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Southampton in no rush over potential Chinese takeover


SOUTHAMPTON — Ahead of one of the biggest games in club history, it has been reported that Southampton is at the center of interest from a Chinese company about a potential $250 million takeover.

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Southampton host Italian giants Inter Milan at St Mary’s in a crucial Europa League Group K clash on Thursday, but plenty of talk in the buildup to that game has been about a possible change in ownership at the club.

According to a report by Bloomberg news agency, a six week period of exclusivity has already begun between current owner Katharina Liebherr with Chinese company Lander Sports Development. It has been reported that a $250 million price tag has been put on the club, however it is believed Liebherr is keen to find out more about Lander’s intentions.

ProSoccerTalk understands that Liebherr is not openly looking to sell the club and will not offload Southampton in a hurry. We also understand that no deal for the club is imminent and no more news should be expected in the next 7-10 days.

[ MORE: 7,000 Saints fans take over Milan ]

It is also clear that Liebherr won’t sell the ambitious Southampton unless she believes it can move forward substantially under any new ownership. However, like any Premier League team, if significant investment is promised from an outside source then it would be in the best interests of the club to find out more details.

In recent years Katharina has turned down many opportunities to sell the club to foreign investors which would’ve made her a huge profit. Yet every time an opportunity arose to cash in, her reason for not selling up was simply because she felt it wasn’t in Southampton’s best interests.

As of right now it is unsure whether or not Liebherr would instead consider investment from Lander, which could see her sell shares in the club to the Chinese investors, rather than selling up completely. But with the club rising to the upper echelons of the Premier League and money pouring in via lucrative TV and sponsorship deals, many other potential investors will sit up and take notice.

Liebherr was left the club by her late father Markus who saved Saints from the brink of extinction back in 2009. After Markus passed away in 2010, Katharina’s heart has remained with the team and at a club awards dinner last season she was emotional as fans paid tribute to her father (one fan even had Markus’ face tattooed on his arm, which  Katharina loved) and the connection is incredibly strong as she often jets in from her home in Switzerland to attend games.

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 20: (L-R) Marcelo Brozovic of FC Internazionale competes for the ball with Oriol Romeu of Southampton FC during the UEFA Europa League match between FC Internazionale Milano and Southampton FC at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Milan, . (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
(Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Southampton has come a long way since Liebherr purchased them as a third-tier team for around $22 million in 2009 with significant investment in the playing squad, infrastructure and the marvelous training facilities at the Staplewood campus nestled in The New Forest. They are likely to be a very valuable proposition after finishing in sixth-place last season in the Premier League and are competing in the UEFA Europa League this campaign, plus their famed youth academy had made them tens of millions of pounds in profit over the years. Taking all of that into account, the valuation of $250 million seems a little low.

As for potential investors, foreign money has poured into English soccer in recent years with Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Swansea City and Bournemouth either fully owned or part-owned by wealthy American investors, plus Manchester City is owned by Abu Dhabi based Sheikh Mansour, reigning PL champs Leicester City are owned by Thailand’s Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Chelsea is owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

Premier League side West Bromwich Albion (plus Midlands rivals Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Birmingham City who are in the second tier) are all now owned by Chinese companies and Hull City is currently in the final proceedings of a Chinese takeover.

So, who is the investor said to be lining up a bid for Saints?

Gao Jisheng is the leading man at Lander. The founder, chairman and CEO built the company on property deals and along with his daughter Jingna he owns a 59 percent stake of Lander. The company was valued at $1.4 billion last June by Forbes and over the past year it has switched from being a company focusing on real estate to one focusing on sports.

The rhetoric of China’s president may have something to do with that change in business direction.

President Xi Jinping of China has called on the nation to embrace the global game and become a “world football superpower” after putting the game on the national curriculum for schoolchildren.

He has also pumped plenty of resources into soccer infrastructure in the nation, the Chinese Super League is attracting star players from around the world with huge pay checks and the likes of Manchester City have also sold a stake in the club to Chinese investors plus plenty of other European teams (Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Nice, Espanyol and Granada to name a few) have seen a sudden influx of investment from China.

It seems like Southampton may be the latest to benefit from China’s growing soccer obsession.

Transfer rumor roundup: Everton join Zaha chase; Matuidi to Man Utd?

