Lander grounded but Saints have new £225m deal on the table

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By Paul Nicholson

April 27 – News that China’s Lander Sports boss Gao Jisheng has failed the Premier League’s fit and proper person test has opened the door to a rival consortium to move in and complete their own £225 million takeover of south coast club Southampton.

The China-based consortium have been in the wings of the Lander deal for at least four months, but now is in prime position to takeover the running.

The group’s identity has not been revealed publicly but is believed to comprise investors from both Hong Kong and mainland China.

Securing acquisition money for European football clubs from China has proved difficult in recent months as the Chinese government has tightened control over cash leaving the country for what are considered over-priced assets. The new group knocking on the door of St Mary’s is unlikely to have the same barriers with Hong Kong being the conduit for the finance.

The advisors on the acquisition are Blackbridge Cross Borders, a financial advisory firm led by Alexander Jarvis that specialises in sports deals and has a strong focus on Chinese football investment via its sports division.

The removal of Gao from the process by the Premier League may have been a surprise, but detail of Lander’s faltering commitment to the deal was not. The company, listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, had already reported that the deal was under threat and that they had been unable to complete the acquisition within their period of exclusivity.

While Gao failed the Premier League tests, even if he had passed it was looking increasingly unlikely that he raised had the money to proceed. In recent weeks he had been prospecting in mainland China for new investing partners.

Premier League lawyers cited two bribery cases to justify their ban on Gao. He was implicated in cases involving providing incentives for the award of state contracts. In one case he cut a deal to avoid prosecution and became a witness against the infamous Xu Maiyong, the vice-mayor of the city of Hangzhou. Xu and his co-accused Jiang Renjie, were executed by lethal injection by the Chinese state authorities on July 19, 2011.

Gao and Lander launched a legal challenge to the Premier League’s decision that was first made in February.

The sunny south coast would have been a far more sedate pace of life for Gao but in this case the lethal injection into this deal was his past dealings and a failure to come up with the money.

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