Southampton could become the next Premier League team to receive Chinese investment, should construction company Lander Sports Development succeed in buying a stake in the club.
Lander, whose interest in Southampton was rumoured last year, told the Shenzhen stock exchange in a statement that it had struck a deal with Saints' owner Katharina Liebherr to buy into the soccer club's holding company, without disclosing any terms.
Southampton, who on Wednesday beat Liverpool to reach the final of England's League Cup, released a statement via club owner Katharina Liebherr.
"Please understand that 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," she said.
"A potential partnership would need to clear multiple approvals and fulfil strict criteria before being confirmed.
"The Premier League is increasingly competitive; we need to keep moving forward and look to new markets for commercial growth, innovation and to share our journey. Together we have had many years of progression and success, and ensuring this continues is the main focus of any possible partnership."
The club, 11th in the Premier League, join Manchester City, West Bromwich Albion and second tier Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers in having Chinese investors.
Chinese entities and individuals have ploughed more than $3 billion into overseas soccer investments over the past year or so, encouraged by avid fan President Xi Jinping who wants the country to become a soccer superpower.
Yesterday it was being reported that Chinese firm Lander Sports Development had submitted an increased final fee offer for Southampton. The Times reported that having made a rejected offer of £180million, the company had now submitted an improved £190million offer. They suggest that this fee is closer to Katharina Liebherr's valuation of the club but the overall deal would still be a staged takeover where Lander would buy into us first, before completing a full takeover and taking control in further future steps. They suggest with the increase in the sum that talks have now advanced. Fans will remember that back in November a period of exclusivity had been entered into with the club for finer details, but that period ended in January of this year with no agreement reached despite a statement submitted according to the press to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange
Talks remain ongoing between Southampton and Lander Sports Development after the Chinese consortium were cleared by the Premier League. Concerns were raised by the League about the group's suitability to secure a £200million takeover of the south coast club. Southampton owner Katharina Liebherr is open to major investment and has engaged with Lander, but a potential deal was halted by the Premier League while they investigated the company.
Saints’ Chinese takeover hangs in the balance with optimism starting to fade at St Mary’s that Lander Holdings will complete a £200m deal for the club.
As previously revealed by the Daily Echo, negotiations over the terms of the deal ended some months ago.
All that really stands in the way of the Chinese firm buying a stake of around 80 per cent in the club from current owner Katharina Liebherr is for the financial transaction to take place.
Up until now though that has not happened, and it is believed that the long wait is leading Saints to press ahead with other plans on the assumption that the deal will not be completed.
Last week Lander boss Gao Jisheng was quoted by Reuters as saying of the potential deal: “It is not clear at the moment. The seller is having second thoughts about selling the club.”
The Daily Echo understands that Liebherr’s position remains unchanged. Liebherr, who inherited the club from her late father, Markus, is committed to selling a substantial share in Saints.
She believes that in order for the club to move forward beyond its current position it needs a large injection of cash, which is something Liebherr cannot provide.
Her wealth, estimated to be in the range of £300m, will not stretch too far when it comes to the level of investment needed for Saints to establish themselves as Champions League contenders in the future.
Saints and Liebherr are left in an awkward position with Lander, still hoping that a deal they feel is in the best interests of the club comes off, and therefore being reluctant to simply write it off, but having to think of the future without it.
Whether they will officially move on with a public statement remains to be seen, but chairman Ralph Krueger is thought to have been sounded out by other interested parties.
There remains a market for Premier League football clubs, but despite a lot of interest, finding somebody prepared to fork out more than £200m in the first place, and then invest significantly more than that figure over time, is extremely difficult.
Liebherr has always insisted she will only sell to somebody who she believes has the best interests of the club at heart.
Her friendship with Gao’s daughter, Nelly, is thought to have been an important factor in the Lander deal having progressed as far as it has.