of the team and has them promise to return Milan to the top of the European game while additionally investing upwards of €350 million. All this while paying an amount greater than Inter had been sold for and also assuming the then €220 million debt – that debt has now grown when one includes the 2016-2017 season numbers.
The Chinese takeover was shrouded in secrecy as no one knew who was involved, whispers of Robin Li’s (of Baidu search engine) involvement came and went quickly, then names like Haixia Capital excited fans dreaming of owners with very deep pockets. Several delays dampened enthusiasm and cultivated more doubts, especially as Suning’s takeover of Inter Milan had seemed smooth and relatively quick. Then late in 2016 and early 2017 the fears grew as the Chinese government put in new rules that included strict limits on capital exports amid the local Chinese economy showing signs of weakness. This was seen as affecting not only amounts of money available to buy and invest in Milan but also more specifically making it impossible for government affiliated or controlled entities like Haixia being in it at all. This all led to a March closing date – which was in the final stages of going ahead with a press conference planned and scheduled – being scrapped.
As hopes faded Yonghong Li officially disbanded his now partner-less Sino Europe Sport group and set up a new group called Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux with the aim of using or finding money from outside of China to complete the payments to Fininvest and close the deal. Enter Elliott Management Corporation, a US hedge fund. The fund agreed to get involved, help complete the amount needed and as is natural for a hedge fund to put interest and controlling interest clauses in case Yonghong Li fails to find further investors or generate extra revenue. The make up of the ownership remains a mystery, as of today’s (April 14th) press conference to present the new era the people officially involved remain Yonghong Li and Han Li, the meetings also elected other board members and they are Bo Lu, Renshau Xu, Roberto Cappelli, Marco Fassone, Marco Patuano and Paolo Scaroni. How much wealth and know how exists on the business side is not well known, Italians somewhat familiar with the Chinese business community have expressed doubts, these include Marcello Lippi who has been coaching in China for nearly five years.
Marco Fassone as general manager and CEO along side Massimiliano Mirabelli as sporting director, both ex-Interisti, have the know how and bring promise, but if given funds. The promises are there and there is room for ore than just cautious optimism but doubts linger, the same doubts that were spoken by legends such as Maldini months ago.
As it happens the first game of the new era is the Milan derby. The team led by Montella and youngsters such as Donnarumma and Locatelli sit two points above Inter at this 32nd match day. The Milan injury list includes Abate, Bonaventura, Bertolacci and Montolivo. Inter are a healthier team but one that has, as is typical for them, had an up and down season. Montella is likely to start Mati Fernandez in place of suspended Pasalic with two of Sosa, Locatelli and Kucka alongside him. Up front the preferred trio is set as Suso, Bacca and Deulofeu. The latter will be one that Fassone will try to retain for next season, even if it means a further loan. At the back Donnarumma, with an extension now very high on the agenda, will start in goal of course. Calabria and De Sciglio are almost certain starting full backs. Romagnoli and Zapata will be the centerbacks with the latter now preferred to Paletta.
Lots of work ahead and the new management will need to make a splash not only in the transfer market but to also pursue and convince at least one team legend to get on board in a meaningful role. That name is unlikely to be Maldini but Albertini or Ambrosini may be enticed.