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Champions Milan eye return to past glories

AC Milan announced their return to the big time on Sunday after winning their first Serie A title in over a decade and putting years of decline firmly behind them.

Seven-time champions of Europe, Milan are one of the continent’s biggest clubs but spent most of the last 10 years in the doldrums as a shifting football landscape left them way behind a new elite.

Under flamboyant former owner Silvio Berlusconi Milan pioneered tactical innovations and—backed by the media magnate’s open wallet – stacked the team with expensive foreign stars who pushed an already famous club into a new stratosphere.

Five of Milan’s European crowns came in the Berlusconi era but the club was forced to tighten its belt in the years after their last league title in 2011, and in the same period a host of star names were either sold or stepped aside.

Current owners Elliott Management acquired the club in 2018 when the man who took the club off Berlusconi’s hands—nChinese businessman Yonghong Li — was unable to repay a 300 million euro ($316,000) loan he had taken out to help finance the purchase the previous year. 

A new era may be around the corner with the arrival of new owners, American investment fund RedBird Capital Partners being touted this weekend as the firm ready to buy Milan from Elliot for around 1.3 billion euros, beating Bahrain’s Investcorp to the punch.

Rich owners willing to reinforce a thin squad lacking a consistent goalscorer would help Milan take the step from being a domestic force to challenging in Europe.

Continental success has been modern Milan’s trademark but their last major European trophy was the 2007 Champions League and this season they were dumped out of the competition after finishing bottom of their group and losing twice to Liverpool.

A deal with Investcorp had been expected to be signed in early May but soon after CEO Paolo Scaroni said that there were two offers on the table.

New era, new stadium?

Italian media reported that the deal between Elliot and Investcorp could collapse as Milan’s owners pushed for a higher purchase price off the back of the Scudetto.

The Gazzetta Dello Sport said Investcorp would not budge from a price of around a billion euros they thought had been agreed and already see as an overvaluation.

And RedBird has not only offered a higher fee, they will also allow Elliott to remain minority shareholders and keep both sporting directors Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara in place.

The key sticking point in catching up with the big Premier League clubs as far as Milan are concerned is the fate of their and Inter’s plan to redevelop the site where the iconic San Siro stands.

In December the clubs announced plans to build a sparkling new joint-owned ‘Cathedral’ in the same area, knocking down the current ground which is owned by the city of Milan. 

However bureaucracy and political infighting within the city council has held back final approval.

A public debate needs to be held in order for construction to get the green light and, in any case, the current ground is supposed to stay in place until at least 2026, as it will host the opening ceremony of that year’s Winter Olympics.

The possibility of moving the whole project to nearby suburb Sesto San Giovanni — which is a quick metro ride from Milan’s famous Duomo — has been raised by the clubs. 

And the town’s mayor has claimed that he can ensure quick approval for the stadium to be built on a former factory site.

“I can guarantee that once the decision is made the first brick can be laid within 18 months,” Roberto Di Stefano said last month.

“The area in question has already been demolished, cleaned up and ready for use.”

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