GdS: Two funds and three clubs – the Milan-Lille-Toulouse triangle explained

By Oliver Fisher -

One of the things that the authorities will investigate after the raid on Casa Milan is the ‘Milan, Toulouse, Lille’ triangle, according to a report.

As La Gazzetta dello Sport report, it is a triangle that crosses Western Europe geographically, but it also traces boundaries of the football operations of Elliott Management and RedBird Capital, the funds at the centre of the investigations into Milan.

Elliott got into football a bit by chance, then took a liking to it, also because the two managers involved in the Milan dossier right from the start – Giorgio Furlani and Gordon Singer – are huge fans of the club.

Furlani followed Milan on TV even in the desert in Chile so as not to miss a Champions League final, the latter was an Arsenal fan but converted after experiencing San Siro first half.

RedBird, on the other hand, suddenly appeared on the scene in 2022 when everything suggested that Milan would pass into the hands of Investcorp, a Bahrain-based investment fund.

Elliott and Milan

Founded in 1977 in New York by Paul Singer, Elliott have earned its investors an average annual return of 13% by embracing the definition of an activist fund.

Their entry into the Milan world was facilitated by the mysterious sale from Fininvest to Li Yonghong, an unknown Chinese entrepreneur. It was thought that the Beijing government was behind him, it was soon discovered that he was alone and penniless.

He signed a preliminary agreement in August 2016, with deposits upon deposits, then in April 2017 Elliott had to come to the rescue. In total €520m ended up in the hands of Berlusconi’s holding company, which increased Milan’s valuation (including debts) to €740m.

The €180m lent to the buyer Yonghong by Elliott was decisive, as he also financed an expansive summer transfer window with €123m through the subscription of two bonds.

In the midst of the titanic clashes for the governance of Ansaldo STS and Tim against Hitachi and Vivendi, Singer’s fund decided to take a further fundamental step.

Faced with Li’s failure to pay a €32m instalment due, in July 2018 Elliott triggered the enforcement of the pledge and took over Milan’s shares.

The investment and transition to Cardinale

In four years the club changed a lot. The brand was revitalised by a return to the Champions League and a Scudetto win, the debt was eliminated and the management shuffled to find a more effective way or working.

This is undoubtedly thanks to Elliott who, between 2018 and 2022, paid €565m as equity, covering losses and avoiding the use of financial debt. Also considering the loan not repaid by Li, the fund’s exposure (the amount they put in) to Milan amounted to €745m

Then, two years ago, Singer decided to accept RedBird’s offer at a valuation of €1.2bn. When the ‘vendor loan’ granted to Cardinale is repaid, a significant capital gain will be pocketed by Elliott.

The return on investment could grow further if an earn-out really were to be triggered, as was rumoured in financial circles.

RedBird and Toulouse

RedBird meanwhile acquired Toulouse in the summer of 2020, after their relegation from Ligue 1 to Ligue 2. After a first year of testing – major expenses, fewer results – Toulouse returned to the top flight, won the French Cup and qualified for Europe.

It was a rise led by Damien Comolli, now president of the club, and carried out in the name of some RedBird guiding principles, later transferred with more moderation to Milan. It was recently stated by the same source that Comolli could have some future involvement with the Rossoneri.

Above all, the principle of operating in a player trading market was deployed at Milan, which means cashing in on players when they are at peak value and choosing signings with a decisive contribution from data.

The fact Toulouse got into the Europa League saw Gerry Cardinale resign from the position of administrator at the French club to comply with UEFA regulations on time-shares.

Milan and Toulouse have pledged not to exchange players and know-how, and UEFA has given the OK to registration for the 2023-24 European competitions.

Lille and Leao

In short, the links between clubs are and remain a delicate topic and Lille are also central in this context. In December 2020 they passed from the old owner, Gérard Lopez, to Elliott, before all the shares were transferred to Merlyn Partners SCSp, a Luxembourg fund.

To do this, a management company – Callisto Sporting Srl, registered in the Luxembourg business register – was created in November 2020. It was a controversial transfer, which pushed L’Equipe to doubt whether the Merlyn fund was hiding Elliott’s presence.

As for Milan, they bought two of their best players today from Lille. Mike Maignan arrived in 2021 for less than €15m, a paltry sum compared to the current value of one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

Two years earlier, in 2019, the Diavolo bought Rafa Leao from Lille, who had left Sporting CP with unilateral termination of his contract just a year earlier. It was a difficult chapter that was definitively closed just a year ago, after Leao’s renewal with Milan.

On that occasion, Lille probably paid the €19m fine to Sporting, but not before having reached an agreement with Milan on the resale clause with Milan.

It is a complicated entanglement(s) that confirm how finance and football, in this story, are and will forever be linked.

Tags AC Milan


      1. This reeks of the Mayor calling in political favors to show what he’s capable of in regards to making life difficult for Milan if they continue their push to leave.

        Searching for a crime.

          1. You are wrong. Trump has been getting sued left and right from WAY before 2016, because he is corrupt. Juries are finding him guilty left and right. The video of him ogling young women with a known sex trafficker, the various audio of him saying terrible things about women, veterans and the disabled, the audio if him trying to get election officials to “find him votes”, his completely corrupt company. Trump is trash, get over it.

          2. Lmaooooo if it was anything like what has happened to trump, we would be in the Serie D with a $1 billion dollar judgment against the team.

            Trump has been indicted by grand juries, has lost multiple times in civil court and is going to criminal trial in 11 days based off evidence.

            This is the opposite of that. This is like what Republicans tried to do with Joe Biden and their one and only witness was a proven liar. And lied to the FBI.

          3. “💯 feels like what’s been happening to Trump since 2016 – but I could be wrong ofc.”

            So you’re insinuating that Milan has been breaking almost every single law for decades now? Or are you actually stupid enough to think Trump has never done anything “wrong”? 🙂

            TBH I don’t know which would be worse but I do know that my opinion of you just changed quite a bit. 😀

  1. Lmao anyone trying to equate this with trump, a proven criminal and one going on criminal trial in 11 days.

    This is like the opposite of that. There are bucket loads of evidence against the guy, and none against Milan.

    Milan is like Joe Biden. Republicans try to dig up any dirt and are failing miserably at it. Someone is trying to dig up dirt on Milan and failing at it.

  2. Should have never been allowed to own the club one owner one club.

    Also sorry to see italian teams drop out of ucl especially Inter who are the leading light in Italy back to normal for seria a teams in ucl.

    1. Go follow Inter then if you’re so fascinated and engrossed by them. That display yesterday was overly defensive and pathetic. If it wasn’t for Sommer, Atletico would have scored 4 or 5 goals.

      And unlike Inter whose financial situation is a total mess, Milan actually is on stable footing.

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