Leaking cash – Inter Milan loss highlights Italian challenge

SERIE A is certainly more interesting this season, with the two Milan clubs, Napoli and Juventus all title contenders. Although the campaign, at 10 games in, is still in its infancy, it is clear that Juventus, champions for nine consecutive years, are not going to have things their own way in 2020-21. With the national team in the semi-finals of the UEFA Nations League (they meet Spain next year), things may be looking up in Italy.

However, the big football clubs are having a hard time owing to the pandemic. Inter Milan recently confirmed they lost € 102 million in 2019-20, following equally distressing reports that Roma (- € 204m), AC Milan (- € 195m) and Juventus (- € 90m) have all been hit hard. 

Napoli, according to media reports, have serious problems and this is making them vulnerable to clubs circling their players. Chelsea, for example, are keen to sign Dries Mertens, Hirving Lozano and Kalidou Koulibaly. There are suggestions that Napoli’s players have not been paid for some weeks. Financial problems and Napoli are no strangers, but this is not a good time to lurch into a crisis.

Inter’s loss has come at a time when the club is enjoying a renaissance. In 2019-20, they    finished runners-up in Serie A and the UEFA Europa League. This season, they have lost just once (to AC Milan) in the league but it looks as though they will be eliminated from the Champions League in the coming week. Inter have won just one of their five group games and face Shakhtar Donestsk in the San Siro in their final fixture. 

Given Inter are the best supported club in Italy in terms of average attendances (almost 59,000 in 2018-19), they have been badly impacted by a lack of matchday income. On a more optimistic note, Inter and AC Milan are proceeding with the new ground scheme and have secured the interest of two US investment banks, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs. The project will be north of € 1.25 million but will shape a more sustainable future for both clubs.

Overall, Inter’s revenues dropped by € 45 million to € 372 million. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) came to € 14.5 million and losses amounted to € 102.4 million. The pandemic and extension of football until the end of August meant that the club suffered a deferral of revenues from TV rights and sponsorship, amounting to more than € 50 million. 

Inter agreed player salary postponements for July and August to ease the situation as football went into lockdown. The club’s CEO, Beppe Morotta, speaking about salaries in Serie A, said 60% of income was too high a percentage across the league. “It could lead to bankruptcy, so it is necessary to intervene to restore solidity to all,” he told the media.

Club president Steven Zhang outlined Inter’s ambitions: “In a situation of significant economic downturn, we have been able to consolidate Inter’s growth plans, which rest on the creation of a global brand and are based around an innovative business vision whose main target audience is younger generations.” 

According to Brand Finance, the Inter brand is ranked 14th in world football with a valuation of € 466 million. The club estimates that the number of Inter fans around the global has increased to 428 million, the ninth biggest fanbase worldwide. KPMG Football Benchmark’s valuation report for 2020 noted that Inter’s follower audience has increased by 72% across its digital channels.

As Inter admitted, their revenues were still relatively stable compared to 2018-19 when taking into consideration deferred income: “They are proof of the efficacy of the club’s global vision and strategy.”

Despite the disappointing financials, and a busy summer spending programme, Inter may still be in the market for reinforcements and coach Antonio Conte is interested in a number of players from his old club, Chelsea. At the same time, Inter are ready to sell the sought-after central defender, Milan Skriniar, with Tottenham at the head of the queue. A Champions League exit in the group stage may accelerate that move.

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Photo: PA

People like Hitchin’s Tony Huckle show life is what you make it

HITCHIN TOWN have lost a lot of people during the pandemic, mostly veteran supporters or officials who epitomised the spirit of the club. Among the saddest pieces of news was the passing of club legend Tony Huckle, who died at the age of 87.

I got to know Tony quite well over 30 years – he was the person who introduced me to Hitchin Town back in 1990. That said, he was suspicious of me in those early days, largely because he saw me as a “City boy” and disliked my refusal to wear a club tie because I was allergic to polyester.

But over the years, Tony and I became very friendly and I not only enjoyed his company but I developed a deep respect for someone whose life had been interesting and certainly colourful. He made me laugh, amused me with his yarns and the “ways of H”. He was a cross between an Ealing Comedy character, a sharp local businessman and a big-hearted, generous drinking pal to anyone who paid their way. He liked people to be “genuine”.

Tony often asked me to write his life story, but he never got round to putting some of his thoughts on paper. About a month or so before he died, he called me, completely out of the blue. It had been a while since we spoke and I didn’t recognise his voice, he was obviously very unwell. He said he had enjoyed my company and that he just rang to see how I was. I put the phone down after he rang off and came to the conclusion he might not be around for much longer. This was his farewell call.

Tony wasn’t only a Hitchin supporter and club president, he was also, like me, a Chelsea fan. 

Stories of his ability to consume considerable amounts of beer are many and his antics with the late Alan Sexton have helped boost many a landlord’s pension fund. Tony never truly got over Alan’s untimely death a decade ago and he would often look wistfully at the photo of “Big Al” in the club bar and shake his head.

It was well known that Tony spent some time at Her Majesty’s pleasure in the 1970s. He made no secret of it. One evening, I asked him how he had coped. His response was typically Tony: “Life is what you make it, boy. Funny thing, I actually enjoyed it.” I just laughed and said, “only you could answer that question like that”.

