China Inc's $3B land grab among Europe's football royalty

REUTERS
LONDON
Published 24.08.2016 23:37

It was over lunch at his villa outside Milan with football "super-agent" Jorge Mendes that Italian tycoon Silvio Berlusconi realised an unpleasant truth: his storied club, AC Milan, needed cash, and plenty of it. Mendes, a source familiar with the matter said, was discussing the potential sale of Colombian star James Rodriguez from Real Madrid for 85 million euros ($95 million)- cash that loss-making, debt-burdened AC Milan simply did not have. Weeks later, Berlusconi became the latest European club owner to sell out to Chinese buyers, in a shopping spree that has caught up clubs from England's Aston Villa to France's OGC Nice and adds up to around $3 billion since December alone. Other Chinese buyers of rival clubs over the past months, their cash promising to shake up the game, are similarly little known in the sport, including a packaging firm, an eco-city builder and a maker of food additives.

No European football association has yet raised major concerns about the influx of Chinese money, though most, like England's Football Association, do have some provision to consider if new owners are "fit and proper". With all but Europe's very richest clubs struggling to compete in the transfer market for the best talent, the lure of Chinese cash is strong. A sped-up AC Milan deal could help the 18-times Italian champions fund player acquisitions to bolster a squad that ended up in a lowly seventh position last season and failed to qualify for the lucrative UEFA Champions League.

A source involved in the deal said the Chinese group would provide a 100 million euro loan to finance new players.

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