By Andrea Ghislandi
Only a few months ago, the name Erick Thohir would not have meant much to fans and insiders of Italian football.
Only Major League Soccer and National Basketball Association fans had really heard of the Indonesian businessman on the back of Thohir's co-ownership of three-time NBA champions the Philadelphia 76ers and MLS outfit DC United.
At the age of 43, Thohir now seems set to take the reins at Inter, with an investment of around €260 million earmarked for the purchase of 80 per cent of the Giuseppe Meazza side, while he could even take over the club entirely, thus becoming the first Asian owner of an Italian team.
Thohir is one of the richest men in Jakarta and is an entrepreneur on the rise. His flourishing media empire consists of several radio stations, three television channels, sports magazines, advertising companies and online publishing.
And Thohir has an immense passion for sport - team sports to be more precise - with basketball being one of his personal favourites. On the other hand, he loathes sports such as golf and swimming which thrive on personal pursuits. He currently holds the position of president of the Southeast Asia Basketball Association and is one of the owners of Persib Bandung, a team playing in the top tier of Indonesian basketball.
|THOHIR'S OTHER BUSINESS VENTURES IN SPORT
|MLS - DC UNITED||NBA - PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
"I love sports where athletes lock horns, where there's a challenge and competition," Thohir declared to Forbes in January 2012.
And this passion has also played a role in his business adventures ever since his return to Indonesia in 1993 after earning a masters degree in marketing and communication at the National University of California.
After helping his family in the restaurant business until 1998, he founded the Mahaka Group together with three partners, starting his rise in the world of communication in 2001. The Indonesian business tycoon is now the owner of magazines (A+, Parents Indonesia, Gold Digest), newspapers (Harian Sin Chew Indonesia, Republika), television channels (Jak-TV, tvOne and ANTV), radio stations (GEN 98.7 FM, Prambors FM, Delta FM, FeMale Radio) as well as various other business interests in the advertising and entertainment sectors.
Admittedly, it didn't hurt that his father Teddy was already co-owner of Astra International, the Indonesian company which holds the exclusive distribution rights to car brands such as Toyota, Peugeot and Daihatsu and with interests in the financial sector as well, boasting an annual turnover of $20 million.
Indeed, there is no problem providing the financial guarantees that Massimo Moratti is after and the potential transfer budget would work wonders to continue the rejuvenation of Inter.
The talks have been extensive, with original interest from Thohir having been reported months ago, but Moratti is happy with the way they have been conducted.
"Thohir has taken a friendly approach, and we're two groups who both want to strengthen the club – that's the main thing," said Moratti this week.
"It's not about one group taking over from another. There are two groups which, as I said, want to strengthen the club. Two families. That appeals to Thohir and it appeals to me too."The outgoing president has also revealed exactly why he sees Thohir's investment as being vital to the Nerazzurri.
"For years Italian football won in Europe, but never paid attention beyond home turf in terms of finances, so we lost," the 68-year-old reasoned.
"People mention debts, but the real issue is revenue. These are necessary resources and I am worried for the future of this club. An Asian influence is fundamental to bring in new markets.
"It changes nostalgic habits and heralds new resources internationally, even more so than winning the treble in 2010."
But where does Thohir's interest in Inter come from? Obviously, the club's Indonesian tour in 2012 did not go unnoticed by the local businessman, while Javier Zanetti and his team-mates were said to be very impressed by the overwhelming affection from the locals. The Giuseppe Meazza side have plenty of interests in Asian countries, where they want to open a football academy and have millions of potential fans purchasing Inter merchandise.
Any moral doubts aside, with the Indonesian per capita income at a meagre €3600 per annum, it is the way the Philadelphia 76ers and DC United have been managed that worries the fans most. The Sixers failed to qualify for the play-offs last season after securing a conference semi-final place the year before, while the capital side have been anything but impressive in the MLS.
But whereas Moratti has indicated that there is still time for him to change his mind and stay on at the club, it is clear that Thohir's input could make the world of difference to a squad which has fallen behind both at home and abroad. A deal is close, and while Thohir may be an 'outsider', his business influence may be Inter's trump card as they look to climb back to the top of the game.