Wang Jianlin mulling bid for Southampton: reports

By Jason Pan  /  Staff reporter, with agencies

Thu, Jan 23, 2014 - Page 19

China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, is considering buying Premier League club Southampton for £175 million (US$287.75 million), the UK Mirror newspaper reported this week.

If the deal goes through, “Wang could make the Saints the richest club in the Premier League,” the paper said.

Southampton are currently sandwiched between Newcastle United and Aston Villa in ninth place in the Premier League standings with 31 points.

According to the Mirror, “Wang’s property development company is worth £19 billion and his own personal fortune around half that figure. Now, Wang, 59, wants to break into English football to add to the company’s incredible portfolio and is believed to be lining up a £175 million bid for [the] Saints that current owner and chairwoman [Katharina] Liebherr is ready to accept.”

Forbes China, the Chinese-language edition of Forbes magazine, named the Dalian Wanda Group chairman as last year’s Businessman of the Year, while he also topped the magazine’s 2013 China Rich List published in October last year with US$14.1 billion.

The real-estate magnate has stepped up his overseas investment in the past few years and the news of his bid for one of the traditional powerhouse clubs in English soccer set sports communities and media in China and Hong Kong abuzz with speculation.

Some Chinese news sources said that since Wang’s US$14.1 billion in assets exceeds those of Chelsea’s Russian owner Roman Abramovich, who is valued at US$10.2 billion, the Dalian Wanda chairman is more than capable of matching the capital investments made by other wealthy foreign owners in their clubs and competing with rival outfits to sign top players.

Chinese and Italian media in November last year also reported that Wang was thinking of investing and buying stakes in Serie A giants AS Roma. However, Wang’s bid reportedly fell through.

Wang previously owned the Dalian Wanda Club, who played in China’s top flight in the mid-1990s. He sold the team to China’s Shide Group for 120 million yuan (US$19.8 million) in 2000 and they were renamed Dalian Shide FC.

If Wang is successful in his bid for the Saints — one of the founding members of the Premier League — he will become the third Asian to own a Premier club after Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan from the United Arab Emirates and Chinese-Malaysian Vincent Tan.

Mansour — a member of the royal family in Abu Dhabi — owns Manchester City, while Tan, who is chairman of Malaysia’s Berjaya Group, presides over Cardiff City.

Meanwhile, Liebherr promised on Tuesday she was “absolutely committed” to the club’s success following the exit last week of executive chairman Nicola Cortese.

There have been reports in the British press suggesting that Liebherr, who became the club’s owner after her father’s death in 2010, does not share her late father’s passion for the Saints and that Cortese’s exit could be the prelude to the departure of manager Mauricio Pochettino.

However, in a statement on Southampton’s Web site, Liebherr tried to reassure supporters by saying: “I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the club continues this success.”