Chinese investors snap up another English soccer team only a month after acquiring Aston Villa

STEVE DOUGLAS

Lindsey Parnaby / AFP / Getty Images

West Bromwich Albion’s Welsh Head Coach Tony Pulis (C) celebrating at the final whistle in the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion| Lindsey Parnaby / AFP / Getty Images

AP (August 5) – West Bromwich Albion will soon become the latest English football club to be bought out by Chinese investors.

The Premier League team said Friday that Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited, headed by entrepreneur Lai Guochuan, will complete a takeover of the club, subject to approval by the league and English financial authorities.

Lai oversaw the development of the landscaping company Palm, which started out as a plant nursery business and now develops eco-towns in China and is worth 1.8 million pounds ($3.1 million). He has purchased an 88 per cent stake in the club owned by chairman Jeremy Peace, who is stepping down.

West Brom said the financial terms of the deal are “private and confidential between the parties.” Peace, who has invited offers for investment since 2008, had reportedly valued West Brom at 150 million pounds ($250 million).

In a statement, the 42-year-old Lai described himself as a “lifelong football fan” and said he was “excited and privileged” to become the new owner of West Brom, which has been in England’s top division since 2010.

West Brom said Lai was drawn to the club by its history, community focus and dedicated fan base.

“My immediate priorities will be to maintain the club’s stable structure, respecting its well-run nature and its heritage,” said Lai, who will remain based in China but promised to frequently attend matches at The Hawthorns. “I have no intention of changing the club’s ethos.”

Lai joins a growing number of wealthy Chinese tycoons and companies making splashy investments in English football.

Aston Villa, which was relegated from the Premier League last season for the first time, was taken over by Chinese businessman Xia Jiantong in June. Second-tier team Wolverhampton Wanderers was bought out by Chinese conglomerate Fosun International in July in a 100 per cent takeover. And a Chinese firm bought a stake in Birmingham, another League Championship club.

Gerry Shih / Associated Press

English soccer club Aston Villa CEO Keith Wyness, left, and Recon Group CEO Xia Jiantong pose with a soccer ball as they attend a news conference for Recon Group acquisition of soccer club Aston Villa in Beijing, Monday, July 18, 2016 | Gerry Shih / Associated Press

West Brom, Villa, Wolves and Birmingham are all clubs in central England.

Manchester City also announced in December that China Media Capital Holdings and CITIC Capital were investing $527 million to buy 13 per cent of the Premier League club’s umbrella organization.

Lai said in a personal message to West Brom fans on the club’s website that China was entering “a golden age for football.”

“China has a massive football fan base, which has only been growing in the past years,” he said. “There is also a real commitment, strongly supported by the government, to develop football and its culture in China, and I am convinced that this transaction will serve to reinforce the love of football, while bringing West Bromwich Albion millions of new dedicated fans.”

Peace stands down after 14 years in the role. He will stay on in an advisory capacity for the coming season, which begins in a week’s time. He will be replaced as chairman by John Williams, who previously had the same role at the English club Blackburn.

“I believe this deal will enable Albion to build on the strong, sustainable foundations that have been the cornerstone of the club’s progress,” Peace said.

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