MILAN - Dutch football great Marco Van Basten has expressed his disbelief at seeing Serie A giants AC Milan and Inter Milan fall to Chinese ownership, claiming "two such glorious clubs should remain Italian".
Van Basten, recently appointed FIFA's technical chief, won four Serie A titles and two European Cups with AC Milan in a glittering career that saw him score some of the most memorable goals in modern history.
But seeing his beloved AC Milan, who are in the midst of a takeover, fall into Chinese ownership is something he finds "hard to swallow".
Inter Milan, who have struggled since winning the treble under Jose Mourinho in 2010, have been owned by the Suning Commerce group since last summer.
"It's hard to think of Milan and Inter having Chinese owners. Two such glorious clubs should remain Italian," Van Basten said in an interview with Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport on Thursday.
"It's not just about the charm or the story, of (Massimo) Moratti or (Silvio) Berlusconi. It's about passion, which is priceless. Milan being Chinese owned is hard to swallow."
AC Milan enjoyed the most fruitful spell in their history after Italian media tycoon and former two-time Italy prime minister Berlusconi took over the club in 1986.
The Rossoneri ended a nine-year wait to win the Serie A title in 1988, adding another seven league titles from 1992 to 2011 as well as five of their total seven Champions League titles, the last coming in 2007.
"Berlusconi's Milan made football history," added van Basten. "I will always be grateful for the opportunity to be part of the squad."
But Milan's last 'scudetto' came in 2011 and the seven-time European champions, much like Inter, have struggled even to qualify for European competition in recent seasons.
A Chinese consortium, Sino-Europe Sports (SES), is scheduled to complete the takeover of Milan in March for a previously-agreed total of 740 million euros (then S$1 billion).
Although Van Basten is baulking, former Juventus, Inter and Italy striker Roberto Baggio said China's recent splurge on European football is simply the new reality.
"Back in my day, no one would have imagined such a scenario. But that said, I don't find it so strange or sad. It's the new economy," Baggio said last week.
"The Chinese have the power to take Milan back to the top of world football. They will need time, and although money is important, the right structures also need to be in place." Carlo Tavecchio, the president of the Italian football federation (FIGC), agrees.
He says if the Chinese invest in a "serious" and "legal" manner in the English Premier League - the Chinese government owns a minority stake in Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion are owned by Chinese businessman Guochuan Lai - then they are welcome, too, in Serie A.
"If the investments are serious, legal and are carried out on our national territory, they're welcome," said Tavecchio when asked about China's interest in Serie A.
"Right now, we need some resources fed into the system. And, it seems to me that plenty of other European countries have experienced lots of foreign intervention that has all gone smoothly."