Thohir: “Our target is the Champions League or the Europa League”

Thohir: “Our target is the Champions League or the Europa League”
January 26, 2015 20:09
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In a recent interview with, Nerazzurri president Erick Thohir spoke about a range of issues, from coach Roberto Mancini right through to Inter’s finances and the prospects of Indonesian football.

Is the Europa League Inter’s main target this season?
“The Europa League is a tough competition, but we want to get as far as possible: we face Celtic and we want to win in order to get through to the next round. We hope to become the champions. In order to be the best, we have to give our best. Signing Roberto Mancini is part of that objective because he has a lot of experience and we want to compete in the Champions League with him. We’ve also improved the squad with new players. We always want to give our best. I don’t know what we’ll achieve but we’re putting in the effort to be the best.”

Rumours are circulating that failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League could affect the club’s finances.
“It’s interesting to see that people form their opinions on the basis of rumours. We have to remember that Inter are one of the top footballing brands in the world. I hope that our revenue will be amongst the top ten in the world as soon as possible. Without the Champions League, we can achieve revenue of €180m – €200m. If we qualified for the Champions League, that would obviously increase but it wouldn’t be a problem for Inter if we didn’t qualify. However, given that we’re a leading brand in football and have a huge fan base, we have to aim high. It’s not Inter if we finish in ninth or tenth position. Our target is the Champions League or the Europa League.”

Are there any financial issues for Inter this season?
“A lot of people are confused about the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. All European clubs have to follow the rules. It’s a bit like the salary cap in the USA, but it works differently. It’s UEFA’s way of making sure that the football industry runs properly, avoiding situations where clubs seem healthy but end up going bankrupt. FFP ensures that clubs spend prudently, according to their income. It’s the same situation for Inter – I don’t think there is a shortcut to building a team, we need a long-term project. When we sign players, we have to make sure that we sign players based on the requirements of the team.”

Will Inter be looking to agree a big sponsorship deal in the near future, as Manchester United and PSG have done?
“It’s in our plans and that’s why we brought in the best people to work on it. We’ve signed some of the best people from Manchester United: Michael Bolingbroke as CEO, James White as Head of Digital Revenue, David Garth as Head of Stadium Revenue as well as Claire Lewis from Apple as our new Marketing Director and Dan Chard from AEG, one of the biggest companies in the entertainment industry. This shows that we’re focusing on the business side of things, as well as the sporting aspect. We have a great coach in Mancini, so why not bring in a great CEO? Well, that’s what we’ve done! It’s like the two sides of a coin. There needs to be a balance between the technical staff and the management team. If Manchester United don’t qualify for the Champions League, it shouldn’t be a problem for them. On a financial level, they are still in a good position and that’s why they continue to sign big names. Competing in the Champions League brings them €50m, not €500m. For big clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United, €50m is only 10% of their total revenue, so there should be no problem if they don’t qualify for the Champions League. But in image and footballing terms, what happens if big clubs like Manchester United and Inter don’t qualify for the Champions League? Big players will start to think twice before joining the tenth-, ninth-, or seventh-placed team.”

And what about the new stadium project? Do you think it could help the club from a financial point of view?
“San Siro is one of the best stadiums in the world; it’s one of the stadiums that instantly pops into your mind. That’s not to say that there aren’t other locations in Milan, so let’s see. We definitely want to have our own stadium, but we still have an agreement with AC Milan and the city of Milan. We need to liaise with AC Milan on the matter: do you want to stay at San Siro or move away? And if you want to move, when? So we can be prepared. Having our own stadium will give us many benefits – we would be able to manage our own building, ticketing and sponsorship. We’d be able to build a good museum, improve seating and ticketing and we’d be able to have a proper sponsorship and branding system. Right now it’s difficult. Milan have Fly Emirates as their sponsor and we have Pirelli, but we can’t use our sponsor at the stadium on a permanent basis because we still share the ground with them. We play in different colours – red and blue. We respect our relationship and agreement, but we need to resolve the situation, no matter what the decision is.”

Can you tell us anything further about the location of the stadium?
“It could be at San Siro, it could be somewhere else. We’ve heard lots of announcements from Milan that they intend to leave San Siro and build a new stadium. That’s fine, we’ll wait for that. If they decide to leave in the next five years, we’ll be able to organise ourselves.”

Now that you’ve signed Mancini, what targets have you set for him? Does he have final say on transfers?
“We signed him on a long contract as we want to create stability for the team. As I said, building a team is not something you can do in a year or two – it takes longer than that. That’s why we need Roberto Mancini. He shares our vision and wants to improve the team. However, in regard to the transfer market, we have to respect FFP. In terms of the decision-making process, signing players is something that we do collectively. I don’t make decisions alone and nor does Mancini. We discuss things together to decide what’s best for Inter, relying on data and statistics – not emotions – to support our thinking.”

Might Mancini’s position be reviewed if he doesn’t meet his targets?
“As I said, he signed on a long contract. We believe he will perform and he’s proved it in recent matches. He’s no stranger to Inter or to Italian football. He has managed foreign clubs so has a universal vision of the game. He’s an experienced coach and that’s why we made our decision. Sometimes, results force you to take difficult decisions, such as the call we made on Mazzarri. Did I have a problem with him? No. Mazzarri worked hard here and did his best for the team, but the results were going downhill and the fans were getting on his back. It was not an easy situation for him.”

