Mediapro, the Spanish company which since 2015 has managed the TV rights for La Liga soccer matches and a few weeks ago was also awarded those of Serie A, has become a Chinese company. The investment fund Orient Hontai bought 54.5 percent of Imagina, the conglomerate that controls it, for around €1 billion.
This is nothing new. For instance, Infront Sports & Media, which, among other things, manages the TV rights for FIFA and acts as adviser for the sale of the rights for the Italian league, was sold in 2005 by the US fund Bridgepoint to the Chinese Wanda Group for €1.2 billion, while in the following year, a consortium made up of Everbright and Baofeng acquired MP & Silva for just under €1 billion (which, among others, holds the foreign rights for the Serie A).
This is because television has been, and is still taken to be, the first step in China’s long march toward controlling global soccer. That endeavor also includes acquisitions and investments in particular teams (Manchester City, Atletico Madrid, Aston Villa, Inter, and also, arguably, A.C. Milan), and is set to conclude, according to Xi Jinping’s plan, with the organization of the 2030 World Cup, and with a Chinese national team capable of winning it by 2050.
While China is closing in on its goal, the continued presence of the Italian teams in the European competitions this season seems to be slipping out of reach, with a win, a tie and three losses to their name. The tie for Juventus against Tottenham was the worst sign, painting an unforgiving picture of a team on the verge of a nervous breakdown (so says Allegri). True, the bianconeri are still in the running for the seventh consecutive Italian league title, an incredible achievement that brings the appeal of the Italian league up to the level of international competitions. But the sirens’ call of the Champions League always beckons.
While A.C. Milan, which is playing Sunday night against Sampdoria, won when they didn’t quite deserve it (as even Gattuso admits), and Atalanta, now set to play against Fiorentina on their turf, was unlucky and lost to a lesser opponent, Lazio’s recent loss was a true debacle, a team which is paying dearly for the crisis in which it has become mired after having long lived beyond their means. Humbled by four defeats in the last five matches, the Romans will look to bounce back Monday night, playing at home against a Verona that won’t put up a challenge.
The latter team doesn’t want anything more to do with Europe now—Salvini and various fascist-populists might nod in approval—but Sarri has far more noble reasons for it: once they were relegated to the Europa League, he sent out the reserve team to play in the European matches, saying that they were putting all their focus on a victory in the Italian league.
Given the small choice of players at his disposal in the first place, one can hardly blame him. In other news, in the Italian league, the Neapolitans will be able to stretch a little in an easy match tomorrow afternoon on home turf against Spal, while Juventus will be facing a tough challenge in the derby with Torino F.C.
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