Chinese takeover of Southampton completed

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Southampton Football Club have confirmed a new “partnership” with the Gao family of China.

Pro Soccer Talk understands that the Gao family have purchased roughly 80 percent of Saints for a fee close to $272 million, while current owner Katharina Liebherr will own the other 20 percent of the club.

Through their Lander Sports Development company Mr Jisheng Gao and his daughter, Nelly Gao, have been pursuing a deal for Saints for almost 12 months. However with complications surrounding the deal via Lander, Gao has used his personal wealth to fund the deal.

There had been reports that the Gao family had failed in their bid to buy Southampton with the Premier League requesting more details regarding the Owners and Directors test for new ownership, but with a few weeks left in the transfer window, good news has arrived for Southampton.

“Following extensive and fruitful work, we are entering into a partnership with the Gao family and I am excited about what we will achieve together,” Katharina Liebherr, who inherited the club from her father Markus in 2010, revealed. “Today is the start of a new and exciting chapter for our club. Mr Jisheng Gao 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. 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.”

It is believed significant investment will now arrive at the club with Mauricio Pellegrino tasked with pushing Saints towards a European return and challenging for the domestic cups.

West Bromwich Albion are the only other Premier League with a majority owner from China, while second-tier Aston Villa, Reading, Wolves and Birmingham City have all been bought by Chinese investors in recent years.

The Liebherr family has owned Southampton since 2009 when they were on the brink of extinction. Markus Liebherr, Katharina’s father, bought the club after advice from Swiss-Italian banker Nicola Cortese for just $20 million. Since then the Liebherr family have also invested over $80 million in the club and will now retain a 20 percent stake to oversee its stewardship with chairman Ralph Krueger to remain in charge.

In 2009 Saints were in the third-tier of English soccer on -10 points, but after back-to-back promotions they returned to the Premier League in 2012 and have now had four-straight top eight finishes in the PL as well as playing in the Europa League and being runners up for the EFL Cup in 2017.

Nine years after her father bought the club Katharina has acknowledged that outside funding is needed and that’s where the Gao family come in.

“I am honored 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,” Jisheng Gao said in a statement. “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.”

The first thing fans will ask about is new players arriving and the potential for captain Virgil Van Dijk to remain at the club despite his public transfer request last week. All of that will be sorted out in the near future but this deal is all about Southampton pushing on to the next level with increased finances to buy players and not needing to sell their current stars which hasn’t been the case in recent years.

Southampton have become a model Premier League club since 2012 for investing wisely in new players, promoting youngsters from their academy and selling on stars for huge profits.

This new investment will help them to try and challenge for another top six finish and solidify their spot within the top 10 of the Premier League.

Russia regains FIFA Council seat after Mutko’s ouster

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GENEVA (AP) Russia has regained its place on the FIFA Council, six months after Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko was blocked from re-election.

UEFA member federations on Wednesday elected Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee, by acclamation as one of their delegates to FIFA’s strategy-setting committee.

The seat, which runs through 2021, was vacant since May when Mutko was formally forced to step down.

Mutko’s candidacy was blocked by FIFA’s then governance committee chairman, Miguel Maduro, because of a conflict of interest with his government work. Maduro, who was ousted by FIFA weeks later, said last week that the world soccer body’s leaders put pressure on him to protect Mutko’s position.

Meeting with British lawmakers, Maduro said he was told that his ruling on Mutko’s eligibility could threaten FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s hold on power and “would be a disaster” for the World Cup.

Sorokin became the eighth of the nine European delegates on the 37-member FIFA Council. The ninth was left vacant in July when long-time Spanish soccer leader Angel Maria Villar resigned as a vice president of FIFA and UEFA after being arrested in a corruption investigation.

Villar was detained along with three other soccer officials, including his son, on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

Interim replacements for Villar were to be confirmed later Wednesday at a meeting of the UEFA executive committee.

