Silvio Berlusconi shaped sport, politics and the media economy in a unique way

Status: 06/12/2023 10:46 p.m

Silvio Berlusconi is dead. He died at the age of 86 on Monday (12.06.23) in the San Raffaele hospital in Milan, where he had previously spent almost two months to recover from leukemia and pneumonia. National mourning was declared in Italy. Berlusconi is to be buried in Milan Cathedral on Wednesday.

This is the place where Milan football clubs usually celebrate their big victories. Under Silvio Berlusconi as owner and president, AC Milan won eight league titles, three Champions Leagues and two European Cups. There were also numerous other trophies in the Coppa Italia, the Italian Supercup, UEFA Supercup and FIFA Club World Cup. A total of 29 trophies were collected in 31 years – plenty of reason to celebrate at the cathedral. Berlusconi also loved having his picture taken with the trophies.

However, Milan Cathedral was also the place where, in December 2009, an apparently confused man carried out a knife attack on the then Prime Minister and owner of AC Milan. By then, however, Berlusconi’s star was already sinking. AC Milan was no longer competitive given the major investments, especially in the Premier League in Europe. In the political field, Berlusconi has had to accept the rise of other forces to the right of Forza Italia, which he founded.

In 2011, he even had to experience that not even a desperate appeal by the Association of AC Milan Fan Clubs to all members to write the name Berlusconi on the ballot was enough for his camp to win the 2011 local elections. Milan went to the centre-left coalition candidate. A few months later, Berlusconi resigned as Prime Minister.

For several decades, however, he shaped Italy’s politics, economy and sport in a unique way.

Ascend in “Apocalypse Now” style

His ascent began like a Hollywood opus. Sounds of Richard Wagner’s “Valkyrie” roared from the loudspeakers when, on July 18, 1986, a helicopter flew in over the oval of the Arena Civica, a former training ground of AC Milan, in a play on “Apocalypse Now”. Silvio Berlusconi climbed out of the helicopter to a flurry of flashbulbs from photographers and cheering fans. Five months earlier, he had acquired the traditional but recently less successful football club.

On the day the contract was signed in the football business, he was also able to celebrate a great success as a media entrepreneur. “We flew to Paris immediately afterwards to attend the broadcast of the first show of our new channel, La Cinq. That was the first private broadcaster in France at all“, recalled Adriano Galliani, Berlusconi’s right-hand man not only in football. That night in the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower, “with lots of champagne and an incomparable Bordeaux Mouton Rothschildcelebrated, Galliani continued. The first major success in football came a year later with the Scudetto.

Success with opponent’s heroes

He was coached by Arrigo Sacchi, a revolutionary in attacking football. Sacchi had thrown Berlusconi’s new club out of the cup as coach of the lower-class AC Parma. The dedicated Sacchi promptly. It was a pattern for transfer deals with players too. Ruud Gullit, for example, put so much pressure on AC Milan in a friendly for his then-club PSV Eindhoven that Berlusconi was keen to have him on his side. Thus began the golden era of the Oranje trio Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard in Milan.

It was the time when the red-blacks were regular guests in the Champions League finals, reached the final five times in seven years and won the competition three times. At its peak, in the season of the third triumph in Europe’s top club competition, Berlusconi also entered politics.

Tailwind from the sport also for the political career

It was a well-calculated step. Because the political novice could count on the support of millions of AC Milan fans. His successes as a building contractor and media mogul also made him a shining light in many eyes.

However, Berlusconi also benefited from the bribery scandals surrounding the established parties and from many fears of a shift to the left in Italian politics. His own anti-communism is legendary. “When we met, his first question to me was what I think about it. And I told him that my father always said that the communists eat little children. Berlusconi then got up, hugged me and said: ‘My father always said the same thing.

As an opportunistic businessman who was also Berlusconi, that didn’t stop him from openly offering his heart’s club to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in 2015. Two years later, AC Milan went to a Chinese investor who, of course, could not service credit lines and therefore had to hand over the club to the Elliott investment fund.

Entrepreneurs and politicians of the scandals

Berlusconi’s time as club president was marked not only by all the successes on the football field but also by numerous scandals and court cases. Some of his confidants were charged with dealings with the Cosa nostra. Mafia money is said to have flowed into his construction companies. He himself was at the center of a sex scandal involving minors, the so-called Ruby Gate.

However, most trials ended with the statute of limitations, acquittal or amnesty. His political opponents repeatedly accused him of having used his reign for judicial reforms that made investigations against him and his confidants more difficult.

In his last years he was weakened mainly by his age and his health problems. The only notable success is AC Monza, who managed to climb from the 3rd division to Serie A with their money and the know-how and network of their old adlatus Galliani.

Tricky legacy

In football, Berlusconi leaves legends and trophies above all else. Shortly after his death, former Milan professional Filippo Galli even suggested naming the new AC Milan stadium to be built after the old patron.

His legacy as a businessman and politician is much more controversial. The future of his party without him is unclear. His fortune is estimated at $7 billion. It ranges from the Villa Arcore within sight of the stadium in Monza to the media group Mediaset and the family holding company Fininvest to real estate projects on the Caribbean island of Antigua.

A startling sign is that shortly after the news of his death, his company’s share prices rose by a few percent. The financial markets apparently see more potential in Berlusconi’s company without the founder than when he was alive.