Suning’s tenure with Inter Milan a tale of reckless ambition in soccer investment

Zhang Kangyang. Photo: China News Service

Former Inter Milan president Zhang Kangyang Photo: China News Service/Inter Milan

 

The upheaval within Italian soccer champions Inter Milan marks another chapter of mismanaged sporting ambition. US investment fund Oaktree Capital Management has said it took ownership of Inter after a missed 395 million euro ($428 million) payment from the club’s Chinese majority shareholder Suning.

This dramatic turn of events comes eight years after Suning’s acquisition of Inter, during which the company poured over 1 billion euros into the club. Despite winning seven trophies and restoring Inter’s prominence by reaching the European Champions League final and boosting stadium attendance, Suning’s tenure is now marred by financial mismanagement and strategic missteps.

Suning’s exit from Inter echoes the fate of Chinese businessman Li Yonghong’s ill-fated ownership of Inter’s cross-city rivals AC Milan. Both stories are underpinned by a common thread: a fundamental misunderstanding of soccer economics. These Chinese investors approached club ownership with a gambler’s mindset, mistakenly believing that winning championships would automatically translate into financial stability and commercial success. This misconception is emblematic of the broader pitfalls of high-rolling soccer investment, where money is indiscriminately spent in pursuit of glory without a sustainable financial plan.

Suning’s lavish spending indeed brought immediate success, as the achievement of Inter under Suning is unparalleled among Chinese investors in European soccer. But it also saddled Inter with unsustainable debt and ongoing financial losses. The reckless expenditure destabilized the club’s financial foundation, leading to a series of desperate measures, including the forced sales of key players like Achraf Hakimi and Romelu Lukaku. When potential investors were scared away by the mounting debt and financial instability, Suning’s broader sports management also began to crumble, as seen with the dissolution of Jiangsu Suning FC three months after winning the Chinese Super League in 2020.

The downfall of Suning with Inter and Li with Milan serves as a stark warning to future investors in soccer. Their shared narrative underscores the dangers of speculative investment and the flawed belief that titles alone can secure a club’s financial future. Success in modern soccer demands a delicate balance between competitive performance, commercial viability and sound financial management. Clubs that achieve this balance are not only successful on the pitch but also attractive assets in the marketplace.

Sustainable soccer clubs are built on robust financial health, a capacity for generating revenue, and a clear path to profitability. In contrast, clubs that rely on continuous financial bailouts become bottomless pits for capital, devouring investments without ever stabilizing. Such clubs turn into liabilities, their once-coveted status transforming into a burden too heavy to bear.

Chinese investors in soccer, and by extension other sports, need to move beyond the simplistic notion that winning championships can magically resolve all financial woes. While winning titles can elevate a club’s profile and attract sponsors, it does not guarantee a sound business model. The true essence of sports investment lies in understanding and navigating the complex interplay of sporting success, commercial operations, and financial prudence.

Suning’s misadventures at Inter highlight a critical lesson: glory on the field must be matched by diligence off it. The age of extravagant spending without regard for financial sustainability is over. Modern soccer demands a strategic approach, where long-term planning and financial discipline are as crucial as assembling a winning squad.

The fall of Suning at Inter serves as a wake-up call for all current and prospective soccer investors. The allure of instant success and glory must be tempered with a realistic and sustainable business strategy. Only by fostering a well-balanced approach can soccer clubs thrive in the long term, ensuring their legacy both on and off the pitch.

The author is a reporter with the

China-US 4th meetings of economic and financial working groups signal ‘steady, phased progress’ in stabilizing ties

China US Photo:VCG

China US Photo:VCG

The economic and financial working groups of China and the US held their fourth meetings in Washington DC on Tuesday, shortly after US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrapped up a high-stakes six-day visit to China last week, which led to new areas of consensus in the economic and financial fields. The meetings come ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s reported visit to China.

Observers said the dialogue, adding to a flurry of growing interactions between Chinese and US senior officials since the beginning of the year, showed that both sides attach high importance to bilateral economic ties. It also sent a positive signal on “steady and phased progress” in stabilizing relations between the world’s two largest economies.

