Asian tycoon owners yet to reap European glory

Sheffield Wednesday's Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri is one of the many East Asian tycoons who are purchasing European football clubs. He took over the English second division club earlier this year.
Sheffield Wednesday's Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri is one of the many East Asian tycoons who are purchasing European football clubs. He took over the English second division club earlier this year.PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES

PARIS • East Asian tycoons are digging deep into their pockets for European football glory but have not got the dividends yet.

The move by Chinese toys and game video group Rastar this week to take control of heavily indebted Spanish La Liga side Espanyol is the latest example of what experts say are often vanity purchases.

The Asian magnates are jostling with Russian oligarchs, oil-fuelled Arab kingdoms and American sports groups for control of European teams.

"Some may doubt the economic rationale of certain investments in football," said Raffaele Poli, director of the Football Observatory at the International Centre for Sports Studies. "There may be image questions for these very rich personalities, it's a kind of 'folie de grandeur' to want to invest in a sector that is very popular in Asia."

Espanyol has welcomed Rastar's owner Chen Yansheng as a saviour.

Former club president, Daniel Sanchez Llibre, who was among a group who will receive up to €17.8 million (S$27.1 million) for up to 56 per cent of the club stock, said Rastar has agreed to pay the club's debts to the Spanish tax man.

Rastar could inject up to €45 million more in the club who live in the shadow of glitzy city neighbours Barcelona.

Other Asian tycoons have also ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into clubs ranging from Indonesian billionaire Erick Thohir at Inter Milan to Singapore tycoon Peter Lim at Valencia.

Chinese figures are taking an increasingly strong role.

Wang Jianlin, head of the Wanda property giant, spent €44 million this year on a 20 per cent stake in Atletico Madrid.

Even lower-level clubs draw attention from the tycoons.

A Thai consortium, led by businessman Dejphon Chansiri, took over English Championship side Sheffield Wednesday this year.

But many might also want to get their hands on an English Premier League side.

Of the current top four, Manchester City are Abu Dhabi-owned, Arsenal are controlled by American Stan Kroenke, Leicester City by Thai tycoon Vichai Raksriaksorn and Manchester United by the American Glazier family.

However, the league's television riches and global popularity have put the 20 clubs largely out of reach of an easy takeover, according to Rob Wilson, football finance expert at Sheffield Hallam University in England.

His view is that Uefa's financial fair play rules could deter the huge investment needed to buy an English club.

"I think potential investors are looking for better value now - that will come from large clubs that have fallen from prestigious positions in any of the major European leagues," said Wilson.

Singapore businessman Lim took control of financially-stricken Valencia in October last year, paying an estimated €420 million and bankrolled a return to the Champions League for the first time in three years.

Lim's Meriton group announced last month that it would inject another €100 million into Valencia.

Italian media said Thohir paid more than €300 million for 70 per cent of Inter Milan.

The fallen Italian giants have not won the domestic title since 2010 and not been in the Champions League since 2012.

Last month, they announced another €74 million loss.

A Thai businessman, Bee Taechaubol, had been in talks for a major stake in city neighbours AC Milan. But the deal with Silvio Berlusconi seems deadlocked.

Thohir noted that revenues are improving but Inter and Italian football need to compete with the Premier League.

"We need to do more to get a greater visibility for the whole of Serie A in Asia and in the United States," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 08, 2015, with the headline 'Asian tycoon owners yet to reap European glory'. Print Edition | Subscribe