(This page may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)
Storied Italian soccer club AC Milan has been sold to a Chinese consortium, says the club’s owner, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Berlusconi, who served four terms as prime minister but was later convicted of tax fraud and bribery, told a Italian newspaper Tuesday that the deal would bring in around $830 after the club’s debt had been settled, reports the BBC.
“Milan has now embarked on this path towards China,” Berlusconi said in a video posted on the website of La Gazzetta dello Sport, according to a translation provided by Bloomberg. “It’s an important decision to give AC Milan to someone able to make it be a protagonist in Italy, Europe and globally.”
However, the 79-year-old did not disclose the identity of the buyers, leading to speculation the deal for the Rossoneri — the world’s third most successful club with 14 European and four world trophies — had still to be finalized. Robin Li, head of Chinese search engine Baidu, and Jack Ma, founder of online marketplace Alibaba, are thought the most likely candidates.
The sale would represent latest high-profile acquisition by Chinese investors seeking to make waves in the so-called “beautiful game.” Last month, AC Milan’s city rival Internazionale was sold to Chinese electronics retail giant Suning, while British club Aston Villa was bought by Chinese technology businessman Tony Xia. Construction giant Wanda Group also owns 20% of Spain’s Atletico Madrid.
“Chinese are especially great admirers of Italian clubs,” Qiang Bai, CEO of the Sports International Beijing agency, tells TIME. “Many middle-aged Chinese grew up watching Italian clubs on TV.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping is a self-professed soccer fan and in 2014 outlined a 50-point plan to revitalize the nation’s prowess at soccer. Aside from acquisitions abroad, some of the world’s top soccer stars have begun playing for Chinese teams.