A reminder of the glory of Italian football 

MOST people expect the winners of the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Manchester City to be the ultimate victors in the competition this season. There was no shortage of experts tagging the first leg in Madrid as “the proper final”, almost dismissing AC Milan and Inter Milan as also-rans. It is undoubtedly good to see the Rossoneri and Nerazzuri in the latter stages of the Champions League once more and it is encouraging to find five Italian clubs in the semi-finals of Europe’s top three bunfights. But in reality, the co-tenants of the San Siro will not be worrying either City or Real too much.

Quite simply, they have both recovered their poise, winning the scudetto in the past two years, but Serie A remains a long way behind the Premier League and La Liga. One of them will be in the final, which will be good for Italy and for the prestige of the Champions League. Although Inter and Milan are far off their finest days, the road back has started and at least they know the challenge is very clear – somehow, compete with the financial muscle of the Premier League. Five out of 12 teams in the last four will do Italian football no harm at all, making the league more attractive to sponsors, which in turn might close the gap between Italian football and its peer group. A little.

Inter were undoubtedly the better of the two teams in the first leg, by some distance. Milan were surprisingly poor and might have lost by more than two goals. In fact, such was Inter’s superiority, Milan must be relieved they got out of the first leg in anything like one piece. If the suspect penalty hadn’t been overturned, the result might have been worse and the tie well and truly over.

Both teams have not had the best domestic campaigns. After winning Serie A in 2022, Milan have been inconsistent and are currently in fifth place. They went out of the Coppa Italia early and in the Champions League, finished second in a group that included Chelsea, Salzburg and Dinamo Zagreb. They disposed of Tottenham and Napoli in the knockout phase. Inter were fancied to recapture the scudetto in 2022-23 but they have underperformed at times. Napoli were by far the best side in Serie A, hence their big margin of success. Inter had a tough Champions League group that included Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Viktoria Plzen. They eliminated Portugal’s finest in Porto and Benfica in the round of 16 and quarter-finals respectively. Inter have also made the final of the Coppa and face Fiorentina on May 24 in Rome.

The Milanese duo are among the best supported teams in Europe and average over 72,000 at their San Siro home. The derby always brings out the partisan in the locals and the atmosphere for the Champions League tie was a reminder of the importance, heritage and passion of Italian football. 

Inter’s two goals came from the impressive Edin Džeko and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, whose combined ages total 71. Inter also have Francesco Acerbi and Matteo Darmian who are in their mid-30s. The average age of Inter’s line-ups is 29.2 which is one of the oldest in Europe. Milan’s team is younger (average 26.4), although Olivier Giroud, who has had a new lease of life since joining the club, is 36 years old. 

As it stands, Manchester City and Real Madrid are among the richest clubs, each generating over € 700 million in revenues per season (source: Deloitte), while Inter’s income was around € 308 million and AC Milan’s € 265 million in 2021-22. Little wonder City and Real have squads with more depth, higher wage bills and have the ability to attract the young and up-and-coming talent of world football. And yet, one of the Milan giants will definitely be in the final and will be reviving memories of when they were truly the kings of European football. It is often forgotten that Milan won the Champions League in 2007 and Inter, under José Mourinho, lifted that rather outsized trophy in 2010. It’s not that long ago, but how the game (indeed, the world) has changed since then.

Inter Milan: Brand and deliver

INTER MILAN are on the brink of being crowned Italian champions for the first time since 2010, but they will certainly enter the near-term future with a new look and feel. Against a backdrop of financial worries, caused by the troubles of their owner, Suning, not to mention a mountain of debt on the club’s books, Inter’s fans can be forgiven for harbouring mixed emotions: excitement over the progress of their team but grave concerns about financial stability.

Inter have just unveiled a new, contemporary logo, defined their colour palette – a brighter, more vivid blue – and have tweaked their name. They will no longer be known as Football Club Internazionale Milan, but more conveniently, Inter Milano.

Simplicity seems to be at the heart of the exercise, which will not necessarily be well received by most traditionalists, but may be accepted more readily by new-era fans from other parts of the world. Fans never react well to change to a club’s identity, either the badge, the kit or name, sometimes with great justification, but name aside, the design  – to the uncommitted – seems a little cosmetic.


We still live in a digital world of instant gratification, despite the restrictions placed upon us by the pandemic, which have encouraged a trend towards mindfulness, slow living and simplicity. Our minds, or at least the younger generations, are geared towards immediate impact. Club logos or crests were, traditionally, built around the identity of location, hence heraldic crests were used to inform people where a club was from and the community represented. Heraldic crests are decidedly old fashioned, often too complex to understand in the modern world, and difficult to reproduce. A lot of clubs have dispensed with the lions, unicorns and crowns that adorn many crests and have extracted certain elements that are more in keeping with modern marketing needs.

