You’ve heard the story of Milan, but what does a Rossoneri expert have to say about the potential rise of the Diavolo? Rossella Marrai-Ricco spoke to Pasquale Campopiano, the leading journalist in Milan’s Chinese takeover, and author of #nerosurosso – a book which details how the sale of Milan to Rossoneri Sport Lux took place – to find out his thoughts on the matter...
Rossella Marrai-Ricco: Hi Pasquale, thank you for your time. You are regarded as a Milan expert in media circles. What have you made of the Rossoneri’s transfer market so far?
Pasquale Campopiano: Hello. I think AC Milan had a great market in the first weeks of this season. Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli were capable of reaching the right players for Vincenzo Montella’s project. They closed agreements before anyone else, because they had the time during the delays for the closing of the Chinese sale. Once they signed it, they had already agreed to finalise some negotiations – MateoMusacchio, Franck Kessie and Hakan Calhanoglu, for example, were in their mirror in the previous months. I think it was the right way to do it –the best way they could do it.
RMR: With 10 players having already signed, do you think Milan fans can expect more transfers?
PC: Yes, it’s not finished yet. I suppose Milan will do a couple of transfers – a great striker and another one in the same department… Maybe someone like Nikola Kalinic of Fiorentina, and one player between (Andrea) Belotti, (Pierre-Emerick) Aubameyang, (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic, Diego Costa or (Karim) Benzema. But there’s no hurry right now. They have the time to study the best deal.
RMR: You were very much involved in breaking the news regarding the closing of the Chinese takeover. What was your experience from a journalist’s perspective to see the sale happen, especially when you were breaking most of the news?
PC: It was a great voyage for me. I was lucky to get involved in this transaction; life told me it was the right moment for my work. But when I found out about the news of the greatest takeover in football, it was difficult not to follow the entire never-ending story. I was involved in secret meetings between mysterious buyers. I knew a great financial advisor like Sal Galatioto, the king of Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) in America; I found a lot of friends, and AC Milan fans. My work was a social investigation, and I tried to involve them with Twitter and Facebook. In the most hidden places of the negotiation, I tried to explain to them everything, and they were so grateful for my work. That was when my book #nerosurosso was published. They bought it before it went out in libraries. I sold 700 copies in few days and I have had requests for my book to be translated into English, Arabic and Chinese – it’s proof that I made it in the right way. I’m very proud of the work done.
RMR: You were one of the few that believed the closing could happen. Why were you always so positive about it happening despite all the delays?
PC: Each journalist has its source. I trusted in mine, from the first time. I was involved in a crazy transaction – I’m aware of it – but I’m sure that I did my work as best as possible. Of course, it was not easy, and by myself I had a lot of doubts during this story. But I was confident with my sources, and at the end, the facts gave me the right angle. I knew that Silvio Berlusconi was forced to sell, from the first day.
RMR: In brief, what was the reason behind all the delays in the finalization of the sale?
PC: The main reason for all delays is represented by the measures taken by the Chinese government on the export of foreign capital. The tightening of debt operations conditioned the whole takeover, and Yonghong Li was forced to recreate it all offshore. Obviously, the Chinese people had a lot of problems reaching $740 million – the highest paid figure to buy a soccer team. The great ability of Marco Fassone to involve the Elliott American hedge fund was the winning move to finalise the closing deal.
RMR: Do you believe that Yonghong Li and management have exceeded expectations already?
PC: I’m sure that nobody – me neither – could imagine the financial power the Chinese have shown these past few days. I think they were perfect in their work, and they had fine and clear ideas. All Rossoneri fans appreciated it, and the way they communicate with them. AC Milan is one of the most powerful clubs in the world, and in few weeks, they have demonstrated that means and ideas can make the difference. Not only money…
RMR: Looking at the new owners and management, the changed and leadership they have implemented, do you think Milan can return to being a European great again?
PC: I’m certain. AC Milan is a top club even if their recent story doesn’t read that way, but the aim of new ownership is to reach the top in European football again. With an industrial plan full of great purposes, they will do it, I’m sure! If they will not do, Elliot fund is capable of bringing the team to the top again. The Rossoneri fans must be confident.
RMR: You have written a book about the sale to Rossoneri Sport Lux. Can you tell us a little bit about it and the insights you attained?
PC: #nerosurosso, published by Ultra, is my first book. The book tells the story of Milan and the year of negotiations, delays and the dramatic turn of events, all narrated via social media. #nerosurosso is the “backstage” or the whole spy story – it’s a story within a story! It’s the narrating of my hardest and most exciting days alike, while I embarked on a long journey on my quest for the final ratification of the deal... Berlusconi's doubts, the huge mystery behind Yonghong Li (new chairman of AC Milan), the media attacks on the Chinese, the rift with advisor Sal Galatioto and the hedge fund Elliot. But first and foremost, the Rossoneri supporters who held their breath for so long… I take with me millions of fans to the “inferno”, the Devil’s house. With 122 million views on my Twitter account, I tried to show the full potential of journalism 3.0, at the time of social media. #nerosurosso is a true story that ends with the final approval of the deal on 13 April 2017 – the date that marks the end of the 30-year Berlusconi-Galliani rule, as well as the beginning of the new Chinese ownership and of the men that have been chosen to helm (steer) the club, Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli. It was a true, powerful and dramatic story. I’m proud to have written it.
RMR: Grazie (Thank you), Pask! We appreciate your insight.
CP: Prego (Pleasure).
This interview was originally published in Wednesday’s issue of Soccer Laduma – Africa’s biggest football publication - as part of a feature on AC Milan.