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Elliott Management, the US hedge fund best known on Wall Street for its combative approach to shaking up sleepy corporate boards, was never meant to become the owner of a football club. When it ended up taking over AC Milan, one of the most storied teams in Italy, about five years ago, it happened by accident. The hard-nosed investor had initially decided to finance the audacious 2017 bid of a little-known Chinese businessman, Li Yonghong, to buy AC Milan from former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. However, Li's ownership proved brief, as it defaulted in 2018, giving Elliott control of the club.
What Elliott took over was a fallen star of European football. AC Milan was a serial winner of Europe's top tournament in the 1990s and 2000s, and won scores of Italy's Serie A titles during that period, thanks to the talent of the likes of Marco van Basten, George Weah, Andrea Pirlo, and Paolo Maldini, to name a few. But in the years leading up to the takeover the club had stopped performing on the pitch, a failure that weighed on its revenues. When we took over it was a totally disastrous situation, one of Elliott's top lieutenants confessed.
To get the club back in shape, it hired Ivan Gazidis from Arsenal as chief executive with a mission to repair the club's finances, while Maldini was promoted to football director with a goal to cut the squad's budget by ditching big earners and bringing in younger, cheaper players. The only controversial exception to that formula was bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of the finest centre forwards of his generation. However, the 40-year-old was decisive in igniting a revival of the club's fortunes on and off the pitch. First, bringing the club back into the Champions League at the end of the 2021 season, and finally, winning the Serie A title in 2022.
The turnaround has allowed Elliott to finally monetise its investment, as it agreed to sell the club for a record 1.2bn euros to Gerry Cardinale's private equity group Redbird. Now, it will be up to Cardinale to add further major titles and take the club to the next level. It will do so with the support of Elliott, which is partially financing the acquisition and will retain board seats at the club, as well as providing key assistance in either revamping the club's historic stadium in San Siro or building a new one elsewhere.