LONDON (AFP) - China planted its flag in the English Premier League on Tuesday as a consortium of Chinese investors bought a 13 per cent stake in Manchester City's parent company for US$400 million (S$560 million).
China Media Capital (CMC) and Citic Capital have purchased the stake in City Football Group (CFG), which had previously been wholly owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG), just weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Manchester City.
The deal, which values CFG at around US$3 billion, is part of CFG's strategy of expanding into Chinese football and reflects Xi's aim to turn his country into a "football powerhouse".
"The deal will create an unprecedented platform for the growth of CFG clubs and companies in China and internationally, borne out of CFG's ability to provide a wealth of industry expertise and resources to the rapidly developing Chinese football industry," CFG, CMC and Citic said in a joint statement.
"The capital from the share acquisition will be used by City Football Group to fund its China growth, further CFG international business expansion opportunities and further develop CFG infrastructure assets."
As well as Manchester City, the current Premier League leaders, CFG also owns New York City FC and Melbourne City FC and is a minority shareholder in Japanese club Yokohama F. Marinos.
The deal, which is still subject to regulatory approval, comes after Xi was given a tour of Manchester City, twice Premier League champions in recent years, during a state visit to Britain in October.
British chancellor George Osborne had previously announced a £3 million (S$6 million) investment package for grassroots football in China.
Earlier this year, Xi released a 50-point plan to turn the country into a "football powerhouse", including proposals to set up 50,000 football schools across the country.
"Football is the most loved, played and watched sport in the world and in China, the exponential growth pathway for the game is both unique and hugely exciting," said CFG chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
"We have therefore worked hard to find the right partners and to create the right deal structure to leverage the incredible potential that exists in China, both for CFG and for football at large."
Chinese media mogul Li Ruigang, the CMC chairman, will join the CFG board, becoming its seventh member.
"We and our consortium partner Citic Capital... see this investment as a prime opportunity for furthering the contribution of China to the global football family," Li said.
English football is hugely popular in China and David Beckham, one of the Premier League's foremost icons, has been a global ambassador for Chinese football since March 2013.
The Premier League also has a knowledge-sharing agreement with the Chinese Super League, signed in 2013, which involves sending Premier League coaches to Chinese schools.
Prior to Tuesday's announcement, the ADUG, an investment arm of the Abu Dhabi royal family, was the CFG's sole shareholder.
The ADUG was formed in 2008 when Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan completed the purchase of City from former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
It made City, who have spent much of their existence in the shadow of cross-town rivals Manchester United, one of the world's richest clubs.
Investment in players, coaching staff and new facilities has led to notable on-pitch success, including Premier League triumphs in 2012 and 2014, an FA Cup success in 2011 and League Cup victory in 2014.
The list of owners of Premier League clubs includes investors from Russia, Thailand and the United States, but China has never previously made such a significant investment in one of the division's superpowers.
Birmingham City, currently in the second tier, were bought in 2009 by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung, who was convicted of money laundering last year.
A recent Chinese approach to buy top-flight West Bromwich Albion for a reported sum of £150 million fell through.