AC Mi­lan’s Chi­nese owner seeks new in­vestors

The Jakarta Post - - SPORTS - Elvira Pol­lina

The Chi­nese owner of former Euro­pean soc­cer cham­pi­ons AC Mi­lan is look­ing for one or more in­vestors to share the fi­nan­cial bur­den, less than six months af­ter buy­ing the loss-mak­ing Ital­ian club, two sources said on Fri­day.

Former Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Sil­vio Ber­lus­coni fi­nal­ized the sale of AC Mi­lan in April to a Chi­nese-led con­sor­tium headed by Li Yonghong in a 740 mil­lion euro (US$872 mil­lion) deal, the big­gest Chi­nese in­vest­ment in a Euro­pean soc­cer club. But Li has since ef­fec­tively be­come the sole in­vestor af­ter his part­ners backed out fol­low­ing Bei­jing’s crack­down on for­eign ac­qui­si­tions, es­pe­cially in soc­cer, ac­cord­ing to a source close to the mat­ter.

The source, who de­clined to be named be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter, said Li would be more com­fort­able shar­ing the fi­nan­cial risk as­so­ci­ated with man­ag­ing and in­vest­ing in the club, which lost 75 mil­lion eu­ros in 2016 and is ex­pected to re­main in the red for this year at least.

A spokes­woman for AC Mi­lan said there was no in­di­ca­tion of any po­ten­tial changes in the club’s own­er­ship.

Reuters was un­able to reach Li or his rep­re­sen­ta­tives in China. At­tempts to find a con­tact for Li in Mi­lan proved un­suc­cess­ful.

AC Mi­lan spent 230 mil­lion eu­ros on play­ers dur­ing the lat­est trans­fer sea­son, be­hind only Paris St Ger­main and Manch­ester City. AC Mi­lan is com­pet­ing in Europe’s sec­ond tier cup com­pe­ti­tion and lies sixth in the do­mes­tic league.

A sec­ond source said one op­tion be­ing con­sid­ered to lure po­ten­tial new in­vestors, in­clud­ing Ital­ian ones, was a Chi­nese mar­ket list­ing within a cou­ple of years.

The first source said other Chi­nese in­vestors could emerge if the au­thor­i­ties soften their stance on for­eign in­vest­ment af­ter the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist party congress start­ing on Oct. 18.

The sale of AC Mi­lan to Li took far longer than ex­pected to com­plete as Bei­jing clamped down on non-strate­gic for­eign ac­qui­si­tions, es­pe­cially van­ity deals in the sports in­dus­try.

In par­al­lel to the in­vestor search, Li’s ad­vis­ers are also work­ing on the pos­si­bil­ity of re­fi­nanc­ing the Chi­nese group’s debt with United States pri­vate eq­uity fund El­liott. Gold­man Sachs and Mer­rill Lynch are in the run­ning for the re­fi­nanc­ing, this source said.

El­liott gave Li a 180 mil­lion euro life­line in March to com­plete the pur­chase plus 128 mil­lion eu­ros to in­ject into the team, fi­nance the ac­qui­si­tion of play­ers and al­low the club to re­pay its debt with banks.

AFP/Miguel Me­d­ina

Yonghong Li

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