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New AC Milan president Li given Berlusconi backing

Milan (AFP) – Yonghong Li was officially named AC Milan’s new president on Friday, but reminded fans the Serie A club’s new Chinese owners could “always count on” iconic former owner Silvio Berlusconi.

A remarkable 31-year reign at the Italian giants ended for Berlusconi on Thursday when the 80-year-old media tycoon and former prime minister of Italy sold Milan to Chinese consortium Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux.

The 740 million-euro ($786 million) deal, dogged by months of delays, sees mystery Chinese businessman Li — whose 500m euros fortune reportedly comes from the construction and packaging businesses — take over as the new boss.

Li, who led the takeover alongside fellow businessman Han Li, became Milan’s 22nd president following a general assembly.

Having dined with Berlusconi at his villa in Arcore following the conclusion of Thursday’s deal, Li told Mediaset Premium on Friday: “He’s someone for whom I have a lot of respect, he steered Milan to untold success and gave the fans so much joy.

“Last night we had a good chat and he said if we ever needed to, we could always count on him.”

A former three-time Prime Minister of Italy who was embroiled in a series of scandals during a storied political career, Berlusconi bought the ailing Serie A club in 1986 and oversaw the most successful spell in its history.

Although watching Milan struggle to even qualify for Europe in recent seasons, he saw five Champions League trophies, eight Serie A titles, seven Italian Super Cups and five UEFA Super Cups go into the club’s trophy cabinet among a total of 29 trophies.

Berlusconi said he could no longer support the club financially in an ever-competitive international football club market.

“… to compete at the highest levels in the modern game we need outside investment and resources that a single family is no longer able to support,” he said Thursday in a touching farewell statement.

“I will always be AC Milan’s number one fan and I wish the club’s new owners all the best for the future.

“I offer them my most cordial wishes and hope they achieve many more extraordinary feats than we did.” 

Matching those feats is a challenge the new owners said they are ready to meet.

Although the immediate priority is to see Milan clinch a top five finish in Serie A to book a Europa League spot for next season, the Rossoneri are targeting a Champions League spot in 2018 when four Serie A teams, instead of three, can qualify for Europe’s premier club competition.

“The Champions League is a platform a club like Milan can’t be without,” said Milan’s new chief exectuvie Marco Fassone.

“There are four places up for grabs as of 2018-2019, so I won’t hide the fact that our aim is to take one of those places.

“That is our aim, but we also want to create a strong and competitive squad.”

One of Milan’s internal priorities is to secure the services of 18-year-old goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Considered the heir to Italy and Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he grew up idolising, Donnarumma is a target for a number of top clubs despite signing a new-improved three-year deal last year.

Fassone added: “He is our top priority. We want to make sure Donnarumma is a pillar of this team for the future.”

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