Silvio Berlusconi passes away leaving behind a legacy which only he could; quite possibly the biggest ever ‘controversies’ section ever seen on a Wikipedia page. Oh, and he was a god-like figure at AC Milan too.
Born in Milan in 1936, the eldest of Luigi and Rosa’s three children would make the most of an entrepreneurial skillset, starting out in construction and catapulting his business career into the world of media and advertising, before eventually muscling his way into politics.
Among the wealthiest people in the world during the peak of his powers, the tycoon would serve as Prime Minister of Italy in four governments but was known in the football world for his ownership of Milan and more recently AC Monza.
The Rossoneri found themselves in a tight spot in the mid-1980s. By 1985, they were staring down the barrel of a gun that was loaded with the reality of having not lifted the Scudetto in a decade. The success of 1978-79 was quickly becoming a distant memory, lost within several relegations to Serie B.
President Giuseppe Farina resigned in 1986, with the club out of the UEFA Cup, looking increasingly doomed financially and fans becoming continually more disillusioned.
But with the Rossoneri facing the now very real prospect of bankruptcy, a local businessman swooped in and saved the day on 20 February 1986.
Berlusconi, having enjoyed success in construction, had springboarded into television and used that platform in media to buy out a vulnerable Milan outfit, wiping the floor clean of all debts and setting them up for a new era.
Sorting the books mid-season couldn’t stop the disappointment of a derailed campaign, though, with Nils Liedholm’s side finishing seventh in Serie A despite a strong start.
That didn’t matter, though, as with Berlusconi came a new era. And boy was it new. A brash, flashy businessman getting his capitalism-stained hands over one of Italy’s finest institutions, in a time where football ownership remained patriarchal and lowkey.
Not Berlusconi, though. He was ready to rip up the script.
Having rid Milan of debt and appointed himself as chairman, this was now his ship to steer. Again, considering this is one of the most storied clubs in the country, that is rather terrifying.
And while it all worked out in the end, you’d have been forgiven for fearing otherwise during the summer of 1986, when Berlusconi produced a show of money, arrogance and status like football had never seen before until this point.
Introducing himself officially to Milan fans with a disappointing season out of the way, but still painfully fresh in the memory, the media tycoon was intent on signalling a new beginning.
July 8th rolls around, and 10,000 or so Milan fans are in attendance at the Arena Civica to witness a presentation of the squad. Except it wasn’t just the squad. And it wasn’t just any normal presentation.
New kit? Nah. Nice new nets for the goalposts and a few coffees with the sponsors? Nope. Forget everything you know and think big. Helicopters big. In 1986.
Berlusconi and his Milan team arrived at the arena with Wagner’s Rise of the Valkyries blasting through the speakers, like something you’d expect to see in the main event of an early years WrestleMania card.
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Not one chopper, not two, but three. Three choppers arrived in the arena with heroic music playing. Seriously. Forget WrestleMania, this now sounds like the main course of a Hollywood action blockbuster.
Out of the first chopper emerges captain Franco Baresi. The chiselled, man mountain of a bloke and the heart of the Milan side. He’s followed out by his team, the coaching staff and even club directors.
Then, finally, emerges Berlusconi, taking the top of the card spot for himself as he’s serenaded by Milan fans.
Never mind it being like nothing else at the time, this is like nothing you’ll see these days. Can you seriously imagine Sir Jim Ratcliffe gathering an audience at Manchester Town Hall as he drops down from a private jet?
No, because it’s absurd. Completely batshit crazy. It was then and it remains so now. But that’s what stood Berlusconi apart.
“I knew people would laugh,” he was quoted as saying: “But we needed to show Milan had a new way of thinking.”
Absolute madman. But a visionary too, it seems.
To this day, Berlusconi remains the most popular and successful owner in Milan history, for the way he propelled the club into the future after taking control.
Out went the thinking of yesteryear and in came a new strategy. A desire to become the best of the best in every class. Galactico signings before that was a thing, funded by ruthless commercial gains and a never-ending desire to be at the top.
The Rossoneri would attract some of the game’s greatest players under his ownership, and won 29 major trophies including eight Serie A titles and five Champions Leagues.
A grand helicopter entrance in front of his new fans doesn’t tell the full story about a man who had to regularly bat away controversies of the highest order during his ascent towards commercial, political and sporting success.
But it does tell you a hell of a lot.
By Mitchell Wilks