Southampton sold: Liebherr hands over control to China’s Gao family

By Paul Nicholson

August 14 – Southampton owner Katarina Liebherr has finally concluded the sale of control of the club to Chinese investors. In a letter to fans Liebherr said that she has entered into partnership with the Gao family.

“Today is the start of a new and exciting chapter for our club. Mr Jisheng Gao(pictured) and his daughter, Mrs Nelly Gao, with whom I have built a close relationship, share our values and ambitions. As a team, we will strive to build upon the strong foundation that is in place towards sustainable long-term success,” said Liebherr.

The Gao family are the principals behind Chinese listed firm Lander Sports, who were originally the acquiring entity. Now the investment appears to have been made from family money.

The Gaos had repeatedly missed deadlines to finance the deal via Lander as they had hunted for more more partners to come in on the deal, estimated to be £210 million for 80% of the club.

At the beginning of this month it looked like the deal had finally fallen through as China’s government tightened money flow from the country to acquire football clubs in Europe – seen as frivolous investments. But Liebherr and her advisors at UBS stuck steadfastly to the Gao deal without returning to the market or other potential buyers.

In her letter to fans Liebherr immediately gives the dreaded owner ‘vote of confidence’ in the Saints management team saying: “Mr Gao, Nelly and I have full trust in Ralph Krueger and his management team. We wholeheartedly support their plans to follow the Southampton Way in the years ahead.

“But for now it is business as usual at Southampton Football Club and we must allow everyone at the club to focus on the first few weeks of the new season.”

The words ‘for now’ will be the feared ones for Saints fans who have a recent history of poor ownership that saw the club plummet down the divisions before being rescued by Katarina Liebherr’s father Markus.

Jisheng Gao said: “I am honoured and humbled to become a partner of Southampton Football Club alongside Katharina Liebherr, who, together with her father, has been such a great steward of the club, its growth and success.

“Together, we have the passion and motivation to build on Southampton’s excellent progress in recent years as we look forward to an exciting next chapter for the club.”

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