That was Tony Huckle. Life certainly was exactly just what he made it. Hitchin Town Football Club will miss him. The town of Hitchin will miss him. He was genuine.

Tottenham have the best stadium, now they need trophies

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR’s new home is phenomenal, a space-age structure planted on the High Road, dwarfing the local neighbourhood. It’s vast, corporate and awe-inspiring, a blue-grey monolith that could transform Tottenham into a club where winning regularly accompanies their historic culture of playing with style. They have the stadium, in José Mourinho they have a manager who is accustomed to picking up trophies, now they have to fulfil their objectives of sustainable success.

Until Spurs moved into their new home, their local rivals Arsenal had the most impressive stadium in Britain. Tottenham’s new build is not only larger in capacity, it also takes pragmatism and aesthetics a step further – a stadium for the 21st century that aims to deliver comfort and an enhanced customer experience.

Upcycled

The “market” area where the Spurs crowd is fed and watered, is not just a set of concession areas crudely bolted into concrete, it is great to look at and has used technology to spectacular effect. The beer refuelling area has received considerable publicity as plastic “glasses” are filled from below and sealed by magnetism, enabling the club to sell thousands of pints of beer, the elixir of the football fan, in a matter of minutes.

With a capacity of 62,303 and costing close to £ 1 billion, this is the largest club stadium in London – and certainly the most spectacular.

The crowd walks over a floor that represents a major achievement in upcycling, the use of the rubble and aggregate from the demolished White Hart Lane ground. A move to a new site was overdue for Spurs as the much-loved WHL, where the club won two UEFA Cups and created the fabled “Glory, Glory Nights” in the early 1960s, was looking tired and cramped. It also had a low capacity compared to the Premier’s top clubs.

Inside the ground, the assymetric bowl offers a grand view, but not as good as the view the iconic cockerel, the symbol of the club for decades, enjoys on his sky-high perch. Tottenham appear to have leveraged the simplicity of their badge to become a useful and easily identifiable marketing tool.

Everything is, of course, gleaming and sparkling at the moment, but you cannot fail to be impressed by the playing surface and the technology that surrounds it. There are two Tottenham pitches, a conventional one for football, and an artificial pitch for the National Football League. The grass surface is retractable and moves into a purpose-built garage located under the stadium car park. It can remain underground for up to five days thanks to a “life support system” that includes LED growing lights.

The architects, Populous, have also been involved with the Emirates, the Etihad and Wembley.

Some two metres beneath the grass pitch is the artificial surface. This enables the stadium to become a genuinely multi-use location and also drives Spurs’ attempt to make north London a home for the NFL. Enticing the NFL to Tottenham may not be to everyone’s taste, but it does underline the need for arenas to be more than a matchday venue for football. It also increases the revenue potential of the club significantly.

Era

Tottenham may have reached the final of the UEFA Champions League in 2019, but this achievement really provided a finale to the Mauricio Pochettino era at the club. Spurs have provided a lot of England players in recent years and have been applauded for their football and their business model, but they have just fallen short of true success. Among the top 20 clubs in world football Spurs have been waiting longer than most for a league title and even a mere glimpse of silverware.

Their last league championship was in 1961, a period that was arguably the greatest in the club’s history, and their last trophy of any sort was the Football League Cup in 2008. Aside from West Ham, who have never won a title, only Schalke 04 have waited longer (1958) among the top 20. For a club of Tottenham’s size and influence, such a barren spell is quite bizarre given they have frequently been quite progressive during the past 50-plus years.

Can a new stadium be the catalyst for the success they crave? From a financial perspective, crowds of 60,000 can raise matchday income to unprecedented levels and the opportunities that emerge from a new, purpose-built 24 x 7 facility can increase commercial revenues.

Buro Happold, one of the engineers on the Tottenham project, named the stadium as the best ground in their Venue Performance Ratings. These rankings are driven by the stadium experience, the revenue potential and the overall impact of the venue. A big factor in Tottenham’s number one position was the somewhat experimental ideas that have been built into the stadium, such as the so-called Tunnel Club, the Sky Lounge, a micro brewery, safe standing capability and 360-degree concourses.

The Covid 19 pandemic has threatened to derail Spurs and analysts have forecasted losses in the region of £ 200 million due to the crisis. To ease matters, the club managed to secure a £ 175 million loan from the Bank of England, which has to be repaid by April 2021. This has enabled them to relieve working capital requirements until life returns to normal.

Neighbours

Not everyone is happy about Spurs’ new stadium, notably some of the neighbours, many of whom feel they are being marginalised and pushed out to the edge of the area. Some see it as an attempt to upscale the borough – a Trojan horse for gentrification. The contrast between the futuristic ground and the immediate neighbourhood is dramatic. Tottenham is in the London Borough of Haringey which has one of the highest poverty rates in the capital. Haringey is also among the top 10 most dangerous boroughs in London. The local council has a plan to improve things, but this included the demolition of social housing and the construction of a walkway for fans between White Hart Lane overground rail station and the stadium. The club has recently had approval to 330 homes close to the ground, including a 29-storey tower block.

Looking beyond local politics, it is hard not to be impressed by Tottenham’s stadium. The challenge now is to transform the club’s fortunes on the pitch and make Spurs into a Champions League organisation. The club desperately needs success to ensure the stadium doesn’t become a millstone instead of a platform to cement a place among European football’s elite, with or without José Mourinho.

 

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