Chinese company Suning buys majority stake in Inter Milan

Javier Zanetti, right, former captain of Inter Milan, and Zhang Jindong, chairman of Suning Group, pose for photos during a presser in Nanjing in eastern China's Jiangsu province Monday, June 6, 2016. (Chinatopix/AP)

NANJING, China — Retail giant Suning has bought a majority stake in Inter Milan, marking the latest entry into the European soccer market by cash-rich Chinese firms.

The announcement was made by company chairman Zhang Jindong at a glitzy news conference Monday in the eastern city of Nanjing.

Suning said in a later news release that it was buying nearly 70 per cent of the club’s equity for approximately 270 million euros ($306 million).

The deal leaves International Sports Capital as the sole minority shareholder at Inter Milan with Erick Thohir retaining his position as president.

"Suning Holdings Group will continue to support the global business strategy of Erick Thohir and his senior management team in order to make Inter Milan even stronger and more competitive, both on and off the pitch, by investing in the core business and expanding the brand’s geographic reach, notably in China and Asia," the club said in a statement.

Internazionale Holding will give up its share and former President Massimo Moratti will leave the club.

Inter won 16 trophies in Moratti’s 18 years in charge, including an unprecedented treble of the league, Italian Cup and Champions League under Jose Mourinho in 2010. However, it has since missed out on European soccer twice in the last three years.

An unexpected title challenge seemed possible last season as Inter led Serie A toward the end of first half of the campaign, but the team collapsed at the start of 2016 and eventually finished fourth.

Suning already owns the Jiangsu Suning club in the Chinese Super League and hopes to leverage Italy’s expertise to boost the level of the domestic game.

"I feel deeply that taking on a club such as Inter Milan with such an illustrious history and glorious tally of victories is not only an honour but also a mantle of responsibility," Zhang said.

Apart from Suning, Chinese shopping mall and real estate conglomerate Wanda last year bought Swiss sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media, which produces World Cup broadcasts for FIFA, and took a 20 per cent stake in Spanish team Atletico Madrid.

Reports have also circulated about Chinese interest in Inter’s crosstown rival, AC Milan. Chinese firms have also poured money into the domestic league, making it the world’s priciest transfer market this year.

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