Silvio Berlusconi's sale of AC Milan would be the right move
Conflicting reports and a confusing sequence of events have dominated talk at AC Milan this week, with suggestions and subsequent dismissals that the club is nearing a potential agreement for a takeover.
Silvio Berlusconi, who has been at the helm of the Rossoneri since 1986, faces a bitterly difficult decision as to whether or not he should finally hand over the reins to new ownership. For a man who has overseen the club winning 28 trophies and has helped bring some of the most illustrious names in football to the San Siro, the time is right to now give the responsibility of taking the club forward to someone else.
Those interested parties are understood to be two Chinese groups, headed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd, respectively. With figures of €700m being touted in return for a majority stake in the club, the process appears to be gathering pace. Reports are suggesting that due diligence is already being carried out on both sides.
Further, Berlusconi is believed to be discussing the move with his family and relevant directors, with claims that he must decide by next Wednesday whether or not to sell to either of the reported investors despite their denials of interest. While it remains to be seen what impact new ownership would have on the club, with the usual suggestions that a new stadium and transfer funds to strengthen the squad would be the priority, it has become increasingly clear in recent years that the time for a change has arrived.
Rightly or wrongly, the 79-year-old has faced significant scrutiny over the last four years or so as the Rossoneri continue to slip further adrift of achieving their objectives. With Milan's competitiveness both in the transfer market and on the pitch diminishing as their lack of financial power has waned, it has unsurprisingly led to calls for change at the top with infamous protests and "Game Over" banners that have been seen at the San Siro.
Several coaches have paid the price for being unable to bring back success, although limited resources and a squad lacking the quality of previous tenures in the Berlusconi era were in fact to blame. Whether that was through unfair expectations or an inability to work with what they had, or both, it has been a disruptive and ultimately frustrating period for the Serie A giants, who have fallen well behind their rivals.
That in turn has also led to criticism of the former Italian PM, along with vice-president Adriano Galliani, who has been targeted by supporters due to his poor work in the transfer market.
It's easy to assume that a change in ownership will solve all the club's problems as money essentially talks and makes all the difference in modern-day football, aside from the exceptional anomalies such as Leicester City. However, for a club that is now risking on missing out on European football once again next season, something simply has to give and that means Berlusconi relinquishing control.
The right steps will have to be taken to ensure that any prospective owners know how to take the club forward, and aren't merely in it for financial reasons. For their part, the Alibaba group, headed by Asia's richest man, Jack Ma, have experience in dealing in football having bought a 40 percent stake in Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande.
Nevertheless, moving into the European market and potentially taking over at a club of the stature of Milan is a completely different proposition. In turn, the right infrastructure with the appropriate personnel will have to be put in place, along with a clear vision of how they see the future panning out. In that respect, former Guangzhou coach Marcello Lippi, who has been linked with the coaching post at Milan this year on numerous occasions, could indeed be the man to bridge that gap between the boardroom and training ground.
There have been countless high-profile cases in recent years where wealthy new owners have transformed a club for the better, namely Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Milan will hope to follow in their footsteps if a takeover is agreed. One thing is for certain though amid all the speculation; if Milan are to move forward, a change at the top is necessary and in turn it could filter down and help restore the club to its rightful place among the top clubs in Europe.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.