China magnate casts doubts over Southampton deal

  • Football
  • Friday, 21 Jul 2017

Gao Jisheng, chairman and founder of Lander Sports, attends an annual meeting of Zhejiang Entrepreneurs Association in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

BEIJING (Reuters) - The owner of a Chinese firm behind a bid to take over English club Southampton said on Friday the deal was being held up and that he wasn't sure if the current owner still wanted to sell, casting doubts over the long-running negotiations.

Chinese stadium builder Lander has been in protracted talks to buy Southampton from current owner Katharina Liebherr since the start of the year, but the deal has hit some road bumps, including Lander's listed unit pulling out of the deal in April.

"It is not clear at the moment. The seller is having second thoughts about selling the club," Lander's founder Gao Jisheng told Reuters on the sidelines of an event in Beijing. He declined to comment further on the deal.

Southampton was rescued from the brink of bankruptcy by German-born Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr in 2009 and his daughter Katharina inherited the club after his death in 2010, becoming non-executive chairman in 2014.

Although not one of the traditional powerhouses of English football, the club has finished in the top eight of the Premier League for the last four seasons and has a highly-regarded youth development operation.

The Premier League had given Lander's owner Gao clearance to take an 80 percent stake in Southampton's holding company, Lander Sports Development Co Ltd said in June.

With support from Beijing, Chinese investors have ploughed billions of dollars into global soccer teams over the past couple of years.

However, overseas investments have become riskier business this year amid a crackdown by regulators on "irrational" spending overseas, including in sport.

Suning Commerce Group Co Ltd, which bought Italian soccer club Inter Milan last year, saw its shares fall this week after China's state broadcaster cited the 270 million euros (242.31 million pounds) deal on a show about risky investments.

Beijing is on a drive to control risks in its financial system, including firms taking on excessive levels of debt to fund overseas deals. Chinese authorities clamped down on capital outflows and overseas acquisitions last year.

(Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan, editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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