With their Champions League dream dying have AC Milan’s Chinese owners seen any progress one year in?
Suspicion still surrounds takeover and despite heavy investment Italian giants still have to overhaul Roma and Inter to reach promised land
“Today we celebrate the start of a new chapter in the history of this glorious club,” was how Chinese businessman Li Yonghong announced himself to the world as the new owner and president of Italian Serie A side AC Milan one year ago.
His Rossoneri Sports Investment Lux bought a controlling stake in the club for €740 million (US$912.4 million), ending the 31-year reign of Silvio Berlusconi. Li marked his first anniversary with an open letter to AC Milan fans published in English, Italian and Chinese on the club’s official website.
Li took the opportunity to stress his team were “fully committed” to the project while looking back at the first year.
“Many things happened during the past 12 months. Last summer, we pursued with true passion the most important financial investment in the club’s history, building the current young, talented and challenging team, led by Rino Gattuso, a passionate and inspirational head coach who has my full support, the support of the management team, of all AC Milan people and, I’m sure, of all fans worldwide.”
Earlier this season, Milan replaced coach Vincenzo Montella with Gennaro Gattuso, another former player. The ex-manager said at the time he was surprised by his sacking in November with the club seventh in the table and 11 points behind fourth-placed Roma and Uefa Champions League qualification.
There has been a slight improvement under the new boss.
Milan are sixth in Serie A and seven points behind fifth-placed city rivals Inter, who are also Chinese owned. The top four teams in Italy get a place in next season’s Champions League but the odds are against Milan as they will need to overhaul both Inter and Roma, who sit another point ahead, in the final seven games of the season.
Qualifying for the 2018-19 Champions League was the short-term goal declared by incoming CEO Marco Fassone at the press conference announcing the takeover a year ago.
Right now that seems unlikely, a fact acknowledged by Li: “Of course, we still have a long way to go to achieve our goal, which is to bring the club back to where it belongs: at the top of European football.”
Five-time champions of Europe, Milan last won the Champions League in 2007.
The club finished sixth last season, one place ahead of Inter, and earned a place in the qualifying rounds for the Europa League. This ensured the return of European football to San Siro for the first time since their Champions League campaign of 2013-14, although Milan went out to Arsenal, preventing them from qualifying for the Champions League by winning the Europa League.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) 12 April 2018
Despite the relative lack of progress, Li said he was “celebrating a positive year” but it was only the beginning of their project to return the club to its glory days.
Li has had to ride out a number of media reports regarding his own financial situation and the possible impact on the club’s ownership. Last month the Gazzetta dello Sport reported that Italian authorities were looking into the deal.
He used his open letter to fans at Lunar New Year to dismiss reports of his bankruptcy as “fake news”, while many media outlets have questioned the legality of the takeover deal.
The club spent over €200 million on players last summer but were quiet in the January transfer window.