The saga of the rumoured sale of AC Milan reads like a detective story. On Thursday several news outlets reported that its owner Silvio Berlusconi is pondering over two competing offers for the club, that could see a majority stake go to either Thai or Chinese bidders.
Italian media have been frantically running after all sorts of gossip in the past few weeks. They seem to talk of nothing else. All want to be the first in breaking the latest on the upcoming sale of AC Milan. But the news changes at a dizzying pace.
Mr Bee or Mr Lee?
The race for AC Milan has now entered its final stage. The finalists: Bee Taechaubol from Thailand and Richard Lee from Hong Kong. Initially, Mr Bee seemed to have a clear advantage. Through a minority stake in Atletico Madrid, his company has already accrued a considerable football-related know-how. This is important to Silvio Berlusconi, who would like to remain honorary President of AC Milan until, as rumors have it, 2020.
Last month media reports claimed Berlusconi had signed a preliminary agreement to sell 30% of the club to Mr Bee by the end of May for $272 million (€250 million).
Not to be beaten, Mr Lee has obtained the backing of the Chinese government, which has now weighted in. The Italian club is among the most popular foreign squads in China and the push for Berlusconi to sell, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, has come directly from the Chinese government as it hopes to raise the game's profile in the country. It is staking its hopes on a powerful brand like AC Milan and it wants a lot more than a 30% share.
The push had apparently paid off. Berlusconi was earlier this month quoted as saying he had agreed terms of selling a 75% stake in the club to a consortium led by Mr Lee for something close to $652 million (€600 million).
But Mr Bee is not to be outdone. Initially, expected in Milan on Sunday, he had reportedly brought his trip forward to Friday but the latest is that he's already arrived! He's clearly worried that Mr Lee might beat him at the photo finish.
But there's a catch for Il Cavaliere: previously, Mr Bee was reported to have offered Berlusconi $1.3 million (€1.2 million) for the control of the club but having examined the books, he has dropped his bid to $815 million (€750 million).
But now Italian TV channels are talking of a $543/652 million (€500/600 million) offer by Mr Bee for 60-65% of the club, same as Mr Lee's latest offer.
Giants No More?
Mr Bee appears to have a reason. The Serie A giants are not what they used to be. Berlusconi's family no longer has either the resources, or the will, to help AC Milan compete with the likes of Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Berlusconi's eldest daughter, and heir to his business empire, Marina, never took an interest in AC Milan. Nor did her brother, Pier Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi himself is no longer to be seen at San Siro stadium, where he was for decades a fixed feature of tribuna d'onore. Marina rarely sat it out to the end of a game.
Ancelotti "Berlusconi will remain forever linked to Milan, I hope Inzaghi remains with the Rossoneri. Me to Inter? I am loyal to my past"— AC Milan 100% (@Planetmilan) April 20, 2015
As for AC Milan fans, disgruntled by many years of meagre results, they have repeatedly told Berlusconi something not always completely fit to print:
"Put up the money or get the f*** out, Silvio."
Precisely that — putting up the money, loads of it, is what Berlusconi, let alone his family, has not been willing to do.
At his — and the club's heyday — Berlusconi could always rely on AC Milan's fans as loyal voters. When he first became Italy's Prime Minister in 1994, AC Milan had already won a dozen titles worldwide under Berlusconi's patronage.
And now? AC Milan has long lost its lustre. It hovers at the middle of the league. With all probability, AC Milan may not qualify for next year's (2015-2016) European championships. The same fate awaits the other Milanese team, Inter Milan.
Ironically, while the UEFA's Champions League 2016 Final will take place in Milan's San Siro Stadium, there might be no Milanese team playing anywhere in Europe that year…
Maybe China or Thailand… Any bets?