Sun, Oct 15, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Derby della Madonnina fever hits China

AFP, MILAN, Italy

Italy’s traditional derby match between soccer giants Inter and AC Milan now has a distinct Asian flavor and following, fueled by multimillion-dollar investments by the Chinese owners of the two clubs.

Today’s derby has gripped Milan including the city’s Chinatown district — and soccer fever has spread as far as Beijing.

The match is not only a duel between the city’s rival teams, but also their Chinese owners — Zhang Jindong, whose Suning Group bankrolls Inter, and Li Yonghong’s Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux Group, which owns Milan.

The flags of both teams flutter across the long avenue via Paolo Sarpi in the heart of Milan’s Chinatown — where many of the city’s 29,000 Chinese residents live — ahead of the Derby della Madonnina.

The excitement is also building thousands of kilometers away in Beijing. Milan officials on Friday launched the club’s Chinese branch to develop business partnerships.

“With an enormous base of devoted football fans in China, there is huge potential for Milan and for professional football in China,” Milan’s chief commercial officer Lorenzo Giorgetti said. “We are going to organize an event starting from next Sunday with our Fan Clubs in Beijing.”

“We are looking forward to embracing more and more Chinese partners who will help us on our journey back to glory,” he said.

Most of the Chinese residents in Sarpi hail from the Zhejiang Province in eastern China. The younger generation, in particular, have grown up with soccer and are devoted fans.

Many of them will be among the 70,000 spectators at the famed Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in Milan for a match between two former European superpower teams hoping to rekindle their glory days through the big injections of cash.

Milan have been completely overhauled at a cost of 230 million euros (US$272 million) by Li, who already paid 740 million euros to buy the club in April last year.

However, despite the heavy investment, Milan have failed to find their rhythm on the pitch, with Montella’s side sitting in seventh place on the Italian Serie A table.

Milan last won the Serie A title in 2011, while Inter’s last championship was in 2010.

Zhang’s Suning group paid nearly 270 million euros for Inter in June last year.

The club finished a disappointing seventh last season, one place behind Milan, but have made a brighter start to this year’s campaign, winning six of their first seven matches.

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