Banking on Ibrahimovic, AC Milan owner RedBird pins hopes on the power of retired soccer great

Thu, Feb 29, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Banking on Ibrahimovic, AC Milan owner RedBird pins hopes on the power of retired soccer great

LONDON (AP) - Having worked with LeBron James, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, U.S. investor Gerry Cardinale is now banking on soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic to help revive the fortunes of storied Italian team AC Milan.

Ibrahimovic was hired as an operating partner at RedBird Capital, the private investment firm that bought Milan in 2022.

"Zlatan enables me to be based in the U.S. and still be on the ground in terms of presence and proxy in Milan," said Cardinale, who was speaking at the Financial Times' Business of Football Conference on Thursday. "We talk multiple times every day and he has the authority to be my voice to the players, to the staff, to everyone at Milan."

Cardinale has previously partnered with Hollywood stars Affleck, Damon and Dwayne Johnson and basketball star James - believing their expertise can give his investments an added edge.

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He turned to retired player Ibrahimovic to be his eyes and ears in Milan - once a dominant force in Europe but now without a Champions League title since 2007. Milan is currently third in Serie A.

In a much-traveled and trophy-laden career, Ibrahimovic played for many of the world's biggest teams, including Barcelona, Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Ajax, Juventus, AC and Inter Milan. He also had a spell in MLS with LA Galaxy.

Ibrahimovic retired last year - ending his career at Milan.

"After 20 years I felt free because as a professional football player you follow a certain program and freedom is less. So finally when I felt free Gerry came in the picture and he gave me an offer I couldn't refuse," Ibrahimovic said. "The day I stopped (playing) I said I want to start over. I want to start from zero with something new."

RedBird says it manages $8.6 billion of capital.

In 2022, it partnered with Affleck and Damon on an independent studio called Artists Equity.

Other deals have been struck for ventures involving James and Johnson as Cardinale says he is benefiting from working with stars from the world of sports and entertainment.

"Ben and Matt, what's amazing is they are teaching me more about investing in media and entertainment than I could get anywhere else," Cardinale said. "What I've started to do is say let me go right to the source, let me go to the guys that are right there at ground zero on all of these things. In Hollywood it's Ben and Matt and Dwayne, in sports it's LeBron and Zlatan."

Cardinale and Ibrahimovic have their work cut out if they are to lead Milan back to the summit of European soccer.

While Milan dominated the European Cup in the late '80s and early '90s, it can no longer compete with teams like Manchester City, Real Madrid and PSG for the game's best players.

"We have to find smarter ways of winning. Purely from an investment standpoint the whole point is to win consistently," Cardinale said.

He is convinced Ibrahimovic is the man to help him deliver success.

"What's crazy to me is people buy these sports teams and use consultants and advisers and research firms and all this stuff that guys like me are familiar with and the other parts of our business that we invest in. But who would know European football and who would know AC Milan better than this guy?"

Cardinale said Ibrahimovic comes with "legitimacy and credibility."

"If I just took a guy from New York and just put him in Milan, it would have much less credibility than Zlatan," he said. "Not because Zlatan is one of the greatest players who ever played, but the way he handles himself, the way he's able to talk to the players with a voice of ownership is incredibly unique."

During his career Ibrahimovic had a reputation for his forthright approach.

Asked about the transition from player to executive, he played up to his reputation for being outspoken.

"It's very easy. They do what I say otherwise they are not there anymore," Ibrahimovic said, before quickly adding: "No, I'm joking."

"The tricky situation is as a former player I used to play with these guys. They were my teammates eight months ago. There is a huge respect between us and obviously the situation I am in now, the role I am in now, you have to make certain decisions and not be maybe too friendly. You have to think in a different aspect from above and think about the club, the team, the future, you need to decide in a different way."


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