China's Lander Sports agrees to buy stake in Saints


  • Football
  • Thursday, 26 Jan 2017

Britain Football Soccer - Liverpool v Southampton - EFL Cup Semi Final Second Leg - Anfield - 25/1/17 Southampton's Shane Long scores their first goal Action Images via Reuters / Jason Cairnduff Livepic

SHANGHAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) - Southampton were set to become the latest English Premier League team to get Chinese investment, with stadium builder Lander Sports Development <000558.SZ> saying on Thursday it was taking a stake in the club.

Lander, whose interest in Southampton was rumoured last year, said in a stock exchange statement that it had struck a deal with Saints' owner Katharina Liebherr to buy into the soccer club's holding company, without disclosing any terms.

Liebherr said she could only make "limited comments" regarding the process, but moved to assure supporters that any steps taken would be in the best interests of a club which has just reached the final of England's League Cup.

"A potential partnership would need to clear multiple approvals and fulfil strict criteria before being confirmed," she added.

Southampton on Wednesday beat Liverpool at Anfield to reach the final of the League Cup. The Saints were runners-up in the 1979 League Cup, their last visit to Wembley Stadium for a major final, after winning the FA Cup in 1976.

The club, 11th in the Premier League, would join Manchester City, West Bromwich Albion and second tier Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers in having Chinese investors.

Chinese entities and individuals have ploughed more than $3 billion into overseas soccer investments over the past year or so, encouraged by avid fan President Xi Jinping, who wants the country to become a soccer superpower.

SAINTS' PROGRESS

Southampton, formed in 1885 by members of St. Mary's Church Young Men's association, was among the Premier League's founding members in 1992 but by the 2009-10 season had dropped into the third tier of English football.

The club was rescued from the brink of bankruptcy by German-born Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr in 2009. Katharina inherited the south coast club after her father's death in 2010 and became non-executive chairman in 2014.

Southampton have risen steadily under her stewardship and the club's youth academy is one of the best in England, making it an attractive prospect for investors.

Gareth Bale, who became the world's most expensive player when he moved from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid in 2013, Arsenal's Theo Walcott and Liverpool's Adam Lallana are all graduates of the Saints Academy.

Southampton, who gained promotion back to the top flight at the start of the 2012-13 season, achieved their best-ever finish of sixth place in the Premier League last season, and qualified for the UEFA Europa League.

"The Premier League is increasingly competitive; we need to keep moving forward and look to new markets for commercial growth, innovation and to share our journey," Liebherr said in a statement aimed at supporters.

"Together we have had many years of progression and success, and ensuring this continues is the main focus of any possible partnership."

(Editing by Alexander Smith/Keith Weir)

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