Milan (AFP) – Italy’s traditional derby match between footballing giants Inter and AC Milan now has a distinct Asian flavour and following, fuelled by multi-million dollar investments by the Chinese owners of the two clubs.
Sunday’s derby has gripped Milan including the city’s Chinatown district — and the football fever has spread as far as the Chinese capital Beijing.
The match is not only a duel between the city’s rival teams but also their Chinese owners — Zhang Jindong, whose Suning Group bankrolls Inter Milan and Li Yonghong’s Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux Group, which owns AC Milan.
The flags of both teams flutter across the long avenue via Paolo Sarpi in the heart of Milan’s Chinatown — where many of the city’s 29,000 Chinese residents live — ahead of the Derby della Madonnina.
The excitement is also building thousands of kilometres away in Beijing.
AC Milan officials on Friday launched the club’s Chinese branch to develop business partnerships.
“With an enormous base of devoted football fans in China, there is huge potential for AC Milan and for professional football in China,” AC Milan’s chief commercial officer Lorenzo Giorgetti said.
“We are going to organise an event starting from next Sunday with our Fan Clubs in Beijing.
“We are looking forward to embracing more and more Chinese partners who will help us on our journey back to glory!”
Most of the Chinese residents in Sarpi hail from the Zhejiang region in eastern China. The younger generation, in particular, have grown up with football and are devoted fans.
Many of them will be among the 70,000 spectators at the famed San Siro stadium for a match between two former European superpower teams hoping to rekindle their glory days through the big injections of cash.
AC Milan have been completely overhauled at a cost of 230 million euros ($270 million) by Li Yonghong, who already paid 740 million euros to buy the club last April.
But despite the heavy investment, Milan have failed to find their rhythm on the pitch yet, with Montella’s side currently sitting in seventh place on the Serie A table.
Milan last won the Serie A title in 2011 while Inter’s last championship was the previous season in 2010.
Zhang’s Suning group paid nearly 270 million euro for Inter Milan in June 2016.
The club finished a disppointing seventh last season, one place behind AC Milan, but have made a brighter start to the 2017-18 campaign, winning six of their first seven matches.
They currently sit third in the standings but are well aware of the added importance attached to Sunday’s traditional derby match.