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Why winning the Champions League may not solve Inter's financial issues

Giuseppe Cottini / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Inter Milan are one match away from becoming European champions for the fourth time after an unlikely run to Istanbul, but their financial troubles provide a stark contrast to mega-rich opponents Manchester City.

A resurgent club on the pitch, Inter exemplify the issues affecting Europe's grand old clubs as a huge debt threatens a club which won Serie A two years ago and could yet win the Champions League.

Looming over Inter is repayment of a €275-million emergency loan, taken out with investment fund Oaktree Capital, with a reported interest rate of 10%, by Chinese owners Suning two years ago.

Restrictions on capital being taken out of China and the Covid-19 pandemic were a painful double whammy to Inter and led to the club quickly flogging two stars of the 2021 league title win - Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi - for big money and losing coach Antonio Conte.

The loan needs to be paid back in full in a year's time or Inter could end up being scooped up by Oaktree in a similar way to how fund Elliott took control of AC Milan from Chinese businessman Li Yonghong in 2018.

Last season, Inter posted a loss of €140 million, a year after record losses of €245.6 million as stadiums stayed closed due to the pandemic.

"Paying a debt at the level of interest that the club is paying Oaktree is not sustainable," said former Inter general manager Ernesto Paolillo last month.

"(Chairman) Steven Zhang won't be able to export capital from China and nor will he be able to cover the debt with other resources. He will have no choice but to default on the agreement and sell the club to them."

A run to Saturday's final, whatever the result, should help Inter with problems which were exacerbated by cryptocurrency sponsor DigitalBits missing instalments on an €80-million deal.

But there is no comparison financially with City, backed by Abu Dhabi and a beneficiary of TV money which gives even newly-promoted Premier League teams more transfer market sway than Italy's biggest clubs.

On-pitch glory

On the pitch, however, things have been huge fun over the last few seasons, from ripping the title from hated Juventus, losing it on the final day to AC Milan, and then crushing their local rivals to reach the Champions League final.

Inter's progress came alongside a Serie A season in which they have too often been found wanting, 12 defeats leaving Inter with 12 points fewer than last season, when they went into the final day with a chance of retaining the Scudetto.

However, it was clear as far back as February that Napoli would win Serie A, and their dominance of the league allowed Italy's other clubs to focus more on Europe, where they have performed poorly too often.

Once the draw for the quarter and semi-finals was made in March, Inter knew they had a great shot at reaching the final for the first time since they last won the competition 13 years ago.

And their push for continental glory has resurrected an up-and-down season which at one point looked like being the end of Inzaghi as qualification for next year's edition of the Champions League was in major doubt.

Since knocking out Benfica in the last eight, Inter have won 11 of their last 12 matches in all competitions, their only defeat at Napoli in a run which also earned them a second straight Italian Cup and a place in Serie A's top four.

What will also give Inter hope of upsetting Pep Guardiola's machine-like City is the form of their attackers.

Lautaro Martinez, always a streaky player, had gone eight matches without scoring before Inter's second leg with Benfica but has since racked up 11 in his last 13, while in the same period Lukaku has scored seven times and set up five more.

It may not be enough against heavy favourites City, and whatever the result, the financial disparities are not going away any time soon.

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