Champions League return 'first step' warns Inter Milan's Chinese owner

Milan (AFP) –


Inter Milan's Chinese owner Zhang Jindong warned Tuesday that the club's return to Champions League football was just the "first step" in their plan to return the Italian team to past glory.

Zhang's Suning group paid nearly 270 million euros ($318 million) to buy Inter in June 2016. The club finished seventh in the 2016-2017 season.

But this season they took fourth place after snatching the final Champions League berth with a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 win over direct European rivals Lazio on the final day of the season in Rome on Sunday.

"First of all, I want to congratulate you all for this great achievement!" wrote Zhang in a letter published on the club's website.

"After six seasons, Inter has finally returned to the Champions League, the most prestigious competition in European football!

"We have waited a long time for this day to come and this result is the fruit of your constant work. Congratulations!"

"Looking back over this season, we had a good start and then we experienced a difficult and less calm period that we were able to overcome thanks to your dedication and effort.

"With the desire to compete and win, we have reached our objective. This return to the Champions League is the first step, the start of a long road to tread together with the passion and confidence that the whole Nerazzurri family has shown."

"Even though the Serie A competition has just finished, our work off the pitch continues, we are all already preparing for the next season," he added.

"Many of our players will also be playing in the World Cup to honour their countries and I hope that they play with the same spirit that has always distinguished us: 'Brothers of the World'. Forza Inter!"

Three-time European champions Inter have suffered a decline since their record-breaking haul in 2010 when they won five trophies -- Serie A, the Champions League, Italian Cup, Italian Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

Since then their only trophy has been the Italian Cup in 2011.

Meanwhile, the club are reported to be offering captain Mauro Icardi a one-year contract extension until 2022, worth six million euros per season plus bonuses.

Argentine Icardi -- the joint-top Serie A scorer this season with 29 goals -- has a current deal worth 4.5 million euros a year which runs until 2021.

The 25-year-old's present contract also has a 110-million-euro release clause for foreign clubs which can be activated until mid-July.