AC Milan are about to close one of the biggest deals in club history, just as they are about to welcome a new investor.
The timing really is perfect. Just a week ago, a statement on the club's website confirmed that Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol and his consortium had agreed to acquire 48 per cent of Milan. Only a few days later, the Rossoneri had apparently captured one of the biggest names in the transfer window, the 28-year-old Colombian striker Jackson Martinez.
He is going to cost Milan a total of €35 million (including bonuses), according to Spanish newspaper Marca (h/t Football Italia). Only two others players in the club's 106-year history have cost more: Filippo Inzaghi and Rui Costa.
To help with the project, Taechaubol has enlisted the help of his friends at the investment company Doyen Sports, which confirmed on its website that it will be "working" with Milan as a result of the impending sale.
Milan's vice-president Adriano Galliani flew to Porto earlier in June to initiate the deal for Martinez, per ESPN FC. Around the same time, Taechaubol posted a photo on Instagram of Galliani and Doyen's CEO Nelio Lucas on a plane, while Marca suggests Doyen was involved in the deal. What this new partnership brings, however, is much more than one signing. It opens up a whole debate on the future of Milan.
Doyen Sports is not the most transparent company in the world. Technically, it is a Malta-based subsidiary of the hedge fund Doyen Group, but in the football world, it is one of the most active players in third-party ownership (TPO), which FIFA intends to ban worldwide despite complaints from Doyen, according to Bloomberg.
The investors backing the company remain anonymous; their motivations even more so. Colin McGowan of Vice Sports referred to the group as a "shady conglomerate that has no focus other than return on investment."
And then there are the legal battles: It is currently embroiled in court proceedings against Sporting Lisbon over the transfer of their client Marcos Rojo to Manchester United. According to Bloomberg, the allegations revolve around the man currently advising Galliani, Mr. Nelio Lucas, who reportedly "pressured" Sporting president Bruno de Carvalho to sell the defender.
Doyen had 75 per cent of Rojo's economic rights, and the investment firm is charged with "inducing the transfer of the player against the club's interest," writes Tariq Panja of Bloomberg.
This is exactly where Doyen Sports has made its name: investing in and trading players around the globe. Doyen Sports has acquired €80.4 million of players' rights from clubs since 2011, according to ESPN FC, and they have likely made millions more in profits.
Because of FIFA's opposition to TPO, Doyen has insisted their business with Milan is completely different. In a statement to Corriere della Sera (h/t Rossoneri Blog), Doyen clarified that it is "not funding any transfer because it is no longer possible."
"We can help Milan return to being great with our knowledge in the field of the transfer market and for example with our team of scouts, which is one of the secrets to our success," the statement read.
It is no coincidence that some of the names they are chasing have links to Doyen Sports: Monaco's Geoffrey Kondogbia is one of them, and Milan are already "very confident" on a €30 million deal for the 22-year-old, according to Gianluca Di Marzio's website. There is also Santos midfielder Lucas Lima on Milan's radar, per Uol.com.br (h/t Football Italia). Doyen, of course, has a stake in the Brazilian.
Lucas could potentially influence Milan to sign his company's players, whether they're the right fit or not.
What's to stop Doyen from using the Rossoneri as a promotional vehicle for its own clients before seeing them take bigger deals down the line? Financially, Milan are vulnerable, and they need to make deals to compete again. They need a group like Doyen on their side, no matter their history.
Therein lies the risk.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelt the name of AC Milan's vice-president. It's Adriano Galliani, not Adriano Galliano.