Silvio Berlusconi is back in the game. Three years after selling AC Milan, the 83-year-old is targeting a swift return to the dizzy heights of Serie A with his new reality – AC Monza.
On Monday, the Italian Football Federation curtailed the Serie C season and Monza secured their first promotion to Serie B in 20 years with a dominating campaign which saw them crowned group A champions with a 16-point margin.
Behind the success of the humble Lombardy club lies a strong core of Berlusconi's most trusted lieutenants, such as right-hand man Adriano Galliani and former Milan player and manager Cristian Brocchi.
The Serie C title is the first step of what could be a very quick rise to the top of the Italian football ladder in Berlusconi's latest project for glory - one which echoes his trophy-laden era as Milan supremo.
'The dream is to see Monza at San Siro'
"There's no point hiding - we want to take this city, the third-biggest in Lombardy, into Serie A," Galliani told Sky in Italy on Tuesday. "Now comes the hard bit, but the conditions for us to achieve our goal are all in place.
£18 Premier League and Football channel offer
Watch 39 Premier League & 45 EFL games exclusively live on Sky Sports
"The goal now is to build a top team, we already started talking about transfers. Our budget will be used to go in Serie A, we won't go crazy but we will do what's necessary."
Follow Juventus v AC Milan in the Coppa Italia semi-final on Sky Sports
We'll have minute-by-minute updates of Juventus v AC Milan in the Coppa Italia semi-final on Friday across the Sky Sports website and app. Kick-off: 8.45pm.
Galliani, one of the shrewdest sporting directors in the world, started his career at his hometown club Monza in 1984. Two years later, Berlusconi acquired a troubled AC Milan side threatened by bankruptcy and made him the club's chief executive.
The rest is history. Berlusconi's tenure as Milan president is one of the most decorated in world football. Like Santiago Bernabeu at Real Madrid and Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, he turned the club from average top-flight regulars to European heavyweights.
During those 31 years, Galliani became known as the "king of free transfers". Cafu, Rivaldo, David Beckham, Alex and Ronaldinho were all snapped up on a free and contributed to 29 major titles throughout his time at the San Siro.
So it was a similar tale when in 2018 the pair decided to invest in Monza, who were up for sale after going bust three years earlier - and, just like they did in their early Milan days, they have gone on to claim their first league title within two years. They even decided to rebrand the club from SS Monza to AC Monza, echoing their first project together - AC Milan.
Former Italy international Gabriel Paletta, Genoa goalkeeper Eugenio Lamanna, Leeds defender Giuseppe Bellusci and Chievo skipper Nicola Rigoni were all signed for free last year to provide an experienced back-up to a healthy crop of young Italian prospects, led by Milan icon Brocchi - who started his managerial career in 2016 at the San Siro itself.
"I was once asked how I could be passionate about Serie C when I experienced games in the whole of Europe. I said it's natural, because Monza is my first and last passion, I was on loan at Milan for 31 years!"
Under Brocchi's wing, Berlusconi's backing and Galliani's transfer expertise the club has found a new lease of life. The team now has a real shot at its first top-flight berth in history. Up next is a fight to compete in Serie B with Brocchi's former team-mates: Filippo Inzaghi at Benevento and Alessandro Nesta at Frosinone.
But behind Berlusconi's drive to get Monza to the promised land for the first time in its history is one specific wish, as Brocchi revealed. "The dream is to see Monza play against AC Milan at San Siro."
What's more is that Galliani wants to see his side do it with a squad composed largely of young Italian players - a team that plays a "clean, epic and beautiful type of football".
Could they do it in similar fashion to Arrigo Sacchi's revolutionary Milan side of the 90s? Perhaps, and that's what Berlusconi wants. He wants it so much, he even personally offered the Monza job to Sacchi in October.
A third Milan club?
Football in Monza is largely overshadowed by Formula 1, with the city's iconic circuit playing host to the Italian Grand Prix every September. And because the football club does not enjoy as proud a history, Berlusconi's ambition is to start writing it today.
A modest, provincial city just a stone's throw away from Milan, football fans in Monza tend to gravitate towards either of the San Siro clubs, so it's easy to think they can join Inter and AC Milan as a third Milanese club in Serie A.
"It's a compliment that can give me pleasure, but Monza is not the third team of Milan," Berlusconi told local daily Il Cittadino on Tuesday.
"It's the team of the city of Monza, of the province of Brianza and its 900,000 inhabitants. Monza is different to Milan, it's got its own clear identity.
"We will set up a team to aim to the top of Serie B. It's well known that promotion [to Serie A] depends on many factors, some of which are unpredictable. But we know very well the predictable ones and we will do our best to take advantage of them."
Could Monza be a tool for Berlusconi to get back into the golden days, when he ruled over both the political and football landscape in Italy? Perhaps. But what cannot be put into question is his love for football and everything that whirls around it - and the same can be said about his loyal counsellor.
"Today is a day of joy, emotion and commotion for me," Galliani said in his first press conference as Monza chairman. "I was missing football so much. I'm madly in love with football. For me, Champions League, Serie C and kids playing in the streets are the same thing."
"With the lads and the coach I carry on doing the same things I've done at AC Milan," continued Berlusconi.
"I listen to them, I give them advice, I motivate them, I compliment them for their behaviour on the pitch, I push myself to make observations if I spot something bad in their attitude. So, I haven't lost my good habits."
Should the old dog really be up to his old tricks, it is likely Serie A will soon have a familiar face back in the spotlight.