Predicting the FIFPro World XI for 2016-17

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With the World Players’ Union, FIFPro, releasing the 55 players who received the most votes from over 25,000 professional players from across the globe based on their play in 2016-17, plenty of usual suspects have been selected as the top players on the planet.

But who will make the final XI when it is announced in London on Oct. 23?

[ MORE: FIFPro nominees in full ]

With one goalkeeper, four defenders, three midfielders and three forwards selected by each professional surveyed, it is quite likely that Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will make the team for the 10th straight season. Because, well, they’re Ronaldo and Messi.

Elsewhere there is plenty of debate as to who will make up the defense and midfield and even in goal.

Below I select my XI and I urge you to do the same in the comments section below.

Remember: we can’t always agree on everything but let’s get along…

JPW selects his FIFPro World 11

Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Manchester United)

Defenders: Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Marcelo (Real Madrid)

Midfielders: Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), N'Golo Kante (Chelsea), Luka Modric (Real Madrid)

Forward: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Neymar JR (Paris Saint-Germain)

Karim Benzema signs new contract at Real Madrid

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Karim Benzema has signed a new four-year contract at Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Sargent to Werder Bremen

The French striker, 29, has become the latest star name to commit their future to the two-time reigning European champions with Marcelo, Isco and Dani Carvajal all signing new deals over the past week.

Benzema will now remain at Real until June 30, 2021, with the Frenchman scoring 181 goals in 371 appearances as well as winning two La Liga titles, three European Cups and two Copa del Rey trophies during his time in the Spanish capital.

It is believed this new deal has a release clause of over $1.35 billion as Spanish clubs are now becoming increasingly wary of losing their star players a la Neymar leaving Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain.

Despite his expulsion from the French national team for over 18 months due to his alleged involvement in a blackmail case involving a sex tape and former teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Benzema has been in fine form for Real since Zinedine Zidane took charge in 2015.

Benzema scored 19 goals in 48 games in all competitions last season and 28 in 36 games the season before that as his hold up play and ability to drift out wide or drop deeper crucial to getting the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio and Co.

That said, Benzema has scored just once in six appearances this season but Real are obviously happy with what he is producing aside from goals.

With question marks over the future of Bale at the Bernabeu, locking down Benzema shows just how important he is to Zidane’s attacking unit as they seek to seal a third-straight UEFA Champions League title.

FIFA open investigation into Chelsea’s youth transfer policy

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Chelsea could be in big trouble.

FIFA have confirmed they’re investigating Chelsea’s youth transfer policy yet again, specifically over the recruitment of foreign players under the age of 18.

What could the punishment be? The worst-case scenario is that Chelsea would be banned from signing any new players across its senior or youth levels but it is believed this situation isn’t as serious as previous investigations involving Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

Via the Telegraph, FIFA had the following to say about the investigation: “As the investigation is ongoing, no further comment is possible for the time being.”

Chelsea released a short statement saying: “Chelsea FC complies with all FIFA Statutes and Regulations when recruiting players.”

It will be the third time in eight years that world soccer’s governing body have looked at Chelsea’s youth policy and back in 2009 they were handed a transfer ban for two transfer windows over the signing of French teenager Gael Kakuta from Lens in 2007 but that was later overturned after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) was successful.

Chelsea were also investigated last year over the signing of Bertrand Traore after images emerged of him playing for the club as a 16-year-old, before international clearance had arrived.

Spanish clubs Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have been found guilty after similar investigations took place with Barca banned from signing players for two transfer windows and the same happening to Atletico who can’t sign any new players until January 2018, while Real Madrid had their ban reduced to one window after an appeal.

In the UK both Liverpool and Manchester City have recently been handed fines and bans for not following rules over recruiting young players domestically.

For foreign players signing for a team in another country there are strict rules in place.

Their family must either be relocating for non soccer reasons to the country where the new club is based, they must live no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered with is within that 50km radius, or if they sign between the age of 16-18 the new club must provide them with housing, access to education and a soccer education.