English Premier League side West Bromwich Albion has been taken over by entrepreneur Guochuan Lai, in the second major acquisition of a top-flight club by Chinese investors this year.
Weeks ahead of the start of the new Premier League season, the Midlands-based club announced that Mr Lai, a 42-year old businessman, will buy West Bromwich Albion Group Limited, which owns 88 per cent of the side’s parent entity.
Mr Lai is the controlling shareholder in Chinese investment group Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports. Although the price has not been disclosed, it is estimated to be between £150m-£200m, report Charles Clover and Ma Fanjing in Beijing.
Albion said the acquisition would “usher in an exciting new phase of the club’s development”. It will be subject to approval by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Premier League.
West Brom said Mr Lai, who will remain based in China, “is a passionate football fan and long-term investor” who was “drawn to West Bromwich Albion by its rich history, community focus and dedicated fan base”.
Mr Lai made most of his fortune at landscape gardening company Palm, which he described as “the IBM of landscape gardening” in a 2011 press interview.
The team known as “the Baggies” finished 14th out of 20 in English top-flight last year, and comes after rival Midlands club, Aston Villa, was taken over by Chinese businessman Tony Xia in a £76m deal last month. Villa dropped out of the UK’s top-flight league for the first time in history this year.
Albion’s deal is the first major football club takeover by a mainland Chinese investors. Commenting on his appointment, Mr Lai said:
I am excited and privileged to have the chance to become the new owner of this great Club. We have a strong squad, loyal fans and a unique culture. My immediate priorities will be to maintain the Club’s stable structure, respecting its well-run nature and its heritage. I have no intention of changing the Club’s ethos.
Jeremy Pearce, West Brom’s current chairman, will depart the club after 16 years on the board and be replaced by John Williams, a former chair of Blackburn Rovers football club.
Mr Peace “has agreed to stay on in an advisory capacity to assist with the transition to new ownership during the 2016/17 season”, said the club.
The deal means the four major football clubs in the West Midlands – including Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers – are all now in the hands of Chinese owners. Both City and Wolves ply their trade in the UK’s second flight Championship.
“No one in China has ever heard of West Bromwich FC” said Cai Wei, manager of Beijing youth league football club Guo’ao Yue Ye.
“I think this is probably a case of football diplomacy. Maybe he wants to expand landscape gardening to the UK?”
Image courtesy of Getty
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