Berlusconi down but not out

Posted by Sumeet Paul

Silvio Berlusconi AC Milan
PA PhotosSilvio Berlusconi was found guilty of tax fraud on Friday

Labelled as a man with "a natural capacity for crime", Milan chief Silvio Berlusconi was handed a four-year prison sentence for tax fraud on Friday afternoon. However, the sentence was almost immediately reduced to one year, under an amnesty law designed to reduce prison overcrowding. It is widely believed the former Italian PM is unlikely to spend any time behind bars as there are two levels of appeal remaining, which could take several months apiece, and the Italian judicial system's statute of limitations will see the case expire next year. The question for most Rossoneri fans though, is what impact does this have on Milan?

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This is nothing new for the man who saved the club from the verge of bankruptcy back in 1986, invested heavily to construct one of the finest teams ever seen and experienced trophy-laden decades under his ownership. Milan have won eight Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia, five Italian Super Cups, five Champions League trophies, five European Super Cups, two intercontinental Cups and one FIFA Club World Cup since his takeover of the club.

Despite facing a dozen prosecutions over the last twenty years, he has never set foot in a cell. Perhaps he is now in a weaker position after stepping down as the prime minister almost a year ago, and while this is his first real conviction he also has further accusations levelled at him to deal with.

None of the above can be healthy for the club, damaging both its reputation and future. With Berlusconi dealing with endless charges, and being hit with a €10 million fine for his alleged fraudulent activity, it will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the club. Reports also claim shares in his flagship Mediaset TV company dropped by 3% on the Milan stock market in the wake of the news. In July 2011, Berlusconi’s holding company Fininvest was ordered to pay a staggering €560 million in damages to a rival media group over bribery allegations. It is difficult to not see any connection with the past summer's transfer dealings.

It is well documented that Milan were forced to sell two of their most prized assets in the summer in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva due to financial difficulties. Despite initially dismissing the rumours, Berlusconi hailed their departure as a 2financial success" of sort, claiming the club would save €150 million over the next two years. Coupled with the departure of numerous key statesmen at the club, it appears the club patron can no longer dig into his own pockets and is now impairing the club.

After initially ruling out investment, vice-president Adriano Galliani opened the door last month when pressed on the matter, saying: "President Berlusconi has always said that new investors are welcome and the doors are always open. However, I can assure you 100% that right now there are no buyers. Our books are basically balanced and at least that’ll give us the financial Scudetto." - Galliani told Sky Sport Italia.

While it’s all well and good to hear the club is financially stronger, it still doesn’t mean the club is healthy. Berlusconi may walk away from this sentence unharmed, but there is a struggle ahead for the former PM. Is he becoming a liability after years of success? The time may come for him to step aside sooner rather than later.

What do you make of the news on Berlusconi? Should he seriously contemplate selling the club?

For all the latest Milan and Serie A news, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty

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