Steven Zhang believes that as long as he is in charge of Inter, they will remain financially stable and competitive on the pitch. The Nerazzurri president was speaking with La Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of the Champions League final, and was asked about the financial aspect of managing the club, including the debt owed to Oaktree Capital, the difficulty in finding sponsorship and the prospect of building a new stadium:
Let’s turn to the financial aspects. The Oaktree loan: how is the situation?
“It is an important fund managed by very professional people. We plan to renegotiate the loan. We will find a solution together for refinancing.”
Can the fans rest assured? Is the Inter project going forward with great ambitions?
“As long as I am there, there will be a stable and competitive Inter.”
Every time Inter reaches a milestone, rumors come out about the club’s future and potential, often phantom, buyers. Does this bother you?
“No, we are a big club, I know that for many people seeing their name mentioned alongside Inter gives them visibility. They are like market rumors, just ignore them.”
Despite results and trophies won there is difficulty in finding sponsors and increasing revenues.
“It is a topic closely related to TV rights, domestic and international. The more audience and visibility you have, the more sponsors you attract. In the post Covid era, unfortunately, many companies have become more cautious and are budget-conscious.”
Will Inter have a main sponsor next year? And will it be Qatar Airways?
“We have three or four major candidates. I can’t say yet which one will be chosen. We want a brand that is suitable for Inter and stable.”
Today there are many foreign companies in Italy: Suning, U.S. groups, Fondi. But the feeling is that there is still not much integration with Italian companies that would allow a change of pace in the league and a modernization of the system.
“It is not easy to change a mentality. It takes time.”
New stadium: where do we stand?
“It is the same problem with TV rights. There is difficulty in accepting new things and changing pace. Inter and Milan are two competing clubs but with the same goal of growth. A shared stadium would guarantee that more than two facilities. Inter’s idea has always been this. Milan, on the other hand, has changed four ownerships and as many ideas.”
But what if Milan will build the facility themselves? Could Inter stay at the San Siro?
“No our priority is a new stadium, with or without Milan.”
At Milan there has been a revolution with the departure of Maldini and Massara: surprised?
“It is a very sensitive issue, impacting another club and a great character like Maldini who has won so much at the club. Obviously people were very surprised by this separation, but these are things that happen in football. A stable and competitive Milan is also a stimulus for Inter, let’s grow together.”
How can Inter’s corporate project be summarized?
“A right mix of tradition and innovation. We have a strong connection with history and the Nerazzurri roots, we care a lot about the relationship with the fans and the territory. But we also have our eyes always focused into the future.”
This is demonstrated by the new modern headquarters in the skyscraper area and the fact that the club has grown from 120 to 600 employees. Inter has never been so international, yet the management has remained all Italian. Why?
“Often foreign companies when they go abroad make the mistake of not understanding what the culture of the country is like. If you think you dominate the market without knowing it, you only risk being arrogant. Six or seven years ago when I arrived in Italy it was Urbano Cairo who gave me the first piece of advice: if you want to win you need someone who knows our football well and how a club works. And then he gave me the right name: Beppe Marotta. If you want to be in a country you also need to know how to adapt to that country. I need Italian managers.”
The most important UEFA competition is being played tomorrow. Inter had been among the clubs that conceived the Superleague. But also the first to abandon the project the night the case with UEFA broke out.
“The Superleague did not have the right format however it was an attempt to innovate and change. Useful especially for Italian clubs that were behind others. But we did not want to conflict with UEFA. And the Champions League remains today the best possible tournament.”
Downstairs from your offices is the Cup Room. In the center is the 2010 Champions. How much does he dream of adding one of his own?
“I’ve thought so many times in my head what it would be like to win a Champions League. But even dreaming of winning it seemed impossible…. Now that we are in the final, however, all of us in the club have an incredible desire to try. And we are united. As Inzaghi said: we are not afraid, there is just great excitement waiting to play this game. We believe in it.”