Sunday, April 11, 2021

A Storied Italian Soccer Club is threatened by a shifting prospectus in China

Hong Kong – The new, high-rolling Chinese owner was about to return Inter Milan to its glory days. It spent heavily on prolific scorers such as Romelu Lukaku and Christian Eriksen. After five years of investment, Milan Milan Football Club is within distance of their first Italian league title in a decade.

Now the bill has become outstanding – and Inter Milan’s future is suddenly in doubt.

Suning, an electronics retailer that owns the majority of the club, is stuck for cash and is trying to sell its stake. Money is flowing from the club. Some of its players have agreed to postpone the payment, according to a person close to the club, who has requested anonymity because the information is not public.

Inter Milan has negotiated with at least one potential investor, but according to others with knowledge of the negotiations, the parties may not agree on a price.

Suning’s footballing aspirations are also at home. The company abruptly shut down its home team four months after the club won China’s national championship. Some stars, many of whom opted to play there instead of Chelsea or Liverpool, said they had gone unpaid.

China has failed in its dream of becoming a global player in the world’s most popular sport. Done in part by Xi Jinping’s ambitions, China’s top leader and an avid football fan, a new breed of Chinese tycoon, gave billions of dollars to marquee clubs and star players, changing the economics of the game. Chinese investors acquired $ 1.8 billion in more than a dozen European teams between 2015 and 2017, and China’s cash-strapped domestic league paid the largest salary ever among foreign recruits.

But Hrabi made international football aware of the features of the Chinese business. Deep involvement by the Communist Party makes companies vulnerable to sharp changes in political winds. Free-spending tycoons often lack international experience or sophistication.

Now, discussions around the tables of the board, fire sales and hasty exits dominate. A mining magnet Lost control of AC Milan in between Questions about their business empire. A soap manufacturer and owner of food additive company Left his stake At Aston Villa. One Energy group Slavia then lost its stake in Prague The founder disappeared.

Suning’s plight reflects “the entire rise and fall of this era of Chinese football”, said Jerry G, director of Red Lantern, a sports marketing company, that it works for top European football teams in China. “When people were talking about Chinese football and it got everyone’s attention in 2016, it came very fast, but it has gone very fast.”

In 2016, Suning paid $ 306 million for a major stake in Inter Milan. Suning is a household name in China, with stores for computers, iPads and rice cookers for the country’s growing middle class. While it has been hurt by China’s e-commerce revolution, it counts Alibaba, the online shopping titan, as a major investor.

On a brightly lit stage to announce the Inter Milan deal, Suning’s billionaire founder and president, Zhang Jindong, raised a glass of champagne and talked about how the famous Italian team – which has won 18 championships since 1910, But since 2010 no one will help his brand. Internationally and Contribution For China’s sports industry.

Boasting about Suning’s “abundant resources”, Mr. Zhang promised the club that he would “return to his glory days and be a strong asset capable of attracting the top stars around the world.”

Led by Mr. Zhang’s son, Steven Zhang, who is now 29, the club spent more than $ 300 million on stars such as Lukaku, Eriksen and Lutaro Martinez, with Argentina named Bull to chase their goals Put forward

Tejashwi of the industry also agreed to pay $ 700 million to the Premier League of England for the rights to broadcast the Games in China in 2019.

Suning looted money on a domestic club that bought it in 2015. It spent $ 32 million to acquire the Brazilian midfielder, Rameses, from Chelsea, and invested 50 million euros for Alex Teixeira, a young Brazilian attacker who chose the Chinese team over Liverpool football. ‘S most popular franchisee.

The recruits were employed in selling air-conditioners and washing machines. In an advertisement, Mr. Tikshera urged the audience To buy a Chinese brand of equipment. “I’m Teixeira,” he says in Mandarin, “come on Suning to buy Haier.”

Mubarak Wakaso, called the Ghanaian midfielder, helped make China attractive. “The money I’m going to make in China is far better than La Liga,” he said in a mix of twee and English in an interview Last year, citing the league in Spain where he once played. “I’m not telling a lie.”

Suning’s football bets were badly timed. Chinese government Worried that big Congressmen Too much borrowing, threatening the country’s financial system. A year after the Inter Milan deal, Chinese state media criticized Suning for its “irrational” takeover.

Then the epidemic hit. Even after winning at the Inter Milan ground, it lost its gate receipt from its San Siro Stadium, which is the largest in Europe. Some sponsors walked away because of their own financial pressures. The club incurred a loss of about $ 120 million last year, one of the largest losses reported by a European football club.

Back in China, Suning was slammed by e-commerce as well as by coronaviruses. Its troubles intensified in the autumn of not seeking payment for a $ 3 billion investment in Evergrande, a property developer and China’s most indebted company.

Suning’s burden is set to be heavy. this year, It should make $ 1.2 billion in bond payments. The company declined to comment.

Suning began to take drastic measures. Last year Left it Its broadcast deal with the Premier League.

Then, in February, it shut down its home team, Jiangsu Suning, almost four months after the team won the Super League title against the Evergrande-controlled team. According to a person involved in the case, at least one of the team’s foreign recruits hired lawyers to help them get unpaid salaries.

A former Suning player, Eider, who was a Brazilian-born star forward, quoted media reports as saying that Suning had not paid him. on Twitter, Eider said that the comments were taken from a private, online chat without his permission. His agent did not respond to requests for comment.

To protect himself, Suning took a step that could complicate Inter Milan’s fate. On March 1, it sold $ 2.3 billion of its shares to affiliates of the government of the Chinese city of Shenzhen. The deal called Chinese officials one of Inter Milan’s fate.

Greater financial pressure for Inter Milan. It will have to fill a $ 360 million bond next year. A minority investor in Hong Kong, Lion Rock Capital, which acquired a 31 percent stake in Inter in 2019, could exercise an option, according to one of the closest people, to buy Suning its stake in Suning for $ 215 million Will be required. The club

Inter Milan officials are looking for funding, a new partner or sales of the team at a valuation of about $ 1.1 billion, the person said.

The club until recently was in exclusive negotiations with the British private equity firm BC Partners, but could not agree on the price, saying people are with the knowledge of the negotiations.

Without fresh capital, Inter Milan can lose players. If it cannot pay salaries or transfer fees to drop players, European football rules say it can be missing from top competitions.

“We are worried, but we are not yet apprehensive about this situation – we are just waiting for this news,” said Manuel Corti, a member of the Inter Milan Supporters’ Club based in London.

“Being a fan of Inter,” he said, “we’re never sure until the last minute.”

Alexandra Stevenson Reported from Hong Kong, and Tariq Panja From london. Cao Li Contributed to reporting from Hong Kong.

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