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Inter trouble

Inter trouble

Nicolo Barella, one of Italy’s most talented players, has just claimed two winners’ medals with club and country. But he’s returning to a side that’s looking precariously close to collapse.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Basia and this is the Playmaker

One story every day to make sense of the world of football. 

Today a mess at Inter. 

***

“Teenager Bukayo Saka… and it’s saved! And Italy are the European Champions! It is going to Rome.”

ITV Sport

When the Italian national team returned to Rome following their Euro 2020 victory in the summer, midfielder Nicolo Barella looked like he had been enjoying the celebrations, maybe a little too much. 

The morning after the night before, there were pictures of the 24-year-old hiding his eyes with dark sunglasses and clutching a bottle of water. 

The party was the culmination of a triumphant few months for Barella. He’s won the Serie A with Inter and then the Euros with Italy. 

Sounds from Inter lifting trophy: “Campeones, Campeones, ole, ole, ole!”

Serie A

And if his hangover didn’t bring him back down to earth with a bump, a return to his club side definitely would have done. To put it simply – it was a mess. 

Gone was Antonio Conte – the Coach who masterminded Inter’s Scudetto win. Gone was star left-back Achraf Hakimi. The cash-strapped team had also sold their main goal-scorer, striker Romelu Lukaku had gone to Chelsea for a little under 100 million pounds.

For Nicolo Barella – who plays on the left-hand side of a midfield three – it means that the players behind him and in front of him on the pitch have now gone. So, instead of returning to take his place as part of a familiar winning side, Barella’s return is full of uncertainty.

And it goes all the way to the top. Chinese company Suning owns a majority stake in Inter. They are in big financial trouble. 

Suning were a once booming electronics retailer.

“The deal that was announced today here in China sees China’s Suning Holdings group purchasing a 70 or so percent stake in the club, in really what is a landmark deal for Chinese investment in overseas football. The deal, announced at a press conference after the two sides met back in January, the details ironed out ever since. And if you don’t know much about Suning, here in China a very very famous, known primarily as a retail large appliance dealer and had sales of almost 25 billion US dollars last year and roughly 1600 locations throughout the country, clearly it has a lot of money to spend.”

CNN

But for various reasons – aggressive expansion, the impact of the pandemic – means Suning are now billions of pounds in debt.

And the Chinese government, who have severely clamped down on money from their country being used to bankroll European football, having to bail out Suning, buying a 23% stake.

But even this won’t rescue the company. Their problems are multiple and extremely complex.

“Well, they went on a shopping spree just like H&A did and just like Wanda did, both companies that were ultimately reigned in by the government and forced to sell off assets or taken over completely. What they did was buy into areas like real estate and finance, even sport! Suning owns the European, the Italian soccer team Inter Milan. So, it is a consequence of that and some of those bets have come home to roost in terms of the debt that was used.”

Bloomberg Markets and Finance

These problems have had a big effect on Inter, with players’ wages issued late and transfer instalments to other clubs also delayed.

They’ve had to take a loan from US firm Oakwood Capital just to cover the club’s operating costs. And that means if Suning default on payments, Oakwood could seize control of the club.

It’s happened before, to neighbouring AC Milan when Chinese investor Li Yonghong failed to make a repayment to Elliott Management and the club ended up in their hands by default.

So, you might ask, fairly, why don’t Suning just sell Inter? 

Well, they were looking at doing just that before the European Super League plans were announced. 

And then suddenly, Inter had a financial lifeline with the income the Super League would’ve generated. When that fell through, the Chinese owners were left in the lurch. 

Which all means there’s no end in sight for Inter. And there’s no guarantee that there won’t be more player sales before the end of the transfer window either.

Meanwhile, Nicolo Barella is a talented young star who has just claimed two winners medals with club and country. He’s returning to a side that’s hobbling, and there’s not much hope that Inter can extend their title-winning run this season. 

That’s got to be a huge disappointment for one of Italy’s most talented players. 

It’s looking precariously close to collapse. 

Today’s episode was written by me Chloe Beresford and produced by Imy Harper.