AC Milan keen on Perth return after whirlwind visit

AC Milan could return to Western Australia sooner rather than later following Friday night’s entertaining friendly against fellow Italian giants AS Roma.

A crowd of 56,522 packed into Optus Stadium to see Roma run out 5-2 winners, and Milan’s Chief Commercial Officer Maikel Oettle spoke glowingly of the short trip to Perth.

“It’s my first time in Australia, the club hasn’t been here for 30 years,” he said.

“I think the last time we were in Western Australia was in the 80s. The reception has been amazing, the hotel lobby has been full of fans and that’s one of the main reasons we are here – to interact with our fan base.”

While both Serie A clubs were without some big-name players due to international commitments, there was plenty of star power on show as Milan’s Olivier Giroud, Theo Hernandez, Tijjani Reijnders, and Fikayomi Tomori went up against Paulo Dybala, Chris Smalling, Tammy Abraham, and Houssem Aouar of Roma.

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“I have to say thanks to the Government of Western Australia who made a massive effort to bring two Italian teams here,” said Oettle.

“Obviously, there is a lot of celebration of Italian heritage here in Western Australia going on at this time of the year.

“We haven’t been here for such a long time and our fans have a right to see the team firsthand, up close and personal, whether that’s 18 hours’ flight away or 6 hours’ flight away or 12. That’s also why we brought the best possible team; we wanted to make sure they see the best players. Even Oli [Giroud] came which is just fantastic and a testament to his professionalism.”

Former Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahomovic, now acting as a senior advisor to the club, also made the trip Down Under and was arguably the biggest drawcard for fans.

In the lead up to the contest, legends from both clubs were out and about in the WA community, interacting with kids and running football clinics. Pregame events were held for the respective fan groups, with the Little Italy Festival rounding things out on Sunday.

“It was a very warm and fuzzy feeling when we arrived,” said Oettle. “So much love for the players, jerseys everywhere, our merchandise is being worn all over the city, it’s just astonishing.”

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The State Government of Western Australia has been working hard to secure “glamour” friendlies in recent years and attendances have been excellent for the most part, with tourists attending from interstate and overseas. There was a buzz around the local football community in the days leading up to this game, and the open training session at HBF Park was well attended, despite adverse weather conditions.

Not everything ran smoothly, however, with a signalling fault on the train line from Perth CBD causing thousands of fans to miss the beginning of the game.

The timing of the fixture was questioned in the lead up with both clubs having just completed a long Serie A season, as well as reaching the latter stages of the Europa League. In previous years, Perth has played host to several English Premier League clubs, however the games involving them were part of preseason programs.

For Oettle, the trip represented an important opportunity for Milan to interact with some of their global fan base on a personal level.

“In commercial, we work a lot with sales, and we have a lot of big numbers and sometimes it feels a bit theoretical,” he said.

“Then when we travel the world, even that far away from home, and you see that reception you can actually see that it’s all true, and it’s very, very rewarding that all of this hard work is paying off with this loyalty from our fans.”

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There is of course a huge financial benefit to travelling across the globe for a few days to play a single game and without it, the trip wouldn’t happen.

“First and foremost, it’s about the fans,” said Oettle. “Secondly, from a commercial perspective, we have partners that have a very strong interest in the region, so we are killing two birds with one stone here. We did some activities with Emirates who is our principal partner. It’s a very big market for Puma as well.

“Obviously, we want to sell jerseys and we want people to wear as much merchandise and become ambassadors of the brand as possible so the synergies in the market here with those big partners that have a big focus on Australia, Western Australia in particular, and interacting with those fans. These are the key drivers for us to be here.”

When asked how the facilities and conditions in Perth compare to other parts of the world, Oettle had only good things to say about the accommodation at Crown Towers and the experience at HBF Park, home of Perth Glory.

“Things work, training conditions are really, really good here,” he said. “So, I wouldn’t exclude us coming back in the near future, maybe even for a preseason tour and a preseason preparation in Western Australia.”

About the Author

Neil Sherwin

Head of Editorial with Far Post Perth. Background in media and journalism and contributor to many well known publications in Australia, as well as others in the UK and Ireland. Online journalist/editor for Twitter - @neilsherwin