Marco Fassone spoke at length about how things have been going in the past 365 days for Milan on the corporate side, assuring everyone that the financial condition of the Rossoneri is good, even if ‘it is difficult to imagine paying very big fees for players’ in the next mercato.
April 13 will forever be an important date in the history of Milan as on this date, one year ago, the club was sold to Yonghong Li, who acquired it from Silvio Berlusconi – a man who bought Milan in 1986.
As the Diavolo celebrate one year of Chinese ownership, CEO Marco Fassone – the person the new owners chose to lead the way of the new Milan – spoke to different media outlets, including the Italian daily sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport to discuss the past, present and future.
“If the last 12 months were better or harder than expected? At the management level, I thought I would have some more difficulties, since it was the first year of adjustment,” Fassone told GdS. “Instead, very good responses came from the people inside the club, there was a more positive reaction than expected by the fans – which was not obvious – and even if there is some regret for the first part of the campaign which was below expectations, we then found the right course.
“On the corporate level? I’m also happy for the part that goes beyond the pitch. We started a Chinese company [Milan China], we are the only club to have a company on site with a Chinese management and not just a commercial office. The stadium project takes shape week after week, whether it would be renovated San Siro or a new stadium. The commercial side has worked well, with seven new sponsors. And the box office [matchday revenues] was much better than expected.
“The balance is positive, the road is the right one, we are in line with the forecasts. Next week’s meeting with UEFA and the refinancing with Elliott? The refinancing will be made, even if the modalities are still under discussion. There are three options that Mister Li is evaluating.
“There is no urgency to do it tomorrow morning, there are still six months [the debt deadline is in October]. I feel quite serene that it will take place on time and with sufficient margin to not arrive in October. After that, of course, if the refinancing is for five years and not six months, I wouldn’t need to jump so many obstacles for national and international licenses, but I can live with it.
“The support of the club has always been there, the capital increases are continuous and frequent, and have allowed us to work without ever reaching the bottom of the barrel. Again, the hope is not to arrive in October, if we closed the refinancing a few months before that, maybe four, I’d be more serene. Within a week or ten days, Merrill Lync should get the final proposal to be submitted to Li.
“How much the refinancing affects UEFA’s judgment? I believe that for the Settlement Agreement it impacts less than for the Voluntary Agreement. I think that at this moment what matters more is planning for the next three years as Milan intend to return within the posts of the Financial Fair Play.
“The discussion [with UEFA] will focus on the type of penalties for the violations of the recent years. I hope that the refinancing will remain more in the background. Also because that Elliott, in this perspective, has already guaranteed in writing their commitment to deal with any critical issues.
“The extent of the sanctions? I don’t expect penalties that would greatly limit our moves in the transfer market. Certainly, the balance between investments and sales will be much lighter than last year. Something consistent with our current revenues, which are around €215-220 million a year.
“Elliott is increasingly closer to Milan? Their funding is a covenant one, with bi-monthly checks. They check you work well and the plans are respected. The relationship with them, I assure you, is excellent. The rumours that predict that soon Milan will be in the hands of Elliott? It seems strange to me, on the borders of the impossible that it would happen to a President who has put in so much money into the club and keeps putting money. Milan would go to Elliott only if Mr. Li won’t make any more capital increases, so I think it’s a very remote hypothesis. In my mind, I think it will not happen.
“If the next capital increases will come regularly? The Board of Directors has indicated the deadlines for the next installments and from now to June 30, the installments that are needed to close to season in the best way will arrive regularly. We are all very happy.
“Outside of Milan not everyone is happy? Milan are very good from a financial and economic point of view. Common opinion can sometimes be deceptively induced so that there seems to be problems. Instead, there aren’t any: if we analyze the financial statements serenely, we see that Milan are not bad at all. And then I would like to remind you that by acquiring Milan, Mister Li indebted himself. He made an investment that weights only on him, reliving the club from the point of view of debt.
“Milan will have a rosy future as I said before? It depends on us. There are no big obstacles that say ‘attention, we cannot grow anymore’. The only limitation is Financial Fair Play, which at a certain point imposes a quota of investments, even if you want to do them.
“Mister Li remains a mysterious character? In Italy, Milan, Inter and Roma have Presidents who only come to our country a few times a year and delegate wide operational power to their managers. This does not mean that they are not with passion, but only that they do not seek the visibility. I, myself, do not have the same personal relationship that I had for example with Massimo Moratti or Aurelio De Laurentiis. His style is speaking and appearing little, and acting with facts.
“He loves Milan a lot, since he was a boy. I met him 15 days ago in London for financial reasons and I can assure you that he is not just in charge of the business. He knows who plays, he wanted to know everything about Gattuso. He is a President who participates in all aspects, who trusts his management in the day-to-day and asks for a report. Then, we’ll look at the results at the end.
“Rumours are talking of a possible entry of other investors and even that Li is preparing an exit route? As far as I know, I think he is calm and eager to be the Milan president and take the project forward. Wanting to be supported by other investors is possible, but I don’t want to appear tactless, these questions concern the ownership, these are only my impressions.
