Inter chief: Chinese investment key to clubs in Europe

Inter fans have seen Joao Mario join the Serie A club for €40 million (S$61.44 million) since Suning's takeover.
Inter fans have seen Joao Mario join the Serie A club for €40 million (S$61.44 million) since Suning's takeover.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • Chinese investment in European football is no short-term phenomenon and the opportunities it offers for the continent's clubs are "extraordinary", according to the chief executive of Inter Milan.

Chinese corporation Suning Holdings bought a majority stake in Inter in June, the first Italian Serie A club to come under Chinese ownership.

"There is definitely an environment that encourages investment in football now," Inter CEO Michael Bolingbroke told the Leaders in Sport Business Summit on Wednesday.

"There is a big drive for health in China and football is one of the favourite sports of the president (Xi Jinping). China needs know-how, so they can run leagues as successfully as we do, while in return the opportunities for clubs are enormous."

Suning, predominantly a white goods retailer, has a US$40 billion (S$54.85 billion) turnover and Bolingbroke says that having a partner with such an established reach is key to clubs making real inroads.

Previously, many European clubs have sometimes limited their bids to crack the world's most populous country to the odd friendly and some replica shirt promotion but now they are taking things far more seriously.

Inter are about to open an office in Nanjing and will employ 12 staff.

"We needed a Chinese partner to give us access to what is a vast market," said Bolingbroke, who was at the heart of Manchester United's push into Asia as CEO of the English Premier League club he left to join Inter in 2014.

"They already connect with customers and they are our fans - that creates that bridge that Europeans struggle with.

"We're the fourth most popular club in China but there is enough for everyone. But you need a partner and we have one who own a club (Jiangsu Suning) in the Chinese Super League, which is a great help as well."

While Inter and others are reaping immediate benefits from Chinese investment, already seen in the club's transfer spending, China's eye is also on the long game.

"The president has said they want to host the World Cup in 2030 and win it in 2050 - there aren't many countries looking that far ahead," said Bolingbroke. "That's the extent of the vision."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Inter chief: Chinese investment key to clubs in Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe