FILE - AC Milan president Silvio Berlusconi, center in dark suit, celebrates with the team after defeating Juventus to win the Luigi Berlusconi Trophy exhibition soccer match at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, on Aug. 17, 2007. Image Credit: AP

Silvio Berlusconi, who died of leukaemia at the age of 86, had a significant impact on Italian football, particularly through his ownership and presidency of A.C. Milan.

Berlusconi’s tenure at the club, spanning from 1986 to 2017, was marked by remarkable success and achievements.

Under Berlusconi’s ownership, A.C. Milan experienced a golden era, winning numerous domestic titles such as 8 Serie A titles and 5 Coppa Italia titles. A.C. Milan’s success under Berlusconi extended to the European stage. The club won five Uefa Champions League titles and reached the final on two additional occasions.

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Berlusconi’s stewardship elevated AC Milan from a crisis club to a European superpower, enabled the formation of the star ensemble with Paolo Maldini, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, which defines the Milan legend to this day. The club became renowned globally for its style of play, success, and the array of star players it attracted.

Silvio Berlusconi’s tenure as the president and owner of A.C. Milan can, in retrospect, be seen as a pioneering example of a football club president exerting significant influence over the sport’s affairs. While there have been influential and successful club presidents before Berlusconi, his ownership of A.C. Milan brought forth a new era in which club presidents became prominent figures shaping the direction of their clubs and even the broader football landscape.

Football landscape in Italy

The media empire that Berlusconi created, particularly his ownership of major television networks in Italy, allowed him to shape the football landscape in Italy.

Through his media holdings, Berlusconi possessed substantial broadcasting power. His television networks, most notably Mediaset, had a wide reach and audience in Italy. This put him in a position to shape the narrative and coverage of football, influencing public opinion, mold the discourse, and determine the exposure given to clubs and players.

OPN Berlusconi FUNERAL
Pallbearers carry the coffin of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi during his state funeral, at Duomo square, in Milan, Italy June 14, 2023. Image Credit: REUTERS

Berlusconi’s media empire also generated substantial revenue that he could invest in A.C. Milan. The financial resources provided by his media holdings allowed the club to strengthen its squad, invest in infrastructure, and remain competitive both domestically and in European competitions. The extensive media coverage helped position A.C. Milan as an aspirational brand and attracted international attention and support.

Football paved the way for Berlusconi’s rise to political power. He founded his party Forza Italia — named after a football rallying cry — and ran for the seat of prime minister. Berlusconi ultimately became Italian Prime Minister four times between 1994 and 2011.

Liberalised labour markets

During his time as Prime Minister, Berlusconi implemented several economic reforms aimed at boosting growth and modernising Italy’s economy. He introduced measures to reduce bureaucracy, liberalise labour markets, and attract foreign investment. It bears mentioning that Berlusconi’s tenure coincided with the global financial crisis, which severely impacted Italy’s economy.

The country faced economic stagnation, high public debt, and rising unemployment. Berlusconi’s handling of the economic challenges evoked criticism from certain corners, and some argued that his focus on personal and political interests hindered effective crisis management.

It should also be noted that Berlusconi’s governments were marked by political instability and frequent changes in coalition partners. Maintaining stable and cohesive coalitions in Italy proved especially challenging during his tenure. The nature of the political system in Italy contributed to the difficulties faced in forming and sustaining stable governing coalitions as he was forced to rely on a diverse range of parties with different ideologies and priorities.

The inherent difficulties in managing such diverse alliances, combined with personal ambitions, party rivalries, and regional interests, led to some of the instability but amid this flux one man shone through — Berlusconi. The Italian leader will be remembered for his multifaceted role as a business tycoon, media mogul, politician, and owner of a globally renowned football club.

Dr. Kristian Alexander is a Senior Fellow and the Director of International Security & Terrorism Program at TRENDS Research and Advisory (Dubai).