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Oaktree takes control of Italian champions Inter

Inter Milan entered an uncertain era on Wednesday as US fund Oaktree took control of the Serie A champions. The takeover followed the outgoing owners, Suning, defaulting on a significant debt.

Oaktree announced they had “assumed control” of Inter after the non-repayment of a “three-year loan to Inter Milan’s holding companies that matured on 21 May 2024 with a total balance due of approximately 395 million euros ($428 million).”

Chinese conglomerate Suning and president Steven Zhang relinquished control of Inter just three days after the team was crowned Italian champions for the 20th time. Suning had borrowed 275 million euros at over 12 percent interest three years ago to pay staff and players during the Covid-19 pandemic, using their controlling stake in the club as collateral.

Inter now finds itself under Oaktree’s control in a manner similar to local rivals Milan, who were taken over by Elliott Management in 2018 when Chinese businessman Li Yonghong failed to repay a loan from Fininvest. Under Suning, Inter won seven trophies, including two Serie A titles and reached two European finals.

This year’s championship saw Simone Inzaghi’s team secure the Scudetto with five matches remaining by defeating AC Milan in a thrilling derby.

Oaktree, managing $192 billion in assets, committed to collaborating closely with Inter’s management, partners, the league, and governing bodies to ensure the club’s success on and off the pitch. However, they hinted at potential belt-tightening, emphasizing a focus on “operational and financial stability” for Inter’s “long-term prosperity.”

Inter reported losses of 85 million euros in the 2022/23 season, following even heavier losses of 140 million euros and 245.6 million euros in the prior seasons due to pandemic-related stadium closures.

This financial instability raises questions about the future of Inter’s star players, including captain and Serie A top scorer Lautaro Martinez. Zhang had been negotiating a 430 million euro loan with Pimco to pay off Oaktree and secure contract extensions for Martinez, Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella, and coach Inzaghi. However, the deal fell through, and Zhang, who had been absent from Italy for over a year, ended his presidency after criticizing Oaktree for “jeopardising” Inter’s financial stability.

Martinez, whose current contract expires in 2026, expressed uncertainty about his future, stating that while he expects a contract extension, “the situation with the club could delay everything.”

Inter finishes their season at Verona on Sunday, triumphant on the pitch but facing an unpredictable future off it.

(Source: AFP)

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