MILAN – FC Internazionale managing director Marco Fassone gave a long interview to Sky Sport 24.
This is what he said:
Let’s start with what it means to you to be the first point of reference within the club.
"I’m aware that my position means taking on huge responsibility at a very particular time in our club’s history. It’s a period of transition between two main shareholders who complement each other very well. I feel very privileged to have been named managing director and handed the responsibility of producing the results that the shareholders expect."
Has president Thohir surprised you in anything? If so, what?
"No, I wouldn’t say surprised because I started getting to know Thohir I think in May of last year, so we’ve known each other for a year now. From the very first few chats I had with him when he was starting to learn about our club I could understand his mentality, which is a mixture of Asian and American thinking. I don’t think I was surprised in any particular way."
One thing that’s very important for president Thohir, and he made this clear from the very start, is helping to increase the competitiveness of Serie A compared to other leagues. Which of his ideas can help Italian football to get going again? Have you spoken to any other directors about it?
"That’s one of the key points of Thohir’s philosophy. I think he chose Italy even before choosing Inter when he decided to make an investment in European football. I think he chose Italy because of the huge potential for growth it has, especially abroad. Thohir was himself witness to it because he can remember Serie A up until 15 or 20 years ago, when it was the most popular league not only in Indonesia but Asia generally. In the last 15-20 years we’ve seen the rise of popularity and the level of football in other leagues. Today Serie A is the fourth most popular in Indonesia and this slide from first to fourth coincides with the same drop in the UEFA rankings – it’s simultaneously a loss of popularity in the TV audiences and competitiveness on the field. But in that sense Italy and not only Inter has everything it needs, because if we were competitive just four years ago it means that’s we’ve lost ground, and probably time in introducing a series of processes that have already been introduced in other leagues. It’s basically just a case of copying some of the things that have been done elsewhere, and then the footballing culture we have in Italy can give us a competitive advantage which will enable us to get back up among the best in a short space of time."
Where do you think Italy has gone wrong and how can we catch up with other leagues?
"There are aspects which affect the technical side and others the economic side. At the Lega we’re discussing a series of approaches which will allow us to become more competitive: for example limiting squads to a maximum of 25 players, something that already happens in Europe, setting up a second or reserve team for sides in Serie A, or giving them the chance to have another team in Lega Pro, something which is currently not allowed yet occurs elsewhere. We want to create a number of parameters which make us use young players developed in our academies in our first teams and European football. Reducing the league from 20 to 18 teams would definitely help.
"Then there are other ways to increase the game’s popularity abroad, to create passion for our league overseas, which is not simply a case of getting the world’s best players coming back to Italy, but also for example adopting television broadcasting slots that suit the Asian market. We need to have full stadiums (not like in Italy where arenas are less than 50% full on average), keep an eye on television production, because when you watch a Premier League match, even if it’s not between two top teams, you still see a very high-level product, something which doesn’t yet happen here for every game."
Could Inter lead the way on this?
"As of next year, we will tweak a number of things to move further towards these measures, i.e. a squad that is in line with the competitions we’re involved in, a mix between experienced and young players, as the president has said on many occasions, to reach our goal of an average age of 26.5. Some of what needs to be the plan for Italian football as a whole might already be visible at Inter from next season."
Some of these measures will be part of the healthy financial running of the club. Which others come under the plan presented to the banks?
"I think it comes down to the three pillars president Thohir has always spoken about: first, have a healthy club (economically self-sufficient and not dependent on money from shareholders). Second, a winning team: the two need to go hand in hand. Third, produce spectacular football. Thohir is also a media and communications man and he knows that winning is important and he wants to do so by putting on a show. These are the three points that all of us in management are basing our work on. There are two things that need to be done to get the club financially stable: cut costs (something we’ve been doing now for two years), this year for the first time the shareholders will see a gross margin in the black (a first sign of a healthy club) and then we need to increase revenue, because cutting costs is not enough. We want to compete again in the near future. Having at least partially sorted out costs, we are now very focused on building revenue."
How soon before the club stops losing money?
"We plan to balance the books within the next two to three years. A lot depends on whether we’re in the Champions League (it can have an impact on 25% of a Serie A club’s revenue), as playing in it would allow us to get there a bit quicker, whereas it will take longer if we’re not involved in Europe. But this is not gospel, we simply want to try and balance the books in the next two to three years. We mustn’t forget that Financial Fair Play began in 2010, so even if we wanted to we couldn’t give ourselves more time as we have to respect UEFA regulations."
Two to three years to go back to being competitive on the pitch too?