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A roundup of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors from around the world, including those involving a few Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly” ]

Wilfried Zaha is one of the most wanted men in England, with Arsenal reportedly hot on his trail all summer. An deal between the Gunners and Crystal Palace is yet  to transpire, though, which has perhaps left the door open for Everton to sneak through and sign the 26-year-old Ivory Coast international.

Arsenal would obviously pay more in wages, but are yet to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman. If Everton is the club that calls with the requisite figures on offer, it wouldn’t be the worst landing place for Zaha. With Arsenal yet to make a meaningful signing this summer, and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny already gone or on their way out, the 2019-20 season could see the Gunners take a step back, opening the door for — you guessed it — Everton to break into the top-five… or -four.

Speaking of Ramsey, his arrival at Juventus has perhaps made Blaise Matuidi surplus to requirements, which means he could be available for cut-rate price.

Manchester United seem to be perennially in need of influential central midfielders, especially this summer after the departure of Ander Herrera and the failure of a signing that was Fred last summer. Man United have reportedly been in contact with Juve about the 32-year-old, as have Paris Saint-Germain and Everton.

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is another midfielder who’s been linked with United, but he’ll likely just as much as, if not more than, the $59-million fee paid for Fred. Milinkovic-Savic seemed a surefire target for the world’s top clubs after a star’s showing at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the 24-year-old remained at Lazio and is still yet to move 12 months later.

Patrick Cutrone was one of Europe’s breakout stars of the 2018-19 season, now the 21-year-old AC Milan forward is reportedly high atop Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shopping list this summer. He won’t come cheap — Milan are expected to demand nearly $30 million — but he could offer some serious insurance in the event of an injury to Raul Jimenez.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

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Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

[ MORE: Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan ]

Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.

Lukaku latest: Man United reject $67-million bid from Inter Milan

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Given two key factors — the date on the calendar and how far apart the two sides appear to be in their respective valuations — it’s looking increasingly likely that Romelu Lukaku will still be a Manchester United player when the upcoming Premier League season starts, despite numerous bids by Inter Milan this summer.

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

According to reports out of the UK, Man United have rejected Inter’s latest bid, said to be for $67.5 million. The Red Devils paid $96 million for the big Belgian forward just two summers ago and appear hellbent on recouping most, if not all, of their investment.

Antonio Conte called Lukaku “an important player for us” this week in an attempt to further unsettle the 26-year-old, but that doesn’t appear to have shaken United’s resolve in holding out for the fee they desire.

[ MORE: Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final ]

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is growing tired of answering questions about the saga, especially since there has been little to no progress made in recent days and weeks. When pressed on the topic again this week, he said he had “no more updates.”

Wolves top Man City on penalties in PL Asia Trophy final

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The 2019 Premier League Asia Trophy wrapped up on Saturday, as four PL sides took the field in Shanghai, China…

[ MORE: Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-0 (3-2 PKs) Man City

Wolves turned in a fantastic defensive display against the two-time reigning PL champions, indicating that Nuno Espirito Santo‘s side is very much ready for the start of the season. Man City had plenty of the ball in dangerous areas, but Wolves were quick to close off the passages when City typically dominate.

Wolves captain Conor Coady was part of the stellar defensive performance and he lauded some of the young players who entered the game as second-half substitutes and saw the game out to 0-0.

“To beat City at any point is a great accomplishment for us,” he said after the game. “We rode our luck at times but I thought the young boys were outstanding”

David Silva had perhaps the game’s best scoring chance in the 78th minute, but Rui Patricio made a top-drawer save to deny the Spaniard’s curling effort at the last possible moment.

Silva and Ilkay Gundogan began the penalty shootout with back-to-back efforts saved by Patricio. 20-year-old forward Lukas Nmecha was also denied on City’s fifth and final attempt.

Newcastle United 1-0 West Ham United

Newly appointed head coach Steve Bruce watched as an observer, due to “the terms of his visa,” as his Newcastle side beat Manuel Pellegrini‘s West Ham 1-0 in the third-place playoff.

Yoshinori Muto bagged the game’s only goal in the 34th minute. Jamie Sterry whipped in a cross from the right wing that curled around a pair of defenders at the near post and presented itself to Muto, still with plenty of work to do, for a first-time finish.