The most striking emblems in history have included the cross, Micky Mouse, the swastika and the Coca-Cola logo, all of are simple in their structure. Modern symbols that everyone seems to recognise include corporate icons like Apple, Volkswagen, Amazon and Nike. Most people would be aware of the corporate brand of these companies at just a glance. The most commercially successful brands appear to be those whose logo doesn’t require description – in other words, we know that the apple with a chunk taken out of its right hand side is the iconic mark of Apple. Football is now realising that brand reputation, depiction and promise are all influence how the world sees their offering. If the club has a poorly constructed brand, it is more difficult for potential supporters, sponsors, owners and advertisers to understand and monetise the partnership they might be entering into. 

Inter have long been seen as Italy’s third club after Juventus and their stablemates AC Milan. While Juventus have dominated Italian football since 2012, the Milan duo seemed to lose their way. Both clubs have lost substantial amounts of money in recent years although the crowds still flock to the San Siro. When Inter were taken over by Chinese corporate Suning in 2016, it was supposed to signal the start of a new era for the club. 

In 2017, Juventus went through a bold rebranding, designed to make them more competitive across Europe. Although the Turin giants were standing astride Serie A, they were still unable to look Real Madrid and Barcelona in the eye. They reached two UEFA Champions League finals in 2015 and 2017 and in 2018, signed Cristiano Ronaldo, another courageous move considering his age. Juve wanted to lift the Champions League and serial winner Ronaldo was seen as the catalyst to make the breakthrough. It hasn’t quite worked for them on the field, although there have been a number of benefits for the club.

The rebrand introduced a new logo, a simple J that replaced a more traditional badge. It was the kind of repositioning that pointed to a strategy beyond football, it implied lifestyle, corporate identity, commercial iconography and high impact. Against the club’s colours of black and white, Juve’s  “J” had a high recognition level and was very visible around the city of Turin. This coincided with Juve taking their merchandising and licensing in-house. Since 2017, Juve’s commercial income has risen from € 114 million to € 189 million – perhaps assisted by the rebrand? Regardless of the corporate speak that accompanied the rebrand, Juventus’ new look was a differentiator among Italian football badges.


Inter’s rationale is arguably similar – to appeal to a modern audience and be instantly identifiable as the symbol of the club. This time, it is “IM” and it dovetails with some slogan work that uses the two letters to explain what the club is all about – it might seem a little clumsy (grammar freaks will be bent out of shape), but statements like “IM Fearless” and “IM Victory” will surely be scrawled across banners at the San Siro and its hoped-for successor.

The logo, colours and name change will become effective in 2021-22, but in the meantime, there are some clouds over the San Siro. Suning, Inter’s owners, have some enormous financial challenges and have been trying to sell part of their stake in the club. For a while, it looked as though UK hedge fund BC Partners would buy a stake, but the two parties disagreed on the valuation of the club and were at odds over the size of the stake Suning were offering.

Apparently, Suning doesn’t want to sell its entire holding, but financial pressures have forced them to pivot its businesses away from sport and the Chinese government has lost some appetite for investment in western sporting entities. 

Suning recently closed down the Chinese Super League club Jiangsu, the 2020 champions, which certainly set alarm bells ringing in Milan. Furthermore, and equally debatable is Suning’s wish that any new owner/partner would assume the net debt of Inter, which totalled € 323 million in 2019-20.

While Suning has immediate issues, this is a company that generates around £ 97 billion a year. They are looking for short-term financing and have been talking to the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund, PIF, as well as Goldman Sachs and Fortress. PIF are particularly eager to invest in the city of Milan and have already tried, unsuccessfully, to buy the Teatro alla Scala.

Although people are nervous about the situation, it would seem unlikely the crisis will prove to be an existential problem. Inter have liquidity issues at present, but winning Serie A and qualifying for the Champions League for 2021-22 will help. 

As for the branding, Inter’s ambitions go beyond Europe and the minimalist aspect of the badge is clearly aimed at greater portability. Are these things important? In the modern world, absolutely, along with reputation, corporate responsibility and diversity. The majority of Inter’s fans, in normal times, do not attend their games, even though they are the best supported in Italy in terms of average attendances. For many of their supporters, their relationship is digital, therefore how a club is represented online and across digital channels is vital. For example, Inter have 170 million fans in Asia’s digital-savvy markets. The club has almost 40 million followers across the three main social media networks, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and is the most popular Italian club on China’s Weibo.

The vivid IM is an attempt to appeal to a broad, multi-generational, multi-locational audience. However it is received, and there will be sceptics, “Forza Inter” will undoubtedly prevail, especially in the coming weeks as Antonio Conte’s team close in on the scudetto.


Photo: Flickr Pierangelo Zavatarell CC-BY-NC-2.0