Inter Milan chief sees Champions League wildcard merit

By Simon StoneBBC Sport
Inter CEO Michael Bolingbroke wants Asia friendly kick-offs

Inter Milan chief executive Michael Bolingbroke can see the merit in the idea of Champions League wildcards.

Barcelona want to invite teams into the competition that have not qualified through their league position.

Major English sides discussed it and Bolingbroke uses Serie A to show how a club's history can carry more weight.

"The TV income distribution here is based on performance not just in the last year but the last five and last 50," he said. "There is merit in that."

News of the Premier League's most wealthy clubs meeting to talk about the concept was greeted with scepticism, particularly as three of them - Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea - would not qualify for next season's Champions League on their current Premier League performance.

Like the three English clubs, Inter Milan are a former Champions League winner, lifting the last of three titles in 2010, when Jose Mourinho was in charge.

They have not qualified for the tournament since 2012 and did not play in any European competition for the second time in three seasons this term.

Bolingbroke said: "There are clubs who have not got to the competitions they think they need to. Many of these clubs have huge fan bases. That drives Uefa and drives revenues.

"The question is: do you need to find a balance between that and having the clubs in the competition that have performed well in the last 12 months?

"The conversations we have had with Uefa indicate to me that they fully understand what the concerns are and are going to address them."

Inter Milan
Inter Milan have won the European Cup three times, in 1964, 1965 and under Jose Mourinho in 2010

Italy's Premier League problem

In relative terms, Inter's income is falling.

The Italian club were 19th in the 2016 Deloitte Money League with a turnover of £114.45m. However, by the time the new Premier League TV deal takes effect at the start of next season, they may not be able to match the incomes of teams such as Stoke and Crystal Palace.

"The league in Italy is slipping and it needs to make some changes," said Bolingbroke. "It requires an embracing of international markets as well as domestic.

"Rather than being concerned by Stoke or Palace, as a club and a league we need to learn from the Premier League.

"It is not an accident the Premier League is doing as well as it is. It has taken years of planning. When you see a Premier League game, every seat is sold. The lighting is better. The grass is greener. It is one of those products you see on TV and say 'I wish I was there'. When you see a match and the stadiums are half empty it doesn't have the same appeal."

Looking towards Asia

Inter Milan
Inter Milan say 75% of their fans come from Asia

Inter estimate they have 265 million fans worldwide, of which 190 million are in Asia.

Yet four of their next five fixtures are evening games and their past six league games, including Saturday's 1-1 draw at Roma, were also played under floodlights.

Bolingbroke, former chief operating officer at Manchester United, feels it is a major flaw in the drive for increased commercial income.

"When we broadcast matches at 20:45 it is the middle of the night in Asia, so we miss 75% of our fan base," he said.

"Decisions like that need to be discussed at the league. People want to see matches live. That is the excitement of football. It is not much good when the game is shown at 03:00."

Stadiums showing their age

San Siro Stadium
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza is named after a two-time Italian World Cup winner from 1934 and 1938 who played for Inter Milan and AC Milan. San Siro is the district of Milan in which the stadium was built

With a capacity in excess of 80,000 the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza - San Siro - used by both Inter and AC Milan is the fourth largest club ground in Europe and will host the 2016 Champions League final.

Opened in 1926, it was refurbished for the 1990 World Cup, when it hosted the opening game between Argentina and Cameroon.

It has only 30 executive suites compared to 146 at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. Inter's matchday income in 2014-15 was £16.9m, 63% of Newcastle's £26.8m.

"In the UK, most stadiums are owned by the clubs so if the owner wants to invest in it, they can," said Bolingbroke.

"In Italy it is slightly different. Most of the stadiums are owned by the local councils, so they need to see the business case for doing the refurbishment. That makes it more complicated. The Italian economy has gone through difficult times in recent years as well, so money has been prioritised in other areas.

"But there is an understanding that investment is needed. As a league, we need to prioritise that."

The challenge ahead

Flare is thrown
Trouble flared at the Turin derby last season

Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir bought a 70% stake in Inter in October 2013. Of the 18 Serie A clubs, only Roma and Bologna also have overseas owners.

Bolingbroke says it is only by widening their ownership, as the Premier League has done, that new ideas will be generated to give the Italian league a chance of returning itself to the position of the 1980s, when it was able to attract top stars such as Diego Maradona, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten.

Some of the problems England was forced to tackle three decades ago, specifically racism and hooliganism, are an issue in Italy now.

Inter boss Roberto Mancini spoke out after his side's Coppa Italia game against Napoli in January, accusing opposition coach Maurizio Sarri of making homophobic slurs towards him. Sarri was given a two-match touchline ban and fined £15,000 for "highly offensive" comments.

"You can draw parallels with what we are facing here and what England faced in the mid to late 1980s," said Bolingbroke.

"But it is a minority who act in that way and there is a will to deal with it."

The aim

In the short term, Inter are battling to qualify for next season's Champions League. They are fifth, five points behind Roma, who occupy the third and final slot.

Beyond that, Bolingbroke is pushing forward with a job he began in July 2014.

"Inter is built on an extraordinary heritage," he said. "We are probably one of the top 10 football clubs in the world from a brand perspective.

"I would like to see Inter in a position in the Deloitte table that reflects its position in the brand table.

"That would mean we were back playing Champions League football on a consistent basis, that we were filling a renovated San Siro, that we were pulling in audiences across the world, which would mean kick-off times had been moved and we would be playing in the afternoon. That would be a great legacy."

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