Berlusconi to relinquish Milan president's role

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Silvio Berlusconi said yesterday that he would step down as Milan president when he starts his third stint as Italian prime minister.

"I will have to give up the presidency of Milan and this pains me. My new role is incompatible," Berlusconi, who is expected to be sworn in early next month after winning last week's general election, said. The move is unlikely to cause upheaval at the seven-times European champions as vice president Adriano Galliani is in charge of the day-to-day running of the club anyway.

Berlusconi also stepped down as president of Milan while remaining the club's owner during his last term at the helm of government, between 2001 and 2006.

Berlusconi added that the high asking price Barcelona have put on Ronaldinho had not destroyed Milan's hopes of signing the Brazil forward.

"We still want to have him and we know that he wants Milan," Berlusconi said. "Barcelona presented a request that everyone considers excessive. We are moving forward and we'll see. We are still interested."

According to Italian media, Barcelona asked for €50m (£40m) for Ronaldinho, with whom Milan have agreed personal terms, plus Italy full back Gianluca Zambrotta.

Berlusconi also denied media speculation that he might seek to block a potential move by the financial speculator and stock investor George Soros to take over Roma after the club confirmed they met a representative of a group linked to the American billionaire philanthropist last week.

"I'm not against the arrival of foreign investors for Roma," he said. "It's a consolidated practice in Europe now. Just think of the English teams, with [Roman] Abramovich who has taken over a club [Chelsea] that is dear to the hearts of many English people.

"Roma fans want a winning team, so if someone comes in who can put in the resources to build a winning team who will be protagonists in Italy and Europe, they will be enthusiastic and I hope things develop as they want them to. I don't see how I could get in the way of something like this."

He also suggested cutting small clubs from the bigger teams' fixtures lists. "I think the big clubs should have their own championship," he said, although it was not clear whether his proposal referred to Italy or Europe as a whole.

"When you assemble a team that costs a lot, it's unthinkable to go to a provincial capital's team with a stadium of 20,000 people, which maybe isn't even full, Berlusconi said.

"The big clubs from the big cities should have their own championship and there should be another for clubs with fewer fans."