A.C. Milan is European soccer royalty, its global popularity driven not just by its 18 Italian league championships but also by its seven European titles. Those glories seem long ago these days — the last of Milan’s European Cups was won in 2007 — and now a financial crisis threatens to delay the club’s return to the top even longer.
European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, is concerned about Milan’s financial viability under its Chinese owner, and without a resolution Milan could face sanctions that include a ban from the continental competition it once ruled. Facing mounting concern over its violations of so-called financial fair play rules, created to keep clubs from spending more than they bring in, Milan’s management is trying to persuade regulators that its new Chinese owner, Li Yonghong, is capable of stopping the team’s bleeding millions of euros a year.
Those losses, fueled by more than $270 million in spending to acquire nearly a dozen new players last summer, surpass limits imposed on teams allowed to compete in UEFA’s two main club competitions: the Champions League and the second-tier Europa League.
Two weeks ago, a Milan delegation led by the club’s chief executive, Marco Fassone, and Li’s top deputy at the club, David Han Li, visited UEFA’s lakeside headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland, but a four-hour meeting and 160-page presentation outlining a four-year plan and a variety of multiple financial forecasts only produced more questions.
UEFA sent a letter to the club requesting clarification on several matters last Friday, on the same day The New York Times published an article raising doubts about Mr. Li’s financial resources. The Times article reported that phosphate mines Mr. Li claimed as the centerpiece of his business empire appeared to be owned by others.
Milan is in a critical period on and off the field. Despite spending far more than any of its domestic rivals on players last summer, Mr. Li’s first since his purchase, Milan is struggling in seventh place in Italy’s top division, Serie A, and remains 11 points out of the fourth-place position that would grant it access to the glamour and the riches of the Champions League next season.