MILAN: AC Milan great Franco Baresi led the tributes to club supremo Silvio Berlusconi on Thursday but joined former champions of the Serie A giants in voicing concern over the club’s future after its takeover by Chinese investors.
After 31 years in charge, and a 29-trophy haul that included five of the club’s seven European Cup/Champions League titles, Berlusconi sold the 18-time Italian champions in a €740 million deal which sees Chinese-led consortium Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux acquire a 99.9% stake.
Although the new owners pledged, in a statement, “commitment to undertake significant capital increases and liquidity injections aimed at strengthening AC Milan’s financial structure”, doubts remain.
Only one month ago, Berlusconi hinted he could walk away with a non-refundable down payment of €200m after the consortium, previously named Sino-Europe Sports (SES), failed to meet a scheduled third down payment of €100m.
On Thursday, the takeover was largely welcomed as the club, after several poor seasons in which qualifying for European competition has become a challenge, look to rejoin the summit.
Baresi, the bedrock of an AC Milan defence over 20 years (1977-1997) which complemented the attacking prowess of Dutch trio Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard during the club’s 1990s golden era, told Radio Sportiva: “I hope the new owners take Milan to the highest possible level in Italy and Europe. There’s a touch of sadness, it’s the end of a special era for me. Now we have to look ahead and even if a change like this after so many years makes people sad, I’m sure the president (Berlusconi) is doing the right thing at the right time.”
On Friday, Chinese businessman Yonghong Li is expected to be named as the club’s new president.
A former three-time Prime Minister of Italy, who became embroiled in a series of scandals during a storied political career, Berlusconi’s AC Milan reign is now anchored in the annals of Italian football history.
And fans and former players and coaches want a revival.
Former Milan midfielder Diego Fuser, who spent the bulk of his career with Lazio, said: “Berlusconi made history in world football … it’s sad, especially for anyone who wore the red and black jersey.”
Arrigo Sacchi, the coach Berlusconi chose to lead the club’s revival in 1987, is credited with founding Milan’s formidable, winning culture.
The 71-year-old spoke to a “hurting” Berlusconi after the sale, telling Premium Champions: “I spoke an hour ago to Berlusconi, and I got the impression he’s hurting. Just as I am, along with Berlusconi and (club CEO, Adriano) Galliani. Berlusconi was a pioneer in Italian football, he lifted the level of the league and the game. It was thanks to him Italian football underwent a renaissance.”
Milan’s new owners are facing a mammoth task, and Sacchi’s successor Fabio Capello, who led the Rossoneri to three consecutive league titles (1992-1994) and the 1994 Champions League trophy, told Sky: “I hope the new owners have the cash to be able to compete with the top clubs in Europe.”