“The renewal of Gattuso [the ex-midfielder signed a new deal to 2021]? It was the choice of Mirabelli and mine, he convinced us for a thousand reasons and we entrusted him with a medium-long-term project which allows him to fully express the cycle of a club being reborn. He deserves our unconditional faith. The club is convinced that he’s the right man to take us where we want to be.
“The transfer market? We will have a consolidation of the squad. 80-90 percent of our players have performed at expectations or above them. However, we couldn’t have spent €240m if we hadn’t sold some players or made capital gains on players. Mirabelli did a great job. There will be progressive improvements: the fans can expect 2-3 new players in positions we consider to be critical.
“If it’s true that we could be forced to sell at least one big player? With our numbers in hand, on a financial level, I don’t think we’re obliged to sell anyone. However, having made a point of the situation with the sporting director and coach, I can say that there will be players coming in and going out. Donnarumma among the exits? Everyone has complete confidence in him. He’s one of the pillars and we see Gigio in our minds as our goalkeeper for the long term.
“If I could go back a year, would I put myself in this adventure? Absolutely, it’s beautiful. I would struggle to think of something more rewarding and satisfying.”
Fassone also spoke to MilanTV: “At the beginning, even before the famous ‘closing’, there was a bit of concern that Milan would become less Milan and more Chinese, basically that it would lose its identity, regarding our country and specifically the club itself. I think that a year since the ‘closing’ there is much less concern and that we might still have the same ingredients that allow Milan fans to identify with Milan. It may be that they might even be more numerus in the future because many authentic Milanisti continue to approach us, there are legendary Milanisti opinion leaders, who may have looked at this adventure a year ago with a little skepticism and today they too are on board.
“Our financial situation? We could never have been able to spend €240 million last year, because unavailable funds are not unlimited and above all I have to keep the accounts in order, if we hadn’t made a series of player transfers, which were not so predictable and were not part of any preordained plan, and capitalized on player sales, at a realistic value not the inflated values we hear or read of.
“None of which was easy, we made a good job of this too. If today, you check our latest figures – just last week we approved the semi-annual financial statement – which is much better than our target, you can see that it’s much better than our target because of these activities.
“I believe that 80 to 90 percent of the players we have signed, together with the others who were already part of Milan, this year have performed up to, and some even beyond, the expectations we had. There is not so much to fix, this was more or less our plan. We said ‘summer of 2017: a revolution’, 11 new signings is indeed an impressive number. In the following years, we will make piecemeal corrections, each season will show us where we need to fill the gaps and we’ll do so.
“So, I think that we can expect 2-3 new players coming in to strengthen those positions that Mirabelli and Gattuso identify as priorities. 2-3 players who can help us improve or to substitute those who may have arrived at the end of their time with us, or their careers. So, no more revolutions, only progressive adaption, which should allow Milan to be truly competitive in every respect, having as a starting point a squad that we think has fantastic potential and great quality.”
Speaking to Premium Sport, Fassone added: “It was the year of the dragon, and time seems to be flying. The ownership gave a significant impression and at the same time left me great freedom of movement: it gave us financial support, advice and suggestions while embracing the ‘Italianess’ of the management. From my first contact with the Chinese group, I felt trust and esteem.
“The ‘closing’? In the days leading to April 13 , I suffer for the regime of uncertainty that we experienced because of the difficulties in getting to the ‘closing’. When the last euro of the new ownership was paid, there was satisfaction, for me it was a day of almost childish joy.
“Milan has a set-up that leaves us happy for the future. Our squad is young, Italian and valuable, and it will be integrated over the years. Gattuso’s renewal is the icing on the cake. In terms of things off the pitch, we did a lot of things, even if there’re less visible, and in 3-4 years we will have another stadium to increase revenues, whether it’d be completely new or a renovated San Siro with Inter.
“The Chinese group and Yonghong Li? From day one they said that want to invest heavily in a team that is an icon in China. In 2-3 years, when the time is right, they would also like to put Milan on the Stock Exchange: Yonghong Li wants to remain the owner and continue this ambitious project. He is a man of few words, and a lot of concreteness. He speaks little, but effectively.
“He is different than the Presidents we are accustomed to, but every chat with him was incisive, like that of a few weeks ago when he asked me why I didn’t proceed with the renewal of Gattuso. Rino? When a three-year contract is given to such a young coach, the hope is to open a cycle like those of Ferguson and Wenger, but for now I would be satisfied if the next three years were of a rebirth.
“No UCL a catastrophe? No, absolutely not. Maybe we’ll invest less, but all the plans we’ve presented to UEFA and investors have been made without the Champions League, so the fans can be calm. Obviously, this summer will be a market campaign with a different balance between signings and departures but above all to satisfy UEFA: it’s difficult to imagine paying very big fees for players.”
Milan will continue their work on and off the pitch, with the intention to return to the top of world football. The more immediate target is securing European football for next season, as Milan sit in 6th.