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Inter enter new era with Oaktree

MILAN (AFP) – Inter Milan entered an uncertain new era on Wednesday after US fund Oaktree took control of the Serie A champions following outgoing owners Suning defaulting on a debt worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Oaktree announced they had “assumed control” of Inter after the non-repayment of a “three-year loan to Inter Milan’s holding companies that matured on 21 May 2024 with a total balance due of approximately EUR395 million (USD428 million)”.

Chinese conglomerate Suning and president Steven Zhang have relinquished control of Inter to Oaktree three days after the team were officially crowned Italian champions for the 20th time.

Inter Milan’s President Steven Zhang holds the Serie A trophy. PHOTO: AP

Suning borrowed EUR275 million at over 12 per cent interest three years ago to pay staff and players as the Covid-19 pandemic ravaged the finances of clubs across Europe, putting up their controlling stake in the club as collateral.

Inter have ended up in the hands of Oaktree in a manner similar to the way another US fund, Elliott Management, took control of their local rivals Milan in 2018.

Elliott became Milan’s owners when Chinese businessman Li Yonghong was unable to repay a loan he had taken out when he bought the club from the late Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest the previous year.

Inter became a powerful force at home and abroad after Suning acquired around 68 per cent of the club in 2016, with seven trophies including two Serie A titles and two European finals.

Simone Inzaghi’s team cruised to this year’s championship, winning the Scudetto with five matches remaining by beating AC Milan in a thrilling local derby.

Inter players celebrate their victory of the “scudetto”. PHOTO: AP

Oaktree, which manages USD192 billion in assets, said they are “committed to working closely with Inter Milan’s current management team, partners, the league and governing bodies to ensure the club is positioned for success on and off the pitch”.

However Oaktree also suggested a period of belt-tightening might be on the way, saying they would work towards Inter’s “long-term prosperity” but “with an initial focus on operational and financial stability”.

Inter posted losses of EUR85 million in the 2022/23 season, following even heavier losses of EUR140 million and EUR245.6 million in the previous two seasons as stadiums were partially or fully closed due to the pandemic.

Talk of stability will inevitably lead to speculation over the future of some of Inter’s star names, including captain and this season’s Serie A top scorer Lautaro Martinez.

Zhang had been widely reported as negotiating a further EUR430 million loan with another US fund, Pimco, to pay off Oaktree and complete extensions not just for Martinez but also for Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella and Inzaghi.

But that deal never materialised and Zhang, who hasn’t been to Italy over a year and lost a court case with China Construction Bank over personal debts of EUR320 million, quietly ended his six-year presidency after blasting Oaktree on Saturday for “jeopardising” Inter’s financial stability.

Argentina forward Martinez, whose current deal expires in 2026, told the Gazzetta Dello Sport on Tuesday he was expecting and wanted to sign a contract extension next week but admitted “the situation with the club could delay everything”.

“We’re talking to (sporting CEO Giuseppe) Marotta and (sporting director Piero) Ausilio, but it depends on the owners,” said Martinez.

“Let’s wait and see, I don’t know what’s going to happen between now and next week but we don’t have any problems.”

Inter finish their season at Verona on Sunday night, triumphant on the pitch but in an unpredictable position off it after haemorrhaging money while racking up the trophies.