For Milan fans, the news was bad enough that they had been trounced by rival Inter while being watched by their owner and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. However, a rumor circulating that Berlusconi has been in negotiations to sell the club to Libyan leader Muammar al-Gadaffi adds to the confusion about whether the team is a serious threat to the scudetto and Champions League.
While it may seem unfathomable to some that Gaddafi could own the club, the rumors and the connections between the two prompted the President of the Italian Football Association (FIGC) Giancarlo Abete to speak last Friday on the subject of foreign ownership of Italian clubs. Abete praised the Italian families that owned clubs and expressed his opposition to foreigners owning Italian teams.
Currently, no Serie A club is owned by a non-Italian; however last month American businessman Tim Barton began the process of purchasing Serie A newcomer Bari. Even though he is currently awaiting approval for his bid, the Gilletti have already been very active in the recently closed transfer market in anticipation of a new source of funds.
Foreign ownership is nothing new to fans of the English Premier League: powers Manchester United (American Malcolm Gladwell), Liverpool (Americans Hicks and Gillett), and Chelsea (Russian Roman Abramovich) are all foreign-owned. The foreign owners have kept the clubs profitable and expanded their global outreach even if they have failed to win over the confidence of all their English fans.
Mr. Abete is rightfully concerned that one of his owners could sell a club to a “questionable” ownership group or one that could bring scandal to Italian football. However, the benefit of expanding potential owners to foreigners can benefit the game in the long run. Having, for example, an American owner like Barton will allow him to put his company’s assets into keeping the club competitive, as well as expanding their fan base internationally. Imagine Bari kits being sold in American sporting goods stores, the forming of American fan bases, and advertising in places like Dallas. Foreign owners can allow Serie A to continue its quest to level itself with the Premier League by engaging people from the owner’s country in the team.