Gao Jisheng

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Southampton ‘not a pig to be fattened’

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Southampton’s majority owner Gao Jisheng has rarely talked about purchasing the Premier League club. If ever.

However, the Chinese real estate tycoon has now been talking and it doesn’t seem like he’s willing to pump much, if any, of his own money into Saints in the coming years.

In a rare interview with the Financial Times in Shanghai, Gao revealed some of his plans for the future of the South Coast club.

“I am not treating Southampton as a pig to be fattened and sold,” Gao said. “I am treating it as a child. But my children must believe they cannot depend on the boss. I have said to Southampton: ‘I am now your father. But I am putting you on the right track: you need to feed yourself.’”

He added: “The club’s financial situation is good this year and it doesn’t require more investment.”

Southampton’s fans will not be too shocked to hear these words from Gao, but will be intrigued to have had heard anything at all from him.

The Chinese businessman often attends games but has never spoken publicly about his reasons and motivations for buying an 80 percent stake in the club from the Liebherr family back in 2017.

With his property company Lander Sports buying the club, Gao recently sold a large chunk of his stake in Lander to the Chinese government which led to the Premier League requesting information from Southampton about whether or not they were now owned by the state of China.

Gao has brushed off those suggestions, saying he has given the PL the information they need and they are satisfied. Lander Sports, who own the 80 percent stake in Saints, are based in Hong Kong due to strict laws about risky foreign investments in mainland China.

All of this is a little confusing for Southampton fans, but the main thing to come from Gao’s comments is that they shouldn’t expect a huge flurry of big money signings as long as he’s the owner but they could spend some money this summer without selling anybody.

Gao wants the club to be self-sustaining and that is pretty admirable in this day and age when fans demand huge money spent on new players, and will then slam the club when relegation could see it spiral into financial meltdown.

Southampton have always been a club which produces young talent and then sells players on for a huge profit. That won’t change anytime soon.

But after two close shaves with relegation over the past two seasons, it is clear Southampton’s squad needs a large rebuild under Ralph Hasenhuttl this summer. If they can sell on a plethora of players who have been out of the picture and out on loan last season, then they will be able to reinvest that cash in new players.

How successful Saints are at doing that this offseason will determine if Hasenhuttl’s side can kick on and push for a top 10 finish next season. The coach has worked wonders with one of the youngest squads in the PL since he arrived last December and there is plenty of promise that a full season of Hasenhuttl-ball will see Saints not embroiled in yet another relegation scrap.

Gao’s comments underline the fact he will not spend big like Wolves’ Chinese owners Fosun, but given how much Saints have spent over the past few years (they are one of the few PL clubs to make a profit in transfer business year in, year out) this wasn’t a huge surprise.

With Southampton playing a game in China again this offseason, their new sponsorship deal with LD Sports (a company yet to launch in China) has seen them double their revenue in terms of sponsorship in a club-record deal.

Gao’s connections in China are helping the club financially in certain aspects, but it appears they will not pump money in to try and challenge the PL’s elite like they did in years gone by under Ronald Koeman. In truth, their success under Koeman was fuelled by selling a host of star names such as Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren and Morgan Schneiderlin, which allowed them to buy Sadio Made, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle and Virgil Van Dijk among others.

Saints must unearth a few more gems in the transfer window this summer to keep their model rolling along and bring about another push into the top half of the table. They have a great manager, some talented youngsters and a sensible owner.

The latter will hamper any progress their fans have of making another push for European qualification in the years to come.