Chi­nese own­ers splash cash as club bids to re­dis­cover glory years

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

ROME — It’s the type of free­wheel­ing spend­ing spree that has been the do­main of Mid­dle East sheikhs and Rus­sian oli­garchs in re­cent years.

Only this time it’s the new Chi­nese own­ers of AC Mi­lan who have been dom­i­nat­ing soc­cer’s trans­fer mar­ket.

The sign­ing of prized Italy de­fender Leonardo Bonucci from six-time de­fend­ing Serie A cham­pion Ju­ven­tus on Fri­day boosted Mi­lan’s close-sea­son spend­ing to nearly $250 mil­lion — eas­ily the most in Europe.

Other re­cent sign­ings by the Ros­soneri have in­cluded for­ward An­dre Silva from Porto, mid­field­ers Ricardo Ro­driguez (Wolfs­burg), Franck Kessie and An­drea Conti (Ata­lanta), Hakan Cal­hanoglu (Bayer Lev­erkusen), Lu­cas Biglia (Lazio) and de­fender Ma­teo Musac­chio (Villarreal).

With teenage goal­keeper Gian­luigi Don­narumma hav­ing agreed to ex­tend his con­tract un­til 2021 and an­other big striker sign­ing ex­pected, Mi­lan could be in po­si­tion to chal­lenge for its first Serie A ti­tle since 2011.

It’s the type of out­lay made by the likes of Rus­sian Ro­man Abramovich when he took over Chelsea in 2003, Sheikh Man­sour at Manch­ester City in 2008 and the Qatari in­vestors in Paris Saint-Ger­main in 2011.

The over­haul re­minds for­mer Mi­lan coach Ar­rigo Sac­chi of when Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni took con­trol of the club three decades ago and quickly ac­quired the likes of Ruud Gul­lit, Marco van Bas­ten, Carlo Ancelotti and Frank Ri­jkaard.

The im­por­tant thing, Sac­chi said in an ed­i­to­rial in the Gazzetta dello Sport on Satur­day, will be for the new own­ers to give Mi­lan coach Vin­cenzo Mon­tella the time to mold a proper squad.

“Ber­lus­coni and (for­mer Mi­lan vice-pres­i­dent Adri­ano) Gal­liani were ex­tra­or­di­nary and de­ter­mined with me, show­ing con­fi­dence and re­spect for me even though we were far from the top by Christ­mas,” Sac­chi wrote.

“Mon­tella’s job won’t be easy,” Sac­chi added. “He’s go­ing to have to cre­ate the right chem­istry and find a sys­tem of play­ing that makes all of these play­ers thrive.”

Mi­lan went on to win two Euro­pean Cups un­der Sac­chi and ush­ered in a pe­riod of dom­i­nance by Ital­ian clubs.

With seven Euro­pean and Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles in all, Mi­lan sits sec­ond only to Real Madrid’s 12.

But af­ter three years with­out any ap­pear­ances at all in Europe, Mi­lan is look­ing to re­gain its place among soc­cer’s elite.

The Chi­nese-led con­sor­tium that pur­chased Mi­lan from Ber­lus­coni for $800 mil­lion in April has in­fused the club with cash.

By the time the new Serie A sea­son starts in mid-Au­gust, Mi­lan’s start­ing XI could con- sist of nine new play­ers.

While Bonucci is con­sid­ered Italy’s top de­fender — which is say­ing some­thing in a na­tion that prides it­self on its de­fend­ing — the last piece of Mi­lan’s puz­zle could be the one that al­ters the bal­ance of power in Serie A.

If Bonucci, as he has in­ti­mated, is able to con­vince for­mer Ju­ven­tus team­mate and cur­rent Real Madrid for­ward Al­varo Mo­rata to join him at Mi­lan, the Ros­soneri might just have enough fire­power to end Juve’s stran­gle­hold on the scud­etto.

The other for­wards Mi­lan is con­sid­er­ing are An­drea Belotti, who scored 26 goals for Torino last sea­son, Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic and Borus­sia Dort­mund marks­man Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang, who was a Mi­lan youth player — al­though Chelsea is re­port­edly clos­ing on a $85 mil­lion deal for the lat­ter.

If Mi­lan suc­ceeds in sign­ing a new striker, he will part­ner highly rated Por­tuguese 21-year-old Bernardo Silva, whose trans­fer from Monaco cost around $42.5 mil­lion.

Bonucci’s fee topped the $45 mil­lion mark, and the cen­ter­back was signed to a five-year con­tract worth up to $11 mil­lion per sea­son, in­clud­ing bonuses — mak­ing the 30-year-old the high­est-paid player in Italy.

In an un­usual move, Mi­lan will also make Bonucci, capped 70 times for Italy, the club’s cap­tain be­fore he even plays a match for the team.

“The truth is they’ve gone be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions,” for­mer Mi­lan stal­wart Demetrio Al­ber­tini said of the new own­ers. “But if the amount of money in­vested was the only mea­sure that counted, Paris Saint-Ger­main should have won at least a cou­ple Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles by now.”

AP FILE

Italy in­ter­na­tional Leonardo Bonucci cel­e­brates scor­ing against the Nether­lands in a friendly match in March. The 30-year-old cen­ter­back has left Serie A cham­pion Ju­ven­tus for AC Mi­lan in a $46 mil­lion, five-year deal.

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