July 23 – In a rare ruling against football’s authorities, AC Milan have been reinstated into the Europa League next season after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) overturned UEFA’s decision to exclude them for infringing financial fair play (FFP) rules.

The decision is a huge boost for the club which has struggled financially to meet UEFA’s financial fair play rules under new Chinese management who spent over £200 million on players in their first year of ownership but ran out of cash and commercial revenue to finance their ambition.

The club was then put on the sales block again but UEFA banned them last month following an investigation, a suspension that would have kicked in straight away since they had secured a place in the 2018-19 Europa League.

Following a hearing, CAS said that while UEFA’s decision to impose sanctions was correct, these needed to be more “proportionate” and exclusion was too severe.

The statement said that the CAS had “partially accepted Milan’s appeal,” adding that they “confirmed the part in which the Adjudicatory Chamber of UEFA established that Milan had failed to fulfil the break-even requirements,” but added that “the Chamber’s exclusion of Milan from the next UEFA competition … is cancelled.”

Milan defender Leonardo Bonucci immediately wrote on Twitter: “We’ve regained what we’d earned on the field.”

Since the ban was imposed, Milan have undergone a further ownership change, with Elliott Management taking over the club after Chinese owner Li Yonghong failed to meet a deadline to make a debt repayment.

In its statement CAS said it “noted that there were some important elements that could not properly be assessed by the Adjudicatory Chamber – most significantly the improvement of the Club’s financial situation as a result of the recent change of ownership.

“As a result, AC Milan is reinstated to the 2018/19 UEFA Europa League and the CAS has referred the case back to the Adjudicatory Chamber to decide on the appropriate disciplinary measure, in the light of these developments.”

Elliott Management could prove to be the big winners in this situation. The investment fund, while it has said it will run the club to rebuild its value and status, is also likely to quickly return to US investors who had previously expressed an interest in buying the club and made reported offers of €500 million – New York Italian Rocco Commisso and the Chicago-based Ricketts family. Those offers were about €240 million off the purchase price paid by Li via a substantial loan from Elliott Management.

But with Europa League football (and revenues) now secure, and a more structured management team running the club, the club is a more attractive acquisition and that would likely be reflected in the price. Whether the value could get close to the price paid by Li remains to be see, but certainly the sellers have more to bargaining power with the club clear to play in Europe.

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Paul Nicholson