Chinese tycoon buys Villa

Villa fans will be hoping new owner Tony Xia can lead the club to success similar to that of Thai-owned Premier League champions Leicester.
Villa fans will be hoping new owner Tony Xia can lead the club to success similar to that of Thai-owned Premier League champions Leicester.

Tony Xia pledges to get club back into EPL and make them China's most popular team

LONDON • Aston Villa have revealed ambitions to become the most popular team in China, after Harvard-educated businessman Tony Xia snapped up the relegated English club.

Villa had crashed out of the Premier League after winning only thrice this season, but they will be hopeful of better times ahead under their new owners.

American owner Randy Lerner had been trying to sell Villa for two years, and he finally found a buyer after slashing his asking price.

Xia said the final purchase price for the club would range between £75 million (S$151 million) and more than £100 million, depending on how Villa perform next season.

Fans will hope that the Chinese magnate follows the lead of Thai-owned English champions Leicester City, rather than that of their city rivals Birmingham, who were bought by Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung, who was later jailed for money-laundering.

A club statement said that a new manager will be appointed shortly, with former Leicester boss Nigel Pearson and former Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo both reportedly in the running.

"Dr Xia's immediate objective is to return Aston Villa to the Premier League and then to have the club finish in the top six, bringing European football back to Villa Park," the statement said.

"He plans to make Aston Villa the most famous football club in China with a huge fan base."

The Zhejiang native has already pledged to spend between £30 million and £40 million on new players for the upcoming season.

Chinese tycoons have been at the forefront of a wave of Asian investment in European football, snapping up stakes in powerhouses Manchester City and Atletico Madrid.

The Premier League is hugely popular in China and success by Villa would guarantee wide visibility in the world's most populous nation, making them a magnet for sponsors.

Lerner has agreed to sell 100 per cent ownership of Aston Villa to Xia's Recon Group, subject to approval from the Premier League and Football League.

The Recon Group is a privately owned holding company with controlling stakes in five companies listed on the Hong Kong and Chinese stock exchanges, Villa's website said.

The conglomerate also owns "many other private companies employing 35,000 people in 75 countries" and has grown during China's giant urbanisation programme of recent years.

Recon has assets of more than 100 billion yuan (S$21 billion), according to its website.

Lerner, who bought Villa in 2006 for around £60 million, had hoped to sell the club for £200 million, but the team's dismal form over the last two seasons put off potential investors.

According to Villa's website, Xia had decided to buy "an iconic football club in England as the cornerstone of his Sports, Leisure and Tourism Division".

The statement added that he became "a fan of Aston Villa many years ago" and "had played football as a striker until he finished at college".

Xia will take charge with Villa condemned to second-tier action for the first time since the 1987-88 season, and with fans' morale at an all-time low after months of protests against Lerner and the under-performing players.

The American, in a rambling farewell message, said Xia has the enthusiasm and experience needed to redevelop Villa Park and improve revenue streams.

"As we visited together, and had some unrushed time to discuss his plans, Tony's excitement to develop Villa Park shone through," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese tycoon buys Villa'. Print Edition | Subscribe