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Deals

Berlusconi close to selling AC Milan to Chinese buyers

MILAN (Reuters) - Italian tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is close to selling soccer club AC Milan to a Chinese consortium in a deal that could see the Serie A team listed in China.

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“Milan is to all extents and purposes on a path towards China,” Berlusconi said on Tuesday, leaving a Milan hospital after heart surgery.

Fininvest, the Berlusconi family holding company which owns AC Milan, entered exclusive talks with the consortium in May.

The club, which posted a loss of 93.5 million euros ($104 million) last year, needs new capital to fund its business and compete with top European clubs, many now bankrolled by Gulf and Asian owners.

Chinese electronics retailer Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd 002024.SZ agreed last month to buy nearly 70 percent of AC Milan's local rival Inter Milan.

“I have accepted the valuation for the club proposed (by the Chinese consortium) and demanded that they commit to invest 400 million euros over two years,” Berlusconi told reporters.

The consortium’s offer for AC Milan values the club at 700-750 million euros including debt, sources have said.

A source with knowledge of the matter said a preliminary deal with the Chinese could be sealed at the start of next week, or by July 15 at the latest.

The consortium would buy 80 percent of the club immediately but would take full control in a short time, the source said.

This is not the first time Berlusconi has been close to selling his beloved soccer club. Last year, talks with Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol to sell a majority stake foundered when Berlusconi changed his mind at the last minute.

But according to a second source, close friends have advised the 79-year-old to let go this time because of his health.

The source also said the Chinese investors intended to list AC Milan in China, albeit not in the immediate future.

The popularity of soccer is going through a period of massive growth in China where Europe’s glamour clubs enjoy wide fan bases and commercial success. Chinese President Xi Jinping, an avid soccer supporter, plans to create a domestic sports industry worth $850 billion by 2025.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina; writing by Agnieszka Flak and Stephen Jewkes; editing by David Clarke

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