A group of Chinese investors is set to become the second-biggest stakeholder in an Italian soccer club, Milan's team Internazionale. With Europe's continuing economic troubles, fans say they are excited about the deal bringing more financial security and a new stadium, built by China's second-biggest construction company. Internazionale Milan, one of Italy's most famous teams, has played in the country's top league, Serie A, since its founding in 1908.
Massimo Moratti, the team president and main shareholder, recently announced an $87-million deal with a group of Chinese investors for 15 percent of the team's shares.
Sports commentator Gian Luca Rossi says Moratti's primary business in oil drilling and refining was hit hard by the political upheaval in Libya. Those losses, as well as the deepening of the economic crisis in Europe made it more difficult for him to fund the prestigious but less profitable soccer team.
"The dramatic thing here is that fans think that a poor country can still have a rich soccer," noted Rossi.
Rossi adds that Moratti had been looking for investment from Asia for at least two years.
"From what I gathered talking to Moratti recently, the idea of not having to be alone in writing checks for 20, 30, 50 million is something that gives him his breath back, and makes him look at the future with great optimism," said Rossi.
As part of the deal, a new stadium in Milan will replace the San Siro venue, which is shared with Inter's rival team AC Milan. The stadium will be built by the state-owned China Railway Construction Corporation as its first project in Europe.
"The stadium now, costs the two teams something like 16 million [euros - about $20 million] each year, so for each club it's a rent of eight million euro [$10 million]," Rossi noted. "Obviously, this is money that should be spent elsewhere, for a club that is supposed to be making important buys to stay competitive.
As fans gathered in Milan for the first match of the Italian championship, most were happy about Moratti's choice of partners.
"It is definitely a well-chosen deal," said Giacomo della Vecchia, president of a nearby city's Interclub. "Because nowadays there can be no tycoon, like in the past, that completely sponsors a team and uniquely shoulders all the expenses. It is a modern thing and I think it should be done."
Internazionale Milano was founded in 1908 after a schism within AC Milan about allowing foreigners to play. Gian Luca Rossi says the new deal is in character for the team.
"They said: 'No! Why can't a soccer team have foreign players? We will create one ourselves.' From that they chose the name International. So the idea of being opened up to the outside has always been there," Rossi said.
The new stadium is expected by 2017.