LISBON — The storied Italian club A.C. Milan has failed to convince top soccer officials in Europe that it has a viable plan to cut losses and finance growth, European soccer’s governing body will rule on Friday.
The ruling could lead to severe penalties, both on and off the field, for Milan. It is the latest wound that Italian soccer’s most hallowed institutions have endured during an increasingly troubled period for one of the world’s top soccer nations.
Last month, Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years. Now, in the worst-case scenario, one of its renowned clubs could face a ban from European competition next year if it qualifies, as well as limits on acquiring new players.
At issue is whether A.C. Milan has a credible business plan that can stanch millions of dollars in losses and meet rules, known as Financial Fair Play, that prohibit clubs from spending beyond their means so club soccer does not turn into a battle of wealthy owners’ bank accounts.
In recent months, A.C. Milan has tried to explain to UEFA how its new owner, Li Yonghong, plans to make the club viable again, and justify the finances of a club that spent a Serie A record $270 million on new players for this season. Li, a little-known Chinese businessman, bought the money-losing club from the former Italy prime minister Silvio Berlusconi this year.
At stake is not only the reputation of Milan and its owner, but also of UEFA’s cornerstone financial regulations, which it says are critical to ensuring the health of clubs across the continent. UEFA is also examining the finances of Paris St.-Germain, the French champion, which acquired the two most expensive players in soccer history — Brazil’s Neymar and the teenage France striker Kylian Mbappé — despite warnings about the deals from UEFA’s president, Aleksander Ceferin.
A.C. Milan last month sent a delegation led by its chief executive, Marco Fassone, and Li’s chief lieutenant, David Han Li, to UEFA headquarters on the banks of Lake Geneva. Four hours of talks and a 160-page dossier outlining Li’s four-year plan only led to more questions. Those questions intensified two weeks after that visit, following an article in The New York Times questioning Li’s financial bona fides. The Times article reported that phosphate mines Li claimed as the centerpiece of his business empire appeared to be owned by others.
A.C. Milan has said it remains confident it can refinance its debt and meet UEFA’s standards.
UEFA is unlikely to issue penalties to the club before May. There are a range of economic and sporting penalties the group can enforce, including restrictions on new signings and even a ban from playing in European competition, the setting in which A.C. Milan forged its international reputation. Its seven European Cups are more than any other team, except Real Madrid, has won.
UEFA declined to comment on its plans or its discussions with A.C. Milan.
Li’s spending has failed to improve matters on the field for his new club. Twelve new players bought to return the team to glory have failed to jell, and the squad’s struggles near the middle of the Italian league table cost the coach Vincenzo Montella his job. On Sunday, in its first game under its new coach, Gennaro Gattuso, Milan allowed goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli to score on a header in the final minute to give last-place Benevento a 2-2 tie — and its first point of the season.
Li’s $860 million takeover of A.C. Milan was the most expensive among a number of Chinese buyouts in global soccer in recent years. It has also proved to be the most troubled. With the deal on the verge of collapse after several missed deadlines, Li turned to the hedge fund firm Elliott Management, which lent him $354 million at more than 11 percent interest.
Terms of the loan mean Elliott could take control of the club if Li does not repay Elliott in full by next year’s deadline. The club said last month that it had entered into a two-month exclusive discussion period with an unidentified firm in an effort to refinance the loan.
Ceferin, who became UEFA president in 2016, has talked tough about not being swayed by reputations when it comes to ensuring teams play by the rules. The situation with P.S.G. — whose Qatari owners have remade the club with more than $1 billion in acquisitions — has attracted the most attention because its purchases of Neymar and Mbappé in a single summer threatened its ability to comply with the Financial Fair Play regulations.
P.S.G. is now trying to raise additional money before UEFA’s financial controllers make their decision about its case. The club is likely to sell high-value players during next month’s European transfer window, and its marketing department is trying to renegotiate key sponsorship agreements.
UEFA will scrutinize those agreements because the governing body has questioned the amount the club has booked as income for some of its previous deals, notably an agreement with Qatar Tourism, which P.S.G. has claimed to be worth 200 million euros (about $235 million) a season.