As Berlusconi nears sale, Milan derby marks end of an era

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ROME (AP) — It will likely be Silvio Berlusconi's final derby as AC Milan owner. And the first for Inter's new Chinese proprietors.

Plus Silvio Pioli's debut as coach of struggling Inter.

Combined with the rise of Milan's youth-oriented squad after several difficult seasons, Sunday's match is being celebrated both as the end of an era and a time of new beginnings.

"It seems like a different derby compared to the last several, in terms of interest, tickets, standings and the new developments in club ownership," Milan vice president Adriano Galliani said.

Berlusconi, who purchased Milan 30 years ago, is expected to close a deal next month selling his majority stake in the club to a Chinese investor group that includes the participation of a Chinese state investment fund.

While seven-time European champion Milan has not qualified for continental play for three consecutive seasons, the Rossoneri have seen a turnaround this season under first-year coach Vincenzo Montella.

Relying on 17-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 18-year-old midfielder Manuel Locatelli and forward M'Baye Niang, a relative veteran at 21, Montella has guided Milan to third place with a new sense of team unity.

"After all these difficult years full of problems which I'm not going to list now, this might be the first time that we're re-establishing a close-knit group," Milan midfielder Andrea Poli said. "We're on the right road and we've got to continue along this path."

Inter, meanwhile, is languishing in ninth place with just as many losses — five — as wins this season.

Pioli, the former Chievo Verona and Lazio coach, was hired last week to replace the fired Frank de Boer.

De Boer was hired less than two weeks before the season began following the unexpected resignation of Roberto Mancini, who reportedly wanted more control over the transfer market and clashed with Suning, the Chinese retail giant that took control of 70 percent of Inter in June.

"Usually a coaching change brings good luck and the derby is often won by the underdog," former Inter president Massimo Moratti said. "But it's not an easy job for Pioli. He's got a difficult match right away. But he's intelligent and he's been able to get his squads to play well."

Inter has a wide array of top-quality players — such as Mauro Icardi, who tops the Serie A scoring chart alongside Roma's Edin Dzeko with 10 goals each, plus Croatia midfielder Ivan Perisic, Montenegro forward Stevan Jovetic and Italy internationals Eder and Antonio Candreva — but the Nerazzurri were inconsistent and appeared confused under De Boer.

"When there are changes it's never just the failure of a coach who is fired. It's also an alarm bell for the players," said former Milan standout Demetrio Albertini.

"When you make a change it shakes things up. So Inter will have the advantage of having a new coach and the players will want to prove themselves," Albertini added. "Qualitatively, they're extraordinary players but they haven't shown their value yet this season."

When Mancini returned to Inter in November 2014, the derby was also his first match back in charge. The game ended in a 1-1 draw.

In a move linked to Inter's past, the club's former defender Walter Samuel was hired as one of Pioli's assistants.

Samuel scored when Inter won the derby 1-0 four years ago.

"That's a great and useful move," Moratti said. "We needed him."


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