"We’re confident that Inter will already be competitive next season. Lest we forget, we’re among the top 15 clubs in the world in terms of revenue and the top three in Italy even without playing in Europe. The important thing is to spend and invest well in a studied and methodical manner. If we do a good job these results shouldn’t take too long to arrive."
Is the aim to play in the 2015/16 Champions League?
"We don’t set ourselves targets, but the competitions we play in need Inter to be prominent, we won’t trot out excuses. Inter need to be competitive on the pitch, within the timeframe it typically takes between the end of one cycle and the beginning of another."
Are there similarities between Inter and Roma given both clubs have foreign owners?
"In terms of ownership, yes, Roma has American owners, and our president’s approach is the same as he knows American sport well, the philosophy that drives it, and he owns both a football and basketball team in the US. Both owners want to bring the part of this philosophy that is compatible with European football here to Italy, for example looking after the fans’ needs and managing stadiums, which here is only just being talked about, whereas in the United States it’s very advanced. Thohir and Pallotta, from what I’ve seen, have lots of things in common."
Reduce costs and improve the club by increasing revenue: can that be done by attracting new sponsors?
"The areas we’re focused on in the short term are the stadium and commercial revenue. In terms of commercial revenue, Inter are considerably smaller even in terms of our direct competitors in Italy, and before the end of the month we’ll be able to officially confirm a number of contracts signed over recent months, such as our deal with Nike, which is a lot more strategic than before, involving shops, licensees and merchandising, with development of this all over the world. We’re very proud that Nike have chosen us, for a relationship that runs from now until 2024, and we’ve been placed in a pool that contains Manchester United, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain as Nike’s four club global ambassadors.
"As for the stadium: although it’s not ultra-modern, it’s still one of the most important stadiums, with a UEFA 5-star rating, meaning it can host European finals. Without now thinking about new stadiums, we think that by working well on this stadium we can significantly develop the revenue it produces. In the near future we’ll be happy with our sponsors, commercial activities and stadium."
How do you intend to restructure San Siro? What plans do you have for it?
"There are plans for the very near future which are already under way which should allow the stadium to host in the best way possible – should UEFA award it to us – the 2016 UEFA Champions League final.
"Then there’s more long-term thinking, which is something we’ve looked at since AC Milan have moved towards a new stadium: the idea of staying on our own at the San Siro could be interesting. With the president we’ve decided to complete the refinancing which is taking up a lot of our time recently. This summer, once we have sorted out the refinancing side, we will look at what needs doing with the stadium which gives us at least two options: move to a new stadium or stay in a renovated, revitalised San Siro. The idea of a new ground has not been shelved, let’s say we have several alternatives on the table, whereas until six months ago AC Milan had always been wholly opposed to moving. We want to carefully assess the cost of both options and make the best decision for the club."
Would you like to have a different relationship with the Inter fans?
"I would like to have a relationship which is different to the one that’s built up for a number of reasons. There have been some testing, tricky times with the supporters. I know that fans want to see their club run by another fan, a person driven by the same values, the same passion. This is often not possible because management needs to be more rational and think with a cool head, they need to be able to say no and resist temptations that fans are unable to. I think top officials at Italian clubs were born in different cities or worked at other clubs before they achieved the bigger and well-earned success at the clubs where they now work. That does not mean, and it’s important for fans to know this, that once you accept a management position at a big club that your life doesn’t change and that you’re not taken over by complete passion for the club you’re running. It happened to me at Napoli, and it’s happening now too: Inter is now my life, my constant from morning to night. I give everything a fan gives Inter, even though everyone’s past, particularly for a professional, is shaped by various experiences, like in my case."
There’s a picture that the fans often bring up: you at Juventus with that T-shirt.
"Ahem, accidents happen along the way. I think lots of officials visit supporters clubs, to meet the fans. The tradition is that the fans give you a present at the end of the evening, and that night they brought me a T-shirt which I unfolded to see what it said. I wasn’t thinking quickly enough to fold it back up and put it away. I was naïve, I apologise if I offended anyone, it definitely wasn’t my intention. Now, with a bit more experience, I wouldn’t do it again."
Coming back to the current club, the figure you’re missing is a director of communications: have you identified someone?
"Not yet, we’ve seen several candidates. What the president has in mind is a little unusual for Italian culture, the idea of a head of communications who essentially deals with the media. More complete, digital and modern, someone who helps the club to develop their relationships with fans above all overseas. This is a crucial figure so we don’t want to get this appointment wrong. We’re in the final stages."
On the subject of communication: you’ve come in for some criticism for not having always commented publicly on refereeing mistakes. Why?
