Just in the middle of the noise of Wang Jianlin’s potential purchase of Southampton FC, another piece of news related to The richest man in China and CFA (China Football Association) came out.
On January 21, 2014, the National Congress of CFA was finally held in a small town outside of Beijing. A new generation of leaders of CFA was elected by raised hands, and Wang Jianlin was appointed as the Adviser of CFA.
The National Congress of CFA is something of huge importance, as the last National Congress of CFA was held 11 years ago. In the between years, there were no personnel transitions nor any exact planning for the next congress. The President of the CFA, for the past 11 years, has been Yuan Weimin, the former head of China’s National Sport Administration (NSA), whose political career ended in 2005.
Thanks to the National Congress of CFA finally being held, Cai Zhenhua, was elected to be the next President, with all representatives in the conference raising their hands as votes. Cai, who used to be world champion table tennis player and coach, has actually been supervising football in China for the past three years, as he is the deputy director of NSA, and football is in his power domain. He is also famous for wearing a Guangzhou Evergrande team shirt during one of last season’s Asian Champions League match, which I described in one of my past columns.
On the shortened list of leaders of the CFA, Wang Jianlin, the owner of Wanda Group, was named as the Adviser. Nobody really knows much about this title, though it sounds similar to an honorary post. However, Wang donated about £50 million (500 million RMB) for the past three years in a project called ‘Total Support of China Football’, he deserves the recognition of the new administration of CFA.
And that is the last evidence I needed to flush the news of Wang purchasing Southampton FC from the Swiss family of Liebherr into dustbin: in order to own an EPL club and keep it running well for 3 or 5 seasons, the £175 million The Mail declared, was only half of the cost, the maintenance and management of the club for the following seasons would be around another £100 million at least. That makes the overall investment close to £300 million, which equals 3 billion RMB. How much did Mr. Wang pay in his ‘Total Support of China Football’ project?
This is an area that western people would never understand in China: the murky water of politics, business and public fame mingled together. To be politically correct in China, when you are as rich as a man like Wang Jianlin, your personal assets do not only belong to yourself. Studying the cases of the doomed fates of most of the oligarchs of the Yeltsin era might give you some tips of understanding, but China is far more complicated than Russia.
Wang Jianlin started about 20 years ago, as a low level public servant of a small state-owned real estate company, Wan Da, in the northeastern coastal city of Dalian. He made this company a huge success, and privatised the company to make himself the richest man in China. Through investment in the great success story of Dalian Football Club in the nineties, Wang became a national household name. He quit the club to focus on his Wan Da cause since 2000, but he knew how important football can be as a political tool to strengthen his relationship with the Party and the government.
He has invested heavily in real estate and other property in the UK in recent years, but the last thing Wang wants to hear is that leaders in his homeland are not happy about his way of transferring his riches to the western world. At the same time, investing globally is a trend the government has been encouraging for years, therefore, Wang must walk a safe line of investing in the west but not taking any political risks.
To purchase Southampton FC at the up-mentioned price, would not be a big challenge for Wang, even investing more like Roman Abramovic to make Southampton a European Champions League contender, would not be beyond his power. But as the Adviser to CFA, he needs to keep the balance, always walk in the middle of the road.
How much more will he invest into China°s football? The owner of Guangzhou Evergrande, Xu Jiahin, has always been a kind of competitor in the real estate business as well as in the football sense. Wang has been the frontrunner for a long time, he might take up a Chinese Super League Club and making it big in Asia, that is a more realistic football related investment, than the strange Southampton story, which was manufactured by the ever-thirsty English media.
John Yan is Deputy Editor of Netease.com. Contact him at moc.l1702136783iamg@17021367838002g1702136783naiqn1702136783ay1702136783, or on weibo at: http://weibo.com/1646270104/profile?topnav=1&wvr=5