Inter Milan chief says Chinese owners remain committed to club

Inter Milan’s chief executive has said the club’s Chinese owner remains committed to the Italian champions following a €415mn debt refinancing, as he warned teams across Europe must invest more to close the financial gap with the England’s Premier League.

Alessandro Antonello, the club’s chief executive, told the Financial Times that Suning, the Chinese retail conglomerate which has controlled Inter since 2016, is open to securing new financial and commercial partners and would consider the sale of a minority stake.

“No, no, no,” Antonello said in an interview when asked if Suning was exploring an outright sale. “The shareholder [Suning] is committed to long-term investment in the club.”

Inter declined to comment on reports that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, the state-owned $500bn sovereign fund, is set to acquire the club. A person close to Inter said there had been no contact with PIF.

Suning is itself under financial pressure as it struggles with weaker sales at its physical stores, steep losses on investments and $1.2bn in bonds maturing this year. Alibaba and Chinese local government backed a $1.4bn bailout for the company last year.

The retailer also secured a $275mn loan from Oaktree Capital to help fund Inter, with the Los Angeles-based distressed debt specialist investing in the latest refinancing, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

While Inter had returned to public debt markets to raise cash in January, Antonello stressed that more investment was needed to enable European rivals to catch up with the Premier League. England’s top-flight competition this month said the value of its broadcast rights, already the highest in Europe, was set to climb to £10.4bn in 2022-25, up from £9.2bn in the previous three-year cycle.

Rather than being concerned, Antonello said: “We need to be stimulated by the improvement of the Premier League in order to work very hard and to recover the gap.”

Yet, in a nod to the failed European Super League, he insisted a “competitive balance” across clubs in Europe was essential in order to keep fans interested in the game.

With Inter and local rival AC Milan constructing a new stadium to replace their shared ground, the iconic San Siro, Antonello said infrastructure investment and improvements were vital to clubs’ success as much as performance on the pitch.

Inter reclaimed the Serie A title for the first time in a decade last season, but the club subsequently sold star striker Romelu Lukaku to Chelsea and parted ways with manager Antonio Conte. The club recorded a net loss of €245mn at group level in the 12 months ended June 30.

Across Europe, average revenues at top-flight clubs fell 10.4 per cent to €20.6bn in the 2020 financial year, according to Uefa, European football’s governing body, while Serie A teams’ revenues fell 21 per cent to just over €2.0bn.

Talks last year between Serie A and external investors, including private equity firms CVC Capital Partners and Advent International and Italian investment group Fondo FSI, failed to result in a transaction.

CVC later invested in Spain’s La Liga.

Paolo Dal Pino, who was criticised by clubs for his handling of the discussions, resigned as president of Serie A this month.

While external funding remains an option for Italy’s top league it is “not the only way”, said Antonello.

“It could be private equity, it could be something different, but what’s most important is to have someone supporting us in a new governance and creating value-added for Serie A in the future.”

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