"In Italy people tend to have to make a lot of noise and show their faces. It’s a strategy that I respect, some clubs adopt it, others take a different approach, like Roma who have never hidden the fact that they don’t want to talk about certain things. In this specific case, in the face of officiating which has not been adequate this season not only for Inter, but in general, a club likes ours needs to give our thoughts in a calm, constructive way and direct them to the bodies that need to act on them. We’ve done that and we were listened to in a very civilised manner. I believe that some of the arguments we put forward will be reflected in the decisions that the FIGC, with great respect, will take. When the line was crossed, we acted very clearly through the coach, sporting director and myself. This is the profile the club wants to maintain."
Besides a director of communications, are any other figures due to be appointed?
"We’re finalising some market research and bringing in new people particularly in the commercial and media departments, which are still a bit small. Just yesterday a new manager joined who will be in charge of the stadium. I’d like to welcome Luca Innocenti. A new director of marketing and a director of international sales will both come in within the next month. Then the media and communications department will be strengthened by the new head, once they arrive, plus another couple of important figures for developing our image and defending our brand."
Promoting the brand is central to this project. Does behaviour like Icardi’s not risk damaging the club’s image?
"I hope not and I don’t think so, I hope that there’s no risk of that. Sure, the use of social media by the players and people close to the club needs to improve in the future. We’ve spoken to the president and sporting director about this at length, we want to hire experts to talk to the players and their families about how to use social media this summer at our training camp. I believe it’s better to mediate than to take drastic measures."
Was action taken over Icardi?
"There’s constant dialogue between the coach, sporting director and team-mates: thankfully these things are managed through dialogue within the dressing room, so in the best way possible. He’s a very important player for us from a technical perspective and in terms of his potential and we’re all on the same track."
Could whether or not Inter qualify for the Europa League determine Mazzarri’s future?
"I’d like to be clear on two points. We’ve never tried to hide the fact that the Europa League is an aim of ours, having missed out this season. Inter’s history tells us this is something that happens once every 15-20 years, so two years in a row would not go down well. The coach is a different matter. I’ve already said that he is the technical foundation upon which we’re planning the future, there’s no correlation between him and the Europa League. He’s done a great job up till now and that looks set to continue. Will we talk about a new deal when we sit down? Yes."
Will you continue the policy of announcing a new signing every month?
"It’s one thing making a media announcement about having completed a deal like with Vidic, when the rules allowed us to do so. Then the fact that our sporting director moves forward with talks over potential deals is something else entirely. And it’s one thing announcing something that has been done. Ausilio and his team are going ahead with talks, and we’ll make announcements when it’s the right time to do so."
Thohir is meeting Florentino Perez of Real Madrid next week: could that lead to a deal for Morata?
"Thohir and Perez will have a number of things to talk about. They will exchange ideas and then perhaps they’ll talk about players, but I don’t know what will be said."
Could you tell us what the transfer strategy is for next season?
"You’ve already named several players, we’re working to cover two to three positions where we need new signings. Which players we will go for will be judged first and foremost on their technical ability, then their price tag and we’ll look at their age, to create a mix of experienced and young players and achieve the best results possible. I think two to three new players will come in. A forward, a midfielder and a wide player? Yes, I think so."
How far along are talks with Alvarez over a new deal?
"This is something Ausilio’s working on, we’re in more of a hurry to sign things with some players like Palacio and Guarin, while the timeframe with others is more flexible. They all need to know what the club wants to do but as ever if both parties are open to an agreement, you can always find a deal. Ranocchia? He’s one of the players whose contract expires in a year’s time. Ausilio will sit down with him as he’s done with the others."
Why, having signed a new deal, has Guarin still not shown his full potential?
"I don’t get into assessing their performances on the pitch, I know that both the player and the club really wanted to sign a new deal, he was very happy to stay and very enthusiastic. Then choices, reasons and assessments from the technical side come into play, but I don’t get involved in that."
Give us three reasons why the fans can still believe in the Thohir project.
"One: the reliability of the owners. I haven’t known Thohir long but nor have I just met him: he’s a very trustworthy person, his experience both in sport and elsewhere speaks for itself, he’s a successful entrepreneur. He doesn’t want to add a failure to his personal career. He’s come here to bring Inter success.
"The second is the presence of Massimo Moratti, who’s a safe pair of hands and passionate, he knows what Inter and Italy is all about, and he fully complements Thohir. It’s a perfect union between two visions that complement one another very well.
"Third: the history of this club. If you look at what Inter has achieved in its 106 years of history, you know that the club has had three years beneath its usual standing. History and statistics tell us that Inter doesn’t stay in these positions for very long.
"Finally, the hard work of all of us, the desire to show that in Italy we can create an elite and competitive football team with healthy finances. That’s our challenge, and we want to show we can do it."