Is there a long-term strategy in regard to Javier Zanetti’s role at the club?
“He’s part of the management team – he’s our vice-president. We discuss many things with him. I think he’s a great person and I hope he can help Inter to explore the world because he’s a club legend. He’s now been appointed as ambassador for Expo Milano 2015, and that’s proof that he doesn’t just belong to Inter but also represents the city of Milan and the whole of Italy. Being able to work with him is a big positive.”

Many people are still wondering why Shaqiri chose Inter over Liverpool – how did the transfer come about?
“As I said, we only want to sign the best players for Inter. We were aware that we were lacking wingers in the squad and that’s why we signed Podolski – a World Cup winner. He’ll help us thanks to his experience from Bayern and Arsenal. On the other hand, we want to build the team and improve the average age of our squad, which is currently 26.5. That’s why we need young players like Mateo Kovacic, Mauro Icardi and now Shaqiri: they’re our future. As I explained before, Inter are a big club and we’re no different to Liverpool. It’s the same thing. We have a great history behind us and we’ve won the Champions League three times. We are the only team never to have been relegated from Serie A. Being a team that players want to play for is part of our tradition.”

Inter now have three of the most talented youngsters in Europe: Icardi, Kovacic and Shaqiri. Will the future of the club be built around them?
“I think we have even more young players to develop, such as Juan Jesus and Dodo. We’re also fully committed to our Primavera players, such as Bonazzoli. We’re working hard to have a team made up of academy players, future stars and experienced heads. But yes, we’re certainly looking to the talent of Kovacic, Icardi, and Shaqiri.”

Do you have any further plans for the January transfer window?
“There’s still a bit of time until 2 February, but we’ve already made some movement. It’s different to last year, when we signed Hernanes and D’Ambrosio right at the end of the window. Don’t forget that Inter now have a 28-man squad, and next season Serie A will only allow clubs to register 25 players. Having said that, we’ll evaluate any opportunities that may arise, but I can’t comment further. We’ll certainly do what’s best for Inter whatever happens. We believe in this team.”

Has Mancini drawn up a transfer shortlist?
“Yes, but as I said, it depends on the opportunities that arise. We looked at his shortlist and have already signed some of the names!”

Will there be any outgoings this month?
“It depends. If there is interest in somebody from another club, we’ll hear them out. Aside from that, it’s our decision whether we accept the offer or not. We need to think realistically and remember that we need a 25-man squad and average age of 26.5.”

What kind of offer would have to be made for you to sell Kovacic and Icardi?
“I think I’ve already answered that. We’ll see, but as I said, we’re not obliged to accept any offers! They are important players for us.”

What plans do you have for DC United and the new stadium?
“DC United have received approval from the government of Washington DC to build a new stadium. Out of 20 team in the MLS, 16 teams currently own their own stadium. Four of them still don’t, including DC United. Building and maintaining a new stadium is our priority. DC are one of the best teams in the MLS and we’ve won many titles: we’d like to continue that tradition. I want to invest in teams with great history and absolute transparency. That’s why I chose DC, Inter and the 76ers in the NBA.”

Can DC fans expect the new ownership to invest more in new players now that the team is moving to a new stadium?
“We’ve already done so, just not on the same level as in Europe. They have the salary cap in the USA, but we have a solid team and three of our players have been called up to the USA national side: Bill Hamid, Steve Birnbaum, and Perry Kitchen. We’ve got great players like Fabian Espindola, Sean Franklin and Bobby Boswell. We now need to work hard to help them improve, because they’re doing well. There’s also the possibility of sending Inter players to help DC – maybe some of the promising young players. It would be a great opportunity for them to play in a big league like the MLS.”

Are there any Indonesian players who could come and have a trial with Inter or DC United in the near future?
“I hope so, but there haven’t been any opportunities for that so far. I’ve explained many times that their base footballing ability needs to be high and that they must improve their fighting spirit. Adaptation is another problem, given that they’d need to adapt quickly to the local culture. That’s why grassroots development is so important, because younger kids (12-14 years of age) can adapt much more easily than older ones (18-19 years). That’s why football academies are important.”

What about the Indonesia U19 side – they were considered a golden generation?
“I think it’s too late for them to move to Europe, but the USA is still a possibility. Football in the USA has grown massively in the last three years – just look at the World Cup – and now many world-class players want to play in the USA. Our problem is that we’re a step behind them in terms of footballing ability. Compared to the USA, Indonesian football is still behind, and that’s without even mentioning Europe. In Europe, there is great competition between local, African and South American players. We need to impose a similar youth programme from a very young age, using the successful Japanese and South Korean models as our example. We’re seeing players from those countries competing at the highest level for European clubs. China, too, have been expanding in the Bundesliga recently.”

So there’s no chance of any Indonesian players joining Inter in the near future?
“I’m not saying it’s going to be difficult, it just depends on the players themselves. I can’t judge whether they’re capable or not. Who know, perhaps we’ll see a wonderkid emerge, right?”

Have you sent any of Inter’s talent scouts to the Asian Cup?
“Yes, just like we did for the World Cup in Brazil, where we saw some results. Of course, scouting is something we have to do on a continuous basis – it’s too early to comment on potential targets.”