Finnish businessman Thomas Zilliacus confirms that while there are no ongoing talks with Suning over buying Inter Milan, he remains interested should they want to sell.
Thomas Zilliacus tells SempreInter.com exclusively he is very interested in buying the club but he’s unsure if Suning are open to actually selling Inter Milan.
“I have said publicly that I am interested in buying Inter. However, there has to be an interest by the current owners to sell Inter too and I’m not sure that is what they want to do.
“I’ve seen statements by Suning where they have said that their commitment to Inter is long term. And I want to respect their will, I don’t want to be pushy.
“Without going into any detail, I can say that right now there are no direct negotiations ongoing. But I don’t want to go into any more detail. I have too much respect for the Zhang family and the club’s directors.
“If they want to say something about this matter then it is completely up to their discretion. I just don’t want to come across as pushy or go ahead of things. Or in any way say something that could be misunderstood.”
Thomas Zilliacus – “Read The Criticism Of Suning Which Is Very Unwarranted, They Have Done An Amazing Job With Inter Milan”
He continued by adding that he believes the criticism towards Suning is over the top. Thomas Zilliacus believes Suning have done an amazing job at Inter.
He especially wanted to commend Steven Zhang as well as the entire Suning group for the success they have had with Inter. However, owning Inter would be an incredible privilege and opportunity, one that he would relish having.
“I think Suning have done a great job. I’ve seen some critical comments which I think are unwarranted. Remember, Steven Zhang was only 26 years old when he took over the club and managed to get the entire club behind him.
“Despite young age and not knowing much about Italy and football he has led Inter to have immense success. So, I have huge respect for Steven Zhang and the entire group he represents for their achievements.
“However, I have also told him in person that should they want to sell, I am very interested in buying. He has been very open and generous by meeting with me, allowing me to express my interest.
“I see the owners of a football club as custodians of an institution. Whereas an owner you have the privilege to own the club and with privilege comes responsibility.
“And that responsibility means that you have to leave the club in a better state than when you took over. If I would ever have that privilege my job would be to improve the club compared to when I stepped in.”
Thomas Zilliacus Would “Relish Opportunity” But Only If Suning Decide To Sell Inter Milan
The former CEO of Nokia SouthEast Asia added that should he have the privilege of owning Inter, he would want to push the club to connecting closer with the global fanbase. Especially the one in Asia.
“It would be an incredible opportunity. It’s such a wonderful club with a huge passionate global fanbase. Of course, those who live in Italy and in Milan have a fire for the club that perhaps burns brighter than people from abroad.
“But I have met football fans of all clubs from all over the world, especially in Thailand, Singapore, China, Philippines and so on. These fans are incredibly passionate about clubs from cities and countries they have never visited.
“And to be able to give them an opportunity to get closer to the club they love, to help them feel that the club cares about them would be an honour.”
“But I’m in a place in my life where I want to live in Europe and do something meaningful for hundreds of millions of people. All while innovating and improving the fan experience. For all Inter fans, regardless of where they live.”
Fell In Love With Italy During Summers In Capri Playing Football With Inter Milan Legend Sandro Mazzola
Thomas Zilliacus interest in Italian football started long ago, back when he was a teenager when he thinks he might have played football against Inter legend Sandro Mazzola.
“My interest in Italian football started when I spent three summers in Capri starting when I was 15 years old. I was there to learn Italian, and I fell in love with Italy as a country, the people, the food, the culture. And football.
“We used to play football on the pitch nearby our school, us kids. And one of the people that played with us was an Inter star who was there are on holiday. This was such a long time ago that I can’t tell you definitively if it was Sandro Mazzola or not, but I think it was him.
“This was my first memory of Italian football and Inter. It was an incredible experience.
“As long as I can remember I have played football. When I was 7 years old, I got a book for Christmas from my father, which among other things contained an article written by Brazilian legend Pelé.
“The article listed 10 pieces of good advice on how to become a good football player. And the very first piece of advice listed was ‘don’t smoke tobacco and don’t drink alcohol.’
“I took that advice very literally and so I was 21 years old the first time I had my first drink.
Spending A Year At Fluminense’s Youth Academy – Trained With Brazil Legend Rivellino
Zilliacus also spent a year as a youth team player with Brazilian club Fluminense training with Brazil legend Rivellino as well as playing in front of 160,000 people at the Maracanã.
“My parents were friends with the President of the Finnish FA, Ove H. Rehn, and I had mentioned to him in passing that I always had a dream of traveling to South America and Brazil specifically.
“It was that way where I was able to spend a season in Brazil, playing for Fluminense’s youth academy. I only spent that season there. It was an amazing experience. So somehow there was an opportunity for me to go as a 20-year-old and I took it.
“I was an OK player, I wasn’t a national team player, but I played in the highest league in Finland. I remember in Brazil the players there were incredibly technical, and my physique and physical condition was very good. That made me stand out.
“I started playing as a striker but then became a midfielder as a number 10. Then when I got older and became slower and ended my career as a defender.
“I really gelled well with the team. We trained three times a week with the first team, with players like Rivellino, who became a legend. And I remember playing one game at the Maracanã with the youth team.
