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Inter under new management as Suning defaults

Updated: 2024-05-24 09:16
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Inter Milan's former president Steven Zhang smiles as he holds the Italian Super Cup in 2022. AP

MILAN — Inter Milan entered an uncertain new era on Wednesday after US asset management firm Oaktree Capital took control of the Serie A champion after outgoing owner Suning defaulted on a debt worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Oaktree Capital announced that it had "assumed control" of Inter after the non-repayment of a "three-year loan to Inter Milan's holding companies, which matured on 21 May 2024 with a total balance due of approximately 395 million euros ($428 million)".

Chinese conglomerate Suning and president Steven Zhang have relinquished control of Inter to Oaktree Capital three days after the team was officially crowned Italian champion for the 20th time.

Suning borrowed 275 million euros at over 12 percent interest three years ago to pay staff and players, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the finances of clubs across Europe, putting up their controlling stake in the club as collateral.

Inter has ended up in the hands of Oaktree Capital in a manner similar to the way another US asset management firm, Elliott Management, took control of its local rival AC Milan in 2018.

Elliott became Milan's owner when Chinese businessman Li Yonghong was unable to repay a loan he had taken out after buying the club from the late Silvio Berlusconi's Fininvest media group the previous year.

Inter became a powerful force at home and abroad after Suning acquired around 68 percent of the club in 2016, with two European final appearances and seven trophies, including two Serie A titles.

Simone Inzaghi's team cruised to this year's championship, winning the Scudetto with five matches to spare by beating AC Milan in a thrilling local derby.

Oaktree Capital, which manages $192 billion in assets, said it is "committed to working closely with Inter Milan's current management team, partners, the league and governing bodies to ensure the club is positioned for success on and off the pitch".

Inter's sporting and corporate CEOs Giuseppe Marotta and Alessandro Antonello were then pictured, all smiles, at a meeting with two of Oaktree Capital's managing directors, sending a clear message that no sweeping changes are coming in the immediate future.

Heavy losses

However, Oaktree Capital also suggested a period of belt-tightening might be on the way, saying it would work towards Inter's "long-term prosperity", but "with an initial focus on operational and financial stability".

Inter posted losses of 85 million euros in the 2022/23 season, following even heavier losses of up to 245.6 million euros in the previous two seasons, as the club suffered financially due to the pandemic.

Talk of stability will inevitably lead to speculation over the future of some of Inter's star names, including its captain and this season's Serie A top scorer, Lautaro Martinez.

Zhang was widely reported to have been negotiating a further 430 million euro loan with another US investment management firm, PIMCO, to pay off Oaktree Capital and complete extensions not just for Martinez, but also for Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella and Inzaghi.

That deal, however, never materialized, and Zhang, who hasn't been to Italy in over a year and lost a court case with China Construction Bank over personal debts of 320 million euros, quietly ended his six-year presidency after blasting Oaktree Capital on Saturday for "jeopardizing" Inter's financial stability.

Argentina forward Martinez, whose current deal expires in 2026, told the Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday that he was expecting to sign a contract extension next week, but admitted "the situation with the club could delay everything".

"Let's wait and see, I don't know what's going to happen between now and next week, but we don't have any problems," said Martinez.


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