Soccer Crisis As Chinese Tycoon Buys Prestige Club

Chinese premier Xi Jinping has ambitions to turn the country into a football powerhouse – with the result that billions has been spent developing the game.

The latest investment is the sale of prestigious Italian club AC Milan for £220 million.

A consortium of Chinese investors now own the Serie A team allowing former owner, the controversial but colourful ex-Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to walk away from the mountain of debt the side has piled up.

The deal values the club at around £400 million including an estimated debt of £180 million.

Once one of Italy and Europe’s most successful club sides, AC Milan has slipped into obscurity as the owners refused to compete with the buying sprees of wealthier clubs.

Buying football’s heritage

The club joins Inter Milan, with whom it shares a stadium, in Chinese ownership.

In Britain, sleeping giants Aston Villa was sold to a Chinese businessman last month for £75 million.

Premier League West Bromwich Albion was snapped up a few weeks ago for around £175 million.

During recent months, Chinese league sides have ploughed millions of pounds into buying football stars from across Europe.

Many fans are questioning the wisdom of allowing Chinese entrepreneurs to buy up their heritage.

The first deal, between disgraced businessman Carson Yeung and Birmingham City did not fare well.

Yeung was sent to prison in Hong Kong for money laundering and the club has little or no profile in China.

Rooney offered mega contract

“China is the largest consumer market in the world and they are looking to leverage brands from Europe and bring home the associated expertise in running football clubs,” Steve Horowitz, a partner at Inner Circle Sports, a US firm that has advised on several European football deals, told the Financial Times.

The list of footballers plying their trade in China is huge – and many moved on mega salaries.

Their clubs have targeted players from South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, plundering many clubs for their best talent.

Even former England captain and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney was rumoured to be considering a move east with a contract offer of at least £1 million a week.

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