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Silvio Berlusconi returns to Serie A with AC Monza

June 1, 2022

The controversial former Italian Prime Minister sold AC Milan in 2017 and bought a third division club a year later. Little known AC Monza have now clinched promotion to Serie A, and Berlusconi is back in the limelight.

Italien Silvio Berlusconi AC Monza
Berlusconi toasts to Monza's Serie A promotionImage: Italy Photo Press Worldwide/picture alliance

Five years after Silvio Berlusconi sold his prime football property, AC Milan, to Chinese investors, the businessman and politician has returned to sports limelight.

His estimated €70 million investment in the small Lombardy side AC Monza has paid off as the club gained promotion to Serie A, Italy's top football division, via a playoff victory against Pisa.

"We fought for a year and we reached a historic milestone: Monza had never been in Serie A. We got there today. It's a wonderful thing for us and for all the citizens of Brianza," Berlusconi told Sky Sport Italia after the victory.

Controversial former Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, now 85, bought Monza in 2018 for €2.9 million ($3.4 million), making his brother Paolo club president and bring onboard long-term collaborator and friend Adriano Galliani as CEO.

Together with Galliani, Berlusconi had turned AC Milan into a European powerhouse in the last three decades where they won eight Serie A titles and five Champions League trophies.

"I dream of a Milan-Monza derby by 2020," Galliani stated at the time of purchase. It was a dream deferred but not to be denied.

Re-engineering Monza

AC Monza was founded in 1912, a small club in a city more famous for its Formula 1 racing circuit than for its football. The club has changed ownership many times in its 110-year history, with varying amounts of success but never gaining enough push to reach the zenith of the sport, oscillating between promotions to Serie B and relegations to Serie C1 and C2.

When Berlusconi sold his stake in AC Milan for €723m ($858m) in 2017, he turned his focus to Monza a year later after being alerted to the availability of the club by Galliani. Galliani had played there as a young boy and held fond memories. For Berlusconi, whose Arcore residence is less than 10 kilometers from the club's stadium, it was more passion than a business decision.

Italien Silvio Berlusconi AC Monza
Thanks Silvio: Monza fans celebrate Berlusconi's impact on the clubImage: Alessandro Bremec/LaPresse/ZUMA Press/dpa/picture alliance

Through his holding company Fininvest, he has poured almost €70m into the club since his purchase. They topped Serie C in the first season afterwards and gained promotion to Serie B. 

Star recruits such as Kevin-Prince Boateng and Mario Balotelli underlined Berlusconi's desire for glamor, but they failed to achieve promotion. That was left to less glamorous operators like Christian Gytkjaer, Dany Mota and Jose Machin.

The Dane Gytkjaer scored three goals in their play-off double-header against Pisa as they needed extra time to finally gain promotion.

'Bunga Bunga' Berlusconi

Berlusconi, a Covid-19 survivorwho served as Prime Minister in four Italian governments, is no stranger to the limelight - if not always for the right reasons.

One of Italy's richest men with an estimated fortune of $5.9bn (according to Forbes in 2012), Berlusconi has consistently made headlines in recent decades due to his financial dealings, inapropriate comments and infamous so-called "bunga bunga" parties allegedly involving underaged prostitutes.

In November 2010, he told a Milan trade fair audience to "not read newspapers any more because they deceive you" and that it was ok for men to lure at women since "it's better to be fond of pretty girls than to be gay." 

On Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2013, Berlusconi appeared to defend Benito Mussolini by claiming that, apart from passing anti-Semitic laws, the fascist Italian dictator had done "good things" for the country, including making a sound strategic decision to ally with Adolf Hitler.

In April 2016, leaked documents known as the Panama Papers included Berlusconi and business partner Galliani on a list of wealthy individuals who had hidden assets.

Back in the limelight

Despite the controversy and his age, Berlusconi has not lost his zest for winning and being on the big stage. And with Monza, he returns to the limelight that he enjoyed for many years with Milan.

His sale of Milan was necessary at the time due to the costs involved as his family could not continue to manage the club if they wanted to compete at the top of the game. Milan lost their creative edge and went trophyless until they won the Serie A this year.

It is ironic that Monza have gained promotion into the top flight in the same year that Milan have returned to the top of the domestic game. It makes their upcoming Lombardy derby a potentially interesting spectacle when the 2022-23 season starts.