UK group pays pounds 8.2m for Italian football club

Football's coming home for Stephen Julius, the British investor with a Milanese mother whose company Stellican yesterday bought the top Italian football club Vicenza for pounds 8.2m.

Mr Julius said that although Vicenza was the first Italian club to fall into foreign hands, its management, players and supporters had welcomed Stellican's bid. The private London-based investment company bought the club from a bankruptcy court in Milan yesterday after its former owner, Pieraldo Dalle Carbonare, a textile producer, went bust.

"The club is very enthusiastic about working with us," Mr Julius said from the north-eastern town of Vicenza. "They're delighted by the adjudication of the judge."

Stellican, which is majority owned by Mr Julius and specialises in buying troubled companies, beat two other bidders for the Serie A club.

Although the club is profitable in its own right, Mr Julius said that the Italians were fascinated by the British business approach to football clubs.

"They have great clubs and great players out here, but not necessarily the same attitude to profitability," said Mr Julius. "Everyone is enthused by our approach. We're not prepared to say how much money we will be investing, but we will be looking to rebuild the stadium, or possibly build a new one. There is also scope for pay-per-view and TV rights."

Italian news programmes showed some good humoured scepticism about the motives behind the takeover, however, suggesting that the Vicenza buyout represented a second step - after the defection to English clubs of several top Italian players such as Zola and Ravanelli - in a total British takeover of Italian football.

Mr Julius admits he was surprised at how cheaply he managed to pick up a club which won the Italian Cup last year and came eighth out of 18 in one of the world's toughest leagues.

"We are delighted and surprised. I think a lot of it comes down to our speed and skill on the ground. It's not an easy area to operate in," Mr Julius said.

Vicenza fans reacted calmly to the takeover by the British company, which launched a big public relations offensive in the run up to yesterday's hearing in the Milan bankruptcy court.

"There's certainly no hostility amongst supporters towards the foreigners," said one official. "Stellican has given us firm assurances that there will be no big upsets at Vicenza Calcio. And they promise that their investment is not merely speculative."

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