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Roma football club on brink of takeover by Unicredit

July 4, 2010

By Guy Dinmore in Rome

Wanted: wealthy sheikh or any big spender willing to take over AS Roma, one of the world’s top 12 revenue-earning football clubs which today (Monday) could find itself under the reluctant ownership of Unicredit, Europe’s third largest bank by market value.

Rosella Sensi, whose family has held a majority stake in Roma since 1993, may be forced to part with the club and her Italpetroli holding company which faces looming bankruptcy as it struggles with 400m euros in debt — some 320m owed to Unicredit and 80m to Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

Corriere dello Sport, a leading sports daily, reported yesterday that Ms Sensi, 38, was ready to strike a deal at talks scheduled today with Unicredit. In the event of no agreement then the future of Italpetroli’s assets will be decided by an arbitration court.

Unicredit currently owns 49 per cent of Italpetroli whose main business is the storage and handling of oil products.

The fate of Roma — founded in 1927 and one of Italy’s most successful clubs winning three Serie A titles and 11 Italian cups — has been up in the air since the death of Ms Sensi’s father, Franco, two years ago. Ms Sensi was widely reported to have turned down an offer then from George Soros, although a source close to the US financier and political activist denied this to the Financial Times.

Unicredit has no intention of hanging onto the club and, if agreement is reached with Ms Sensi, the bank is expected to appoint an advisor to find a new owner quickly.

Before the global financial crisis erupted two years ago, analysts say Roma could have been expected to fetch possibly double its current market value of some 110m euros. Listed on the Milan stock exchange, its share price closed last week 22 per cent above its level a month ago but still down a similar amount over the year.

Roma plays at home in the capital’s Olympic stadium but in common with most clubs does not own the ground which it shares with bitter rivals, Lazio. Ms Sensi had launched a project to build the club’s own 55,000-capacity stadium.

“We are all following this very closely,” said one senior banker. “Football is the mirror of Italy.”

Fortunately for shareholders of Unicredit wary of taking on a potential blackhole in terms of funding needs for the new season, the bank’s chief executive, Alessandro Profumo, is well known as a supporter of Milan’s Inter.

Four Italian clubs make it into the world’s top 20 revenue-earning clubs in the Deloitte Football Money League 2010, the accounting firm’s annual review.

Juventus, the Turin club majority owned by the Agnelli family and listed on the Milan bourse, comes in 8th with 203m euros in revenues. Italy’s most successful team in history was linked to a match fixing scandal in 2006 and had a torrid season this year.

Milan’s Internazionale, owned by Massimo Moratti, an oil tycoon, comes next in 9th with revenues of 196.5m euros. Under Jose Mourinho this year they triumphed in the Champions League for the third time, and became the first Italian club to win the “treble”.

AC Milan is marginally behind in 10th place. Owner Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister and media tycoon, has repeatedly denied he intends to sell up. Originally founded as a cricket club by an Englishman, Milan has won the Champions League seven times.

As Roma ranks 12th with revenues of 146.4m euros. The “yellow-reds” as they are known after their strip have a fervent following of fans in the capital worried about the club’s future.

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