Chinese businessman Gao Yisheng has finalised a deal to buy an 80% stake in Southampton Football club for a fee of around £210 million. The takeover is expected to be made by Gao and his daughter, Nelly Gao, from their personal finances rather than being acquired through the families business.
If Goa successfully passes the Premier League’s Owners and Directors test, amongst other checks, the Saints will become another asset to the businessman’s empire. Lander Sports is the Goa family business which is involved in real estate and the sale of energy. The Chinese-based company also has a strong foothold in sport including sports events, sports media, sports finance, a sports network, sports real estate and physical education. The company, which mainly operates in in Zhejiang Province and Shanghai, also runs sports complex stadiums, gymnasiums and fitness centres in the football, basketball and winter sports areas. Under Goa, this new Chinese influence could lead the Saints to new markets in Asia. Like we have seen with the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea this pre-season, there is a huge opportunity to gain new fans and valuable revenue from overseas.
The remaining 20% of the club will be kept by Katharina Liebherr, the daughter of the late Swiss business, Markus Liebherr, who bought Southampton in 2009 for an estimated £13m. Libeherr is optimistic about the future working with her new partners, stating:
As a team, we will strive to build upon the strong foundation that is in place towards sustainable long-term success,
Mr Gao, Nelly and I have full trust in Ralph Krueger and his management team. We wholeheartedly support their plans to follow ‘the Southampton way’ in the years ahead.
The Southampton way
Over the past eight years, the Saints have built a strong foundation based around a top quality academy known for producing young talented players, spending well in the transfer market and at the same time selling on their best assets for big price tags.
In recent years we have seen Sadio Mané, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin all move on for the club for a total of over £140m. This summer we could still see the transfer of defender Virgil van Dijk to Chelsea or Liverpool for £50m plus, which would be a profit of around £30m. Not only have the club had to sell their best players, Southampton have also seen both Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman, two top quality managers leave the club for bigger jobs at Tottenham and Everton. Despite their selling style, since their rise to the Premier League in 2012, Southampton have established themselves as sturdy top flight team.
The Saints have finished 14th, 8th, 7th, 6th and then last season in 8th again during their five-year stay in the Premier League.
Now, under Mauricio Pellegrino, another former Argentinian footballer and with their new ownership, the Saints will hope to rebuild and continue to execute their progression plan to establish themselves as a European side.
If the club is able to consistently produce young talented players but are also able to provide these players with better wages and the chance to compete in European football then we could see the Saints start to become a top Premier League side. Like we have seen with Tottenham over recent years, the homegrown route can work and if the club is on a continued path towards success and they believe in their manager, then players will commit to a future with the club. We have seen the Saints reach European competition in the Europa League in the past couple of years, including a 2-1 win over Italian giants Inter Milan last season. This shows they have the capabilities to reach this level, now it is about stability. If they can keep their star defender, Virgil van Dijk, then they will have won a huge battle on their way to balancing the club and stopping the idea of Southampton as a feeder club to bigger teams.
Pellegrino’s men started their Premier League campaign with a 0-0 draw against Swansea but will be looking to improve on this result when they welcome West Ham to St. Mary’s on Saturday afternoon.
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