LONDON (AFP) – Aston Villa have been sold to a Chinese group owned by Dr Tony Xia Jiantong, the Championship club announced on Wednesday, in a deal worth a reported US$86 million (S$120 million).
Villa crashed out of the Premier League after a miserable season that saw the Midlands team win just three of their 38 matches, but that has not stopped Dr Xia making his move.
US-based owner Randy Lerner had been trying to sell Villa for two years and has finally found a buyer after significantly lowering his asking price to a reported £60 million (S$120 million).
“Aston Villa Football Club is pleased to announce that an agreement has been signed today for the sale of 100 per cent ownership by Randy Lerner to Recon Group owned by Dr Tony Jiantong Xia subject to the approval of the Premier League and the Football League,” a Villa statement read.
“Once those approvals have been granted and the new board members approved under the fit and proper rules of both leagues, Dr Xia will become Chairman of Aston Villa.”
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 until his price cut.
Villa chairman Steve Hollis flew to China to complete the deal as soon as their woeful top-flight campaign was completed last weekend.
Villa are currently managerless after sacking Remi Garde in March, but former Leicester boss Nigel Pearson and ex-Chelsea chief Roberto Di Matteo are reportedly the leading candidates to step in now a takeover has been agreed.
Dr Xia and the new manager will take charge with Villa condemned to second tier action for the first time since 1987-88 and with morale among supporters at an all-time low after months of protests against Lerner and the underperforming players.
“The Club will announce the appointment of a new manager shortly,” the Villa statement continued.
“Randy Lerner has sought the right new owner for Aston Villa who would take great care of the Club and restore its fortunes. He believes that Tony Xia is an excellent choice.
“Recon Group is Dr Xia’s privately owned holding company that owns the controlling interest in five publicly listed companies on the Hong Kong and Chinese stock exchanges and many other private companies employing 35,000 people in 75 countries.”
According to Villa’s website, Dr Xia decided to buy “an iconic football Club in England as the cornerstone of his Sports, Leisure and Tourism Division”.
The statement says he became “a fan of Aston Villa many years ago” and “played football as a striker until he finished at college”.
Dr Xia’s move for Villa comes after a glorious season for Thailand’s Srivaddhanaprabha family, who bought Leicester in 2010 and transformed the club into unlikely Premier League champions with the considerable help of manager Claudio Ranieri, in the process making them a huge hit in Asia.
Now, Dr Xia has set his sights of taking Villa back into the Premier League’s top six and attracting the backing of Chinese sports fans.
“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 Villa statement read.
“He plans to make Aston Villa the most famous football Club in China with a huge fan base.”
Lerner, in a long farewell message, said Dr Xia has the enthusiasm and experience needed to redevelop Villa Park in a bid to provide improved revenue streams.
“As we visited together, and had some unrushed time to discuss his plans, Tony’s excitement to develop Villa Park shone through,” Lerner said.
“I remain convinced that this is a crucial part of the Club’s future as it provides a critical, long-term second source of revenue and therefore sustainability for the Club from which squad-funding can potentially come."