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.