Chinese march on the Saints gets a rival second column

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By Paul Nicholson

February 23 – Chinese interest in acquiring Premier League Southampton looks to have doubled with a reported £246 million bid from materials giant Amer International and CITIC Securities to rival the Lander Sports Development bid of £200 million that was rejected by the club’s owner Katarina Liebherr.

The new bidding consortium also holds a number of private investors. CITIC were members of the consortium that paid $400 million for a 13% stake in the City Football Group, the holding company that owns Manchester City as well as NYCFC in the US, Yokohama in Japan and Melbourne City FC in Australia.

Liebherr had initially wanted £300 million for the club but the Chinese were unable to justify that value as figure was reduced as Chinese accounting rules put player trading below the line, hence they will not include player valuation and sale potential in the overall club valuation.

However, negotiations were on-going with Lander announcing at the end of January to the Shenzhen stock exchange that they had signed a deal with the club – though a period of deal-making exclusivity had elapsed. The rumoured last minute entry of a rival bidder puts the commitment to a Lander deal in question.

None of the parties have released any official statements on the rumours though CITIC told Reuters they were not involved in the deal.

This weekend Saints play in the EFL Cup Final against Manchester United, a game that will be beamed around the world, including into China. Chinese investment in European football clubs has hit government barriers recently as China sought to slow down the outflow of money to what had been described as “irrational” investments. One casualty has been the $750 million deal for Italy’s AC Milan, though that now looks likely to complete at the beginning of January.

In January Liebher confirmed the talks with Lander were taking place in an open letter to fans on the club website, saying that the interests of the club would be at the forefront of any deal.

“I can only make limited comments regarding this process but I can assure you that any steps we do take will be in the best interests of the club. A potential partnership would need to clear multiple approvals and fulfil strict criteria before being confirmed,” she said.

Saints would be the second acquisition of a Premier League club by Chinese investors after the sale of West Bromwich Albion last September to Gouchan Lai for £175 million.

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