Are Foreign Investors Being Welcomed by Serie A?

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Are Foreign Investors Being Welcomed by Serie A?
(Photo by New Press/Getty Images)

The recent purchase of Bologna FC, which narrowly escaped relegation last season by finishing in 17th position in Serie A, hadn’t met the scale of other eminent signings during the concurrent transfer window.

Granted, the first goal scored by Cristiano Ronaldo in a Real Madrid jersey last week was feted with more ceremonious reaction than the managerial change witnessed by the lowly Italian club.

There are seemingly subtle, if non-existent, reverberations following the footsteps of Albanian businessman Rezart Taci, who now officially owns an 80 percent share in the Bologna-based side. But this particular change in ownership warrants appropriate recognition in studying the greater scope and health of Italian football.

Unlike the English Premier League—which has felt the largest brunt of temptation to capitulate clubs to wealthy entrepreneurs under lucrative circumstances—there has been an inviolable air about teams in the Italian system.

Foreign investors were hardly mentioned in the refrain of purchasing a football organization in Italy, but Taci has cut the banner as the first to do so.

Taci has explained he will be assertive as the majority stakeholder in the club, alluding to a more active participation off the pitch.

"It's a pleasure for me to come into the Italian football market,” he said. “Our objective is to strengthen the team and we will spend aggressively in order to make the team competitive."

Of course, the monetary value of the aforementioned 80 percent share is at an approximate €43 million, thereby limiting the extent of his machinations and purse in the market.

However, this presents a unique and unprecedented proposition for Serie A. A once impregnable league replete with native owners may be caving into the pressures of the recession-ridden economy and the challenges of maintaining the pace of the EPL and La Liga.

Real Madrid, it must be said, has only upped the ante required to compete with the best in Europe, with president Florentino Perez spending lavishly on Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema to create an intimidating—and gaudy—facade.

In that case, it has become harder for lesser teams to be appreciated, acknowledged or relevant in their own domestic enterprise.

However, up until a few weeks ago, tradition was also being waged in Italy.

For this project is not about turning a minnow into a monstrosity, as Abu Dhabi billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan wishes to accomplish with Manchester City. Rather, this has more resounding implications in the direction of ownership in Serie A, and the subsequent finances foreign leadership would afford clubs in the peninsula.

In other words, despite Bologna’s modesty, they could have very well set the dominoes in motion.

The same theme confronts AS Roma, which has publicly stated their interest in selling to a Swiss consortium to overtake the club in 2008. Negotiations have stalled, and it is clear that Roma has been handcuffed in the market as a result of the team’s lack of secure finances and unstable managerial structure.

Robert Aquilani, who is the subject of reports indicating he will join Liverpool on an €18-million deal, and Mirko Vucinic—along with Daniele De Rossi before he explicitly rebuffed a move to Arsenal—were once considered fixtures in the starting XI.

Under Rosella Sensi, who overtook Roma after her father’s death, the team has looked like it would severe relations with some of those players, making no real progress in patching together a stronger squad than last year.

Though she insists the transfer sheet will be used by the expiration of the window.

"Roma will always play with reliability and balance," Sensi told Rai Due. "We will do well in the transfer market, even if we have not been very active so far. It is a difficult market, but we will pull out all the stops and do the best we can."

If a consortium does end up buying a branded team like Roma, this may profoundly nudge the gate ajar for sponsors looking for a stake in Italian football. Even AC Milan has been embroiled in rumours about relinquishing the club to a group of Israelis.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter has warned about the ramifications of foreign investments, especially in fresher environments like Italy.

“In some cases a club can be used as a platform for politics,” he told ESPN in 2006.

“People are getting involved in football for political reasons ahead of football interests. We must safeguard the independence of football and we need the help of politicians to do this.”

Taci himself has his own selfish interests, as it is reported by USA Today that he could use Bologna as a portal for Albanian players.

Ideas like these contribute to the thought that, should Bologna’s purchase be a precursor of transformations to come, the complexion of Serie A could be reasonably different for both players and ownership tandems.

And it is a theory rooted in a team that has no greater significance in intercontinental competition, less so than Ronaldo.

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