Han Li breaks silence on AC Milan and what happened behind-the-scenes at the club

Former AC Milan executive David Han Li breaks silence and talks what really happened at the club behind the scenes.

ON REMAINING SILENT FOR SO LONG – There are a few reasons why we have kept quiet. The first is that now, we don’t have any trust in anyone. It was also about not having trust in the media. Just a few hours after we signed the SpA, all the names of the investors were leaked. It was incredible, and damaged us a lot. There were even leaks from our board meetings, but we don’t know who these came from

Heavy attacks on us from the media always followed on from important events. Firstly in November 2017, right after we signed the exclusivity for debt refinancing, a damaging article published in the New York Times showed up. Secondly, on the exact morning when we started the process for debt refinancing in London, the Italian media started up with attacks once again. who had all this important information?

We don’t have any trust. I didn’t want journalists to mislead or misunderstand what I’m saying. Headlines can become truth, and people just want to hear and see what they want to hear and what they want to see, people would not really care whether or not it’s the truth and that’s really scary. So I have preferred not to speak.

ON FORMER OWNER YONGHONG LI WHO IS NOW ON TWITTER – “Yes, it’s Mr Li’s account. He gets some help with the translation, but it really is him talking from the heart. He also thinks that his voice hasn’t really been heard when it comes to recent events at AC Milan. But he was very hurt by some of the false and misleading things that were being said about him.

Instinctively, he tends to avoid publicity, and that means he tends to avoid the media. But what he loves about Twitter is that he can talk directly with other fans, share his thoughts, listen to their views, without depending on the press who could re-interpret what he says. And there are certainly a few false reports that Mr Li will be correcting”.

Marco Fassone
Marco Fassone, Han Li, Yonghong Li

ON WHY THEY DECIDED TO BY AC MILAN – “They first started broadcasting Italian football matches in China in the late 80s and early 90s and I have loved AC Milan since then. There are lots of people who were born in the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s who have really great memories and respect for Milan, they had a great image of a club who won and dominated the world of football at that time.

For us, the history of Milan was so important, as were the many many good players from the past. There are probably even more legends at Milan than even Real Madrid and Barcelona. The most popular of them in China? Sheva, Kaka, Maldini, Gattuso, Pirlo, even Ronaldo and Zlatan, and of course Van Basten and Rijkard, Baresi – yes there are a lot.

When I was a kid, my friends and I learned the Italian chants at Milan for lots of the players. Not only Milan, but Italy, the league, and the country, really it’s my top favouite. About 17 years ago, the first match I watched in a stadium in Italy was Milan. At the end of the day, there’s a connection there, it’s special to me“.

ON WHY THE CHINESE MILAN DEFAULTED – “The problems weren’t about the fans, but the high level people, the important people, the people who had the power that wanted to protect their own interests. They would try to do everything to get away from us, to keep us out of the loop”.

“We had to put in €10 million per month on average, but the original capital needs of the club were far less“, David reveals. “We had to put more capital into the company, the club. It was a lot more than we expected. In some ways, our budget was a certain number, and the management had done better in terms of generating revenue and also in cost savings, which should have balanced part of the original budget“.

Fassone, Han Li, Yonghong Li, Montella & Mirabelli
Fassone, Han Li, Yonghong Li, Montella & Mirabelli

ON UNDERGROUND ATTACKS FROM ELLIOT – “I asked, I think in February 2018, one of the Elliott guys directly whether they had been responsible for planting those media attacks, and if they wanted the club for themselves. Of course, he denied it.

We had heard about Elliott’s reputation but you never know if the reports are real until you really know someone. The stories could have been put there by competitors, there are different reasons why these stories exist. I was not sure if the stories were true… until later!

I prefer to take people at face value and give them a chance to prove themselves. If they had behaved perfectly, all we needed them to do was the debt refinancing. But, this didn’t happen how we expected, it wasn’t as smooth as we expected!

ON BERLUSCONI’S ‘TREASON’ – “We did invite Mr. Berlusconi to be Honorary President“, confirms David. “He accepted at the very beginning. But, a few days before the closing, he said that he could not accept our offer. He didn’t give us a reason, he didn’t say anything.

There are many reasons why we offered it to him. The club had this beautiful history thanks to Mr. Berlusconi. This couldn’t be forgotten. Plus, there was his influence, his image and his connections, and this is something we wanted to respect by making this gesture. Especially as we were new to the country and we had hoped to have someone who could help us.

Silvio Berlusconi, Han Li & Yonghong Li, AC Milan News
Silvio Berlusconi, Han Li & Yonghong Li

At a football club, you are not managing a machine, you are managing thousands of humans. Your vision has to have everyone in alignment with you for it to work. We had to understand, as it came with cross cultures and philosophies, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to make it work“.

ON PERSONAL COST – “I woke up and the nightmare was real, it was not a dream. I was thinking ‘what about another €10 million next week?’, ‘What’s going to happen with the default?’ and ‘what’s going to happen after that?’. There were so many things we were facing, and we didn’t get any respect at all. 

We just wanted to respect the fans and the Italian culture. We could’ve had all Chinese directors on the board, but we didn’t, because of respect. We didn’t want the fans to think we stole from them, we didn’t want any bad feelings towards us. That’s why we appointed Italian directors. But this was used by some people, and it was because of our kindness to be honest. It was used against us.

I was under so much stress that I still have scars on my thumbs where I pushed my fingernails into them because of it. It was the same with Mr Li”.

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