Chinese businessman Jisheng Gao has become the majority owner of top-flight English soccer side Southampton.
It is widely reported that Gao has purchased 80 per cent of the Premier League club for UK£200 million (US$259 million), with the club confirming his arrival as a ‘partner’. A representative from Southampton declined to confirm these figures to SportsPro but did say that ‘it is a partnership, however, at this stage’.
Gao's Lander Sports Development (LSD) had been in ongoing talks with previous majority owner Katharina Liebherr. Despite the Premier League’s approval for a takeover in June, talks with LSD had faltered because the Chinese government was unwilling to grant permission for the transfer of the funds overseas. It is understood that the final investment is being made by Gao himself, rather than LSD.
Liebherr will remain with the club as a minority shareholder. Gao’s daughter, Nelly, will also sit on the Southampton board.
In an open letter to Southampton fans, Liebherr stated that ‘talks to bring in a new partner to our club have been concluded’. The Saints’ former owner added that the club was ‘entering into a partnership with the Gao family’ and was ‘excited about what we will achieve together’.
The Swiss also wrote that it was the ‘start of a new and exciting chapter’ for Southampton and ‘as a team