The New York Times reporter who investigated Yonghong Li claims “it could be an embarrassing situation for Italian football. If I were a Milan fan, I’d want to know who owns the club.”
The paper published an analysis of the situation, including interviews and visits to the supposed offices in China, finding dead ends and a surprising lack of information.
“We started concentrating on football in China when it became a priority for Xi Jinping,” New York Times reporter Tariq Panja told La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“We wanted to understand why China were investing in football abroad and who the investors were. Milan are the most intriguing case: it was by a long shot the most expensive club and involved a person who was largely unknown. The owner of Inter (Suning Group), on the other hand, is very well-known.
“We worked on this story for a few months, in China and in other areas of the world. We tried to talk to as many people as possible and almost nobody had ever heard of Li Yonghong in China. They asked us how it was possible that someone like that could be behind the purchase of such a famous club.”
His wealth is the subject of some confusion too, as the New York Times found “no evidence that he is the owner of Guandong Lion, the company that controls the mines.”
The American newspaper even visited the supposed offices of Yonghong Li in China and found them practically abandoned.
The club was purchased after many delays with the aid of a high-interest loan from hedge fund Elliott Management, so why did the Italian authorities approve the takeover?
“You’d have to ask them. In my view, they should’ve checked more carefully,” continued Panja.
“Considering the way things are going now, it looks as if it could conclude with an embarrassing situation for Italian football. If I were a Milan fan, I’d want to know who owns the club. It ought to be clear.
“The price of the purchase was already very high and the other Elliott assets are all timebombs waiting to go off. I don’t see how Milan can pay their debts with the current cash influx.”
Elliott Management are a ‘vulture fund’ – so they tend to offer high-interest loans to companies who are in serious trouble, then buy the debt at a discounted price and sell it off in pieces.
Milan director of sport Massimiliano Mirabelli was asked specifically about the New York Times story on Saturday.
“We look only at concrete facts. We won’t reply every time a newspaper writes something about us, as we are accustomed to it now,” he told Mediaset Premium.