In Milan, a Revival Stars Two Legendary Soccer Names

“I hope they will re-emerge, behind us, this year,” he said.

There was, at the start of the season, every reason to think that would happen. When Milan and Inter meet in the first derby of the year this weekend — the game known as the Derby della Madonnina — both will be under Chinese control.

In 2016, the Suning group took control of Inter, and a year later, the entrepreneur Li Yonghong — supported by financing from an American hedge fund, Elliott Management — completed his takeover of A.C. Milan, ending Berlusconi’s 30-year tenure.

“The fact that both teams were sold to Chinese enterprises would have been unthinkable three years ago,” Fassone said. “It is something that is hard to imagine for a lot of Italians.”

Few, though, doubted it was necessary. Both clubs had been drifting for too long. This, many believed, was the start of a transformation not just for Milan and Inter, but for Serie A, too. Milan’s ambition, in particular, captured the imagination: This summer, it embarked on what Fassone described as “the most aggressive” transfer market campaign it could muster. Some 11 players arrived in the space of two months. The moves convinced the fans, and the country, that Li was serious.

“You can speak, but people only trust your project when they see, every week for a month, you are presenting one or two new players,” Fassone said. Suddenly, he felt an “enthusiasm that had been lost” returning to the club. A crowd of 65,000 turned up to watch the new-look team’s first game of the season, an unremarkable game in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

“It was a symbol that they are with us,” Fassone said. “Now the fans are dreaming again.”

Fassone, who had worked for a host of other Serie A teams, including Napoli, Juventus and Inter, said he had never found it so “easy” to coax…

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