As production capacity appeared on the agenda, observers also warned against the US taking a “two-dimensional” approach to China — that is, to maintain the overall stability of bilateral relations yet relentlessly suppress China’s emerging industries. Lately, this has centered on a bizarre narrative that labels Chinese clean technology exports with the “overcapacity” tag. 

While dialogue to some extent helps prevent trade tensions from veering into conflicts, the ball is in the US court to stop politicizing economic matters and get relations back to the right track, they stressed. 

During the fourth meeting of the economic working group, the two sides engaged in “in-depth, pragmatic and constructive” dialogue on how to implement the consensus reached earlier by leaders of both groups, the macroeconomic situations of both countries and the world, as well as balanced growth, according to a statement on the website of China’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday.

The Chinese side also expressed concern about US trade and economic restrictions against China and responded further on the issue concerning production capacity. They also discussed arrangements for future communication, and both sides agreed to continue their dialogue. 

The meetings took place on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

With regard to the fourth meeting of the financial working group, the two sides engaged in discussions on topics including each other’s monetary policies and financial stability, cooperation in financial regulation, institutional arrangements in financial markets, anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing, and other financial policy topics of mutual concern, according to a statement on the website of the People’s Bank of China (PBC), the country’s central bank.

Some of those topics were the new consensus on balanced growth and financial cooperation reached during Yellen’s visit to China last week. The two sides also agreed at that time on future meeting arrangements for the working group.

Chinese observers said that the fourth meetings are parts of a regular communication mechanism between China and the US, building on the San Francisco vision reached by leaders of both countries last year. It also underscored that both countries put great emphasis on bilateral economic relations, which are consequential not only for each other’s development but also to the global economy.

“As the US presidential election nears, the Biden administration is being hit with many pressures at home and abroad. So he has an urgent need to maintain ‘dynamically stabilized relations’ with China,” Diao Daming, a professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

While continued discussions signify a positive momentum in bilateral relations, observers pointed out that Washington’s China strategy is “two-dimensional” as the US on the one hand looks to deepen economic ties with China, yet on the other hand, it has been relentlessly cranking up trade tensions to suppress China’s tech industries.

Talks on production capacity appeared in the agenda of the economic working group’s meeting, as Chinese officials intensively criticized the “overcapacity” fallacy hyped by US and EU politicians.

Observers said that the claim of overcapacity is another card Washington recently put on the table to target China, which laid bare its hegemonic mindset as it is nervous about the rise of China’s advantageous industries, from new energy and artificial intelligence, telecommunication to steel.

There are more signs of escalating trade tensions. US President Joe Biden will call for tripling tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum on Wednesday when he speaks to union members in Pennsylvania, NBC News reported.

Analysts said that the reported move is another practice of targeting Chinese enterprises under the guise of so-called “overcapacity,” though chances could be high that it merely aims to score political points during the election campaign and won’t translate into reality. 

Zhou Mi, a senior research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times that China’s steel and aluminum exports to US were not very large, and the tariff hike, if carried out, would inflict more damage on the US global business credit and local manufacturers than to the China suppliers.

A fair and non-discriminatory perception of China lays the basic framework for further exchanges between the two countries, and only under such premise can the two sides identify more areas of cooperation and resolve controversies, analysts said.

During talks with Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, Chinese Premier Li Qiang stressed that the production capacity issue should start with economic laws and be viewed objectively and dialectically from a market viewpoint and a global perspective.

“Washington must bear in mind that Chinese exports are in line with WTO rules and the global trade pattern is determined by each country’s competitive edge,” Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. 

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai will tell lawmakers that the Biden administration is “taking a serious look” at US trade defense tools to deal with threats posed by China’s trade and economic policies, Reuters reported Tuesday.

 

Gao said that it is unlikely that a new tool will come out, considering the limited aces Washington holds. “It is also ironic that the US barks about ‘punishing’ China, which abides by WTO rules, with a tool that is set to be defiant to trading rules,” Gao added.