Inter's future bright under Inzaghi but off-field uncertainty reigns

AFP , Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

Inter Milan are flying high after sealing the Serie A title by winning the Milan derby but off-field uncertainty is still the order of the day for the new Italian champions.

Inzaghi
Inter Milan s Italian coach Simone Inzaghi celebrates winning the 2024 Scudetto championship title on April 22, 2024, following the Italian Serie A football match between AC Milan and Inter Milan at the San Siro Stadium in Milan. AFP

Last season's run to the Champions League final looked like a one-off for Inter, one of Europe's grand clubs who like much of the continent's football royalty have to deal with a huge resource gap to the Premier League and state-backed clubs like Paris Saint-Germain.

And their situation off the field is yet to fully stabilise even as they receive a second star on their jersey for their 20th league crown.

Hanging over Inter for the past three years has been an emergency loan taken out with investment fund Oaktree, which must be paid in full next month and after interest reportedly amounts to between 375-380 million euros.

That loan -- whose exact figure Inter would not confirm to AFP -- had been taken out in 2021 as Inter and other Italian clubs were hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oaktree can, much like Elliott did with Milan in 2018, take control of Inter should that loan either be not repayed or refinanced by Inter's Chinese owners Suning.

Inter president Steven Zhang appeared bullish at Sunday's Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, strongly hinting that come the summer he will still be president.

"Every day there are rumours (about Suning selling)... What I can say is that we will continue to fight, continue to win," said Zhang to Sky Sport on the paddock at the Shanghai International Circuit.

"None of the rumours are true. As long as I'm the president, as long as I'm the owner we're going to continue to win."

- New deal -

Zhang was not in Milan for -- Champions League final aside -- the biggest game of Suning's near eight-year reign as owners, and in fact hasn't been there for months.

Zhang, who lost a court case with China Construction Bank over personal debts of 320 million euros, is negotiating a reported 400-million-euro loan with another US fund, this time with Pimco, which Inter will use to pay off Oaktree and keep the club with Suning.

Contacted by AFP, Pimco said that they "couldn't discuss ongoing negotiations".

While effectively kicking the can down the road with another reported three-year loan with even higher interest than the 12 percent negotiated with Oaktree, strong performances on the pitch and in the transfer market should boost accounts which have taken a beating since the pandemic.

Inter's posted losses of 85 million euros in 2022/23, following even heavier losses of 140 million euros and 245.6 million euros in the previous two seasons as stadiums were partially or fully closed due to the pandemic.

Zhang also basically confirmed a contract extension for Simone Inzaghi, who has done a superb job in difficult circumstances since replacing Antonio Conte three years ago and is expected to sign an extension until 2027.

- Stadium uncertainty -

New deals for captain Lautaro Martinez and Italy midfielder Nicolo Barella are also in the offing, while this summer is set to be the first in some time where a star player won't need to be sold to balance the books.

"I've said many times that it's a gift for me as president to work with a coach like Inzaghi," added Zhang.

"He gives me confidence and keeps the environment calm and stable. We're going to continue together."

Inter also remain in limbo with regards to getting their own stadium after plans to build a new ground on the San Siro site with AC Milan petered out last year.

Inter have pushed ahead with a new stadium project in the town of Rozzano, just south of Milan, which corporate CEO Alessandro Antonello has said is the club's priority despite talks with AC Milan and Milan city council over potentially taking possession of a renovated version of the current San Siro.

Italian construction group WeBuild is working on a feasibility study for a renovation to be finished in June which the city of Milan hopes can convince its two world famous football clubs to stay within its borders.

Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala has repeatedly expressed worry about what will happen to the San Siro if both teams leave, with AC Milan having bought land in suburb San Donato Milanese for their own stadium project.

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