Milan banned from Europa League as bidders circle

Reuters
European soccer has banned Italy's AC Milan from next season's Europa League competition because of its uncertain finances.
Reuters

European soccer has banned Italy’s AC Milan from next season’s Europa League competition because of its uncertain finances, even as sources said a second United States sporting tycoon had expressed interest in taking over the club.

UEFA announced the ban on Wednesday after a probe under its Financial Fair Play regulations, in particular the break-even requirement. It said Milan had not provided sufficient evidence of its financial stability.

The ban further complicates the future of the club, whose Chinese owner Li Yonghong is considering an offer for a majority stake in Milan from cable television billionaire Rocco Commisso, sources said.

Commisso, owner of North American soccer team New York Cosmos, has bid for 70 percent of Milan, said a source.

Commisso’s bid follows a public expression of interest last week from the Ricketts family, owner of Major League Baseball team Chicago Cubs. The Ricketts said in a statement they would be long-term investors in Milan.

As bidders circle, Li is trying to solve his own funding problem so that he can improve his negotiating position in any sale process, the sources said, adding that he was likely to try to solve the funding issue before making any decision on a bid.

Last week, Li failed to make a 32-million euro (US$37 million) payment to Milan, the final part of 120 million euros he had committed to pay the club as part of his agreement to buy it from former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

After Li failed to make the final payment, US investment fund Elliott, which helped fund his 740-million euro acquisition of the club last year, stepped in and paid it instead.

If Li cannot repay Elliott by July 6, the fund manager could gain full ownership of the club which has won what is now the UEFA Champions League seven times, the sources said.

Milan has qualified for the Europa League, so the ban by European football’s governing body UEFA will stop it from playing in that competition. It is the heaviest sanction yet for a FFP breach on a club from one of Europe’s top five leagues.

UEFA rejected a plea from Milan in December to waive the rules after Li bought the club last year from Italian holding company Fininvest, in turn owned by the Berlusconi family.

Milan said in a statement on Wednesday that it would ask the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne to review UEFA’s ban.

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