“Back then the stadium wasn’t an all-seater, so there were 160,000 people in the stands. And it was the season opener, between Fluminense and Flamengo. So, it was packed to the rafters. Before the first teams played their game, the youth teams played each other.
“So, I got the chance to take to the pitch. This is probably why I ended my career after I returned to Finland as I felt I had reached the peak of my career. I had played in front of 160,000 people, in Finland maybe there are 1600 people at games [laughs].
Asked By Singapore FA To Be Manager For Local Team – Won League 5 Years In A Row
Thomas Zilliacus also has experience from the directorial side of football too. This was when he moved to Singapore on behalf of Nokia where he was the CEO of Nokia SouthEast Asia.
“However, after spending a year in Brazil, I returned to Finland and decided to focus on my studies. Retrospectively I think that was a wise decision. My strengths weren’t on the pitch. So, when I returned, I played in the second tier of Finnish football, at Grankulla IFK.
“Then HJK asked me in the early 1980’s to become their President which I was for 4 years. It was probably due to the fact that I was elected to the Helsinki City Council, as the youngest member of that body.
“I had already become Nokia’s Global Head Of Communications by the age of 25 and a few years later Nokia asked me to move to Singapore. I became CEO of Nokia SouthEast Asia and that way I invited HJK to Singapore for an exhibition tournament against Singapore’s national team.
“As a result, the Singapore FA asked me to become involved in local football, where a semiprofessional league had been set up. I became the manager for Geylang International FC.
“We won the league every year I was there, 5 years in a row. After that I had a long break from football being involved in Finnish ice-hockey.
“A good friend of mine, Harry Harkimo had bought Jokerit and he wanted me to invest as well as they were building a new stadium. That Stadium became build as Hartwall Arena. We sold our stakes in the club and the stadium some 15 years later to Russian investors.”
Thomas Zilliacus – Interest In Buying Inter Milan From Suning Started Thanks To AC Milan Owners RedBird
Zilliacus interest in owning an Italian football club started via his much-publicized interest in Manchester United. An interest which never amounted to anything given that the Glazers still own the club.
However, he got the idea to get back into football thanks to his friend Dan Swift. More precisely when RedBird buying Inter’s crosstown rivals AC Milan.
“My interest in Manchester United started when my wife returned from a lunch in New York where she was visiting our daughter who lives there. My wife had had lunch with Dan Swift‘s wife. When in Singapore I became friends with Dan.
“Anyway, my wife told me that Dan had bought AC Milan. Dan is a partner in RedBird. I contacted Dan and asked to be involved. He told me that unfortunately the deal had already been concluded.
“This woke up my interest in football again. This and the fact that from my house in Como I can see right into Como’s Stadium so I can watch their games for free [laughs].
“But I’m at a stage of my life now where I want to invest in things I enjoy. The city of Milan is known to investors for two things: fashion and football.
“So, I started thinking about another company I had started, Circle Of Champions. Since 2016 we’ve worked with the biggest clubs in the world. We raised good money for the clubs by selling products to fans all over the world.
“So, for example we fan paid up to €400 per year buying add-ons in a tournament in mobile platforms. The winner got to go for a week to the club in question. Included was a things like VIP box to a game, get to meet the players and attend a training, meet club legends.
“This made me think: €400 for one fan. If you have 1 million fans paying that then you’ve raised almost half of what Manchester United have in their annual turnover. And that is all profit. Not revenue, profit.
“So, I contacted Raine Group and asked to make a bid. Which I did. But I don’t think the Glazers want to sell.
“Nevertheless, this interest led to people suggesting other clubs to me to invest in. And one of these clubs is Inter. So, when I pulled out of the Manchester United talks, I decided to look at Inter with this group that contacted me.
Atmosphere At San Siro “Unbelievable” When Inter Milan Beat AC Milan In Champions League Semifinal but Clubs Must Cater To Global Fanbase
The first time Thomas Zilliacus visited the San Siro was as late as earlier this year. The return leg when Inter secured a spot in the Champions League final.
Zilliacus believes that clubs should cater to their global fanbase, many of whom never can come to Europe to watch their favourite teams play live in person.
“I have to admit that I had never been to San Siro. That is, until the return leg of the semifinal of the Champions League earlier this year. The atmosphere was unbelievable.
“I’ve learned that Inter have a huge global fanbase, up to 500 million around the world, according to some estimates.
“However, the San Siro, even though it’s a huge Stadium, it holds around 73,000 spectators. This means that 99.9% of the fans never have the possibility to come to watch Inter at the San Siro. And half of those 73,000 are season ticket holders.
“That tells you the endless opportunities to develop a service that cater to the global fanbase. Right now, we are developing a product which we have applied to secure the patent for.
“One element the platform offers is called ‘A Virtual Stadium Experience’. This means fans can sit in Stockholm, Lagos or Shanghai and visit the stadium.
“And many times, this solution could even be preferable to actually visiting stadium given how difficult that experience can be for many people.
“And like I said: the Stadium takes 73,000. Half of this is reserved for season ticket holders. With a fanbase of 500 million, surely there is room to grow by catering to 99.9% of the fanbase that never can watch Inter at the San Siro.
“Inter is an institution, like La Scala. Inter has been here long before we were alive, and the club will be here long after we are all gone” he ends the interview.