Chinese suitor for Berlusconi's AC Milan ‘aims for deal by June’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 April, 2016, 7:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 April, 2016, 7:00am

The Chinese investor group pursuing a takeover of the AC Milan soccer club, which is controlled by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is targeting a deal by June, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The consortium, whose investors have a background in renewable energy and media, had agreed on most key terms and was seeking a deal in time for the summer transfer season, the sources said. Berlusconi’s Fininvest and the Chinese group had already discussed plans to strengthen the squad, and the initial investment would be used to make the team more competitive rather than pay down debt, one of the people said.

Berlusconi, who has owned Milan for 30 years, is seeking a buyer at a low point in the club’s history. Once considered soccer royalty, the team is languishing in sixth place in the Italian league and fired its manager on Tuesday.

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A deal would also mark the second major Chinese investment in a European football club in less than six months, after a group led by China Media Capital Holdings bought a US$400 million stake in Manchester City Football Club’s owner.

The Chinese consortium was targeting at least a 50 per cent stake, which could rise to about 70 per cent, one of the sources said. The investors were conducting due diligence on AC Milan’s debt as well as player contracts, another said.

Berlusconi serves as honorary club president, and his daughter, Barbara, joined the board in 2011. The billionaire three-time premier has been in separate talks with Thai investor Bee Taechaubol since at least last year.

Bee has been forced to look at new ways of raising financing after an arm of Chinese conglomerate Citic Group Corp pulled the funding it was going to provide for Bee’s bid, according to two people familiar with the matter. 

Bee, who is chairman of Bangkok-listed Electronics Industry, remained interested in buying into the club, though he was unlikely to invest as much as he had previously expected, according to one of the sources. The Chinese group had discussions with Fininvest about acquiring a stake before negotiations started with Bee, another person said.

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Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport reported in January that Bee was offering 480 million (HK$4.2 billion) for a 48 per cent stake. Milan is worth US$775 million, according to Forbes.

Under the plan being discussed, Berlusconi would retain a senior title at the seven-time European champion, according to the people.  

A representative for the Chinese group declined to comment. A Fininvest spokesman said he could not immediately comment, as did a spokeswoman for Bee. A representative for Citic Group declined to comment.

President Xi Jinping is pushing to turn China into a soccer force and last year published a national plan to grow the sport. Chinese teams have been the biggest spenders on player talent this year.