Milan, June 29 (IANS) The advent of China’s retail giant Suning Group as the majority shareholder of Inter Milan offers an opportunity for China to enhance its national football project, according to the management of the Italian club.
“Suning has already agreed to build its second academy in China, because now we only have one in Italy which is one of the best in Europe,” Inter president Erick Thohir said. “It is interesting to build a second project in China, which hopefully can be done by March or April next year,” he added.
The new academy, Thohir explained to Xinhua, will help talents from China become high-quality footballers to be able to play in the Chinese national team and also in other parts of the world. “I really believe that China has the potential with its 1.3 billion population,” he stressed.
A news conference was held here on Tuesday to officially unveil the Chinese shareholder to the local press.
Suning Sports, a newly established company under Suning Group, on June 6 announced the deal for 270 million euros (nearly $300 million) sealing the acquisition of 68.55 per cent stake of Inter Milan.
Indonesian businessman Thohir, who had previously owned the majority stake in the club, was staying on as the president with a 31.05 per cent stake.
Suning, Thohir told Xinhua, will further help the financial restructuring of Inter Milan after “the debt that we had previously has being going down in the last two years, while revenues have been going up”.
Thohir explained to Chinese media on the sidelines of Tuesday’s news conference that a key reason why he chose a Chinese shareholder was because he was looking for a partner “with an entrepreneurial background, but who also loves soccer”.
He noted that Suning has already proved to be able to build a good quality soccer club, when it bought Jiangsu Sainty last December and poured in more than 100 million euros (over $110 million) during the winter transfer window to create a star-studded squad in the Chinese Super League (CSL).
“Suning chairman Zhang Jindong believes in the project, and this is a new era that we can take off with the new partnership,” Thohir pointed out.
The second reason why Thohir chose China was that “from 264 million fans, we have 194 million in Asia Pacific, and China is more than 100 million. It is a reality that we have to be there.”
Inter Milan, Thohir went on saying, is the number one Serie A team in China in terms of fan number. Yet, “the philosophy of Inter Milan is not only business” so that “to be present in China also means be open to work with China to develop a healthy soccer environment in China,” he added.
Inter vice president Javier Zanetti also defined the entry of the Chinese shareholder as a great opportunity. “We have now to work all together in an aligned way to build a competitive team able to return to the highest level,” the Argentina and Inter legend told Xinhua.
Founded in 1908, Inter Milan has won 18 domestic titles and three UEFA Champions League trophies.
Zanetti told journalists he was particularly hit by the enthusiasm of Inter fans during his trips to China.
“China’s football is developing and becoming increasingly important, and the relation with our club will further contribute to the growth of a sector with great potential,” he highlighted.