Media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi expressed sadness Thursday at selling AC Milan after 31 years in charge and called on the Serie A giants' new Chinese owners to surpass his stunning 29-trophy haul.
Milan, who won five of their seven Champions League titles during Berlusconi's reign, were sold to Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux Thursday in a 740 million-euro ($786 million) deal which sees the Chinese-led consortium take a 99.9% stake in the club to usher in a new era in Italian football.
A former three-time Prime Minister of Italy, who became embroiled in a series of scandals during a storied political career, Berlusconi bought the ailing Serie A club in 1986 and oversaw the most successful spell in its history.
Although watching Milan struggle to even qualify for Europe in recent seasons, the 80-year-old nevertheless saw five Champions League trophies, eight Serie A titles, seven Italian Super Cups and five UEFA Super Cups go into the club's trophy cabinet among a total of 29 trophies.
"I leave today, after more than thirty years as owner and chairman of AC Milan," Berlusconi said in a statement.
"I do so with pain and emotion, but knowing that to compete at the highest levels in the modern game we need outside investment and resources that a single family is no longer able to support.
"I will always be AC Milan's number one fan and I wish the club's new owners all the best for the future. I offer them my most cordial wishes and hope they achieve many more extraordinary feats than we did," added Berlusconi.
"But above all, thanks from the bottom of my heart goes out to our fans. To the millions of fans who filled stadiums around the world to shout 'Forza Milan!' and the others who followed us from afar.
A joint statement by AC Milan's holding company Fininvest and Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux said: "Today Fininvest has completed the sale of the entire stake owned in AC Milan - equal to 99.93% - to Rossoneri Sport Investment Lux."
- Protracted takeover -
The 740 million-euro ($786 million) deal was confirmed shortly after 1300 GMT, but was dogged by months of delays as the consortium -- formerly known as Sino (Dusseldorf: 1205802.DU - news) -Europe Sports (SES) --- struggled to meet deadlines for scheduled down payments.
According to Italian media reports, mystery Chinese businessman Yonghong Li -- whose 500m euros fortune came from the construction and packaging businesses -- will be named as Milan's new owner.
"The terms of the agreement are the same disclosed in August and reflect of an aggregate evaluation of AC Milan equal to 740 million euros, which includes the club?s indebtedness, equal to 220 million euros as of June 30th 2016," added the statement, which also pledged future investment.
"The buyers also confirmed their commitment to undertake significant capital increases and liquidity injections aimed at strengthening AC Milan?s financial structure."
But while becoming the city's second Chinese-owned club, after Inter were taken over by the Suning Group in June 2016, it remains to be seen how Rossoneri Sport Investment -- taking its name from the club's 'Red and Black' nickname -- fare in future seasons.
Although Inter, two points behind Milan ahead of a derby on Saturday (Shenzhen: 002291.SZ - news) that could hold the key to a Europa League place, have yet to repay Suning's investment on the pitch their takeover was smooth in comparison.
After Milan's Chinese consortium failed to meet a scheduled third down payment of 100m euros last month, Berlusconi hinted he could walk away with the non-refundable 200m euros already paid.
Former Milan coach Fabio Capello, who led the Rossoneri to three consecutive league titles in 1992-1994 and a Champions League trophy in 1994, told Sky (Frankfurt: 893517 - news) : "For me it's not a great day.
"I owe everything to Berlusconi, who from my first day in the job left me agape when he asked us to produce spectacular, winning football.
"I hope the new owners have the cash to be able to compete with the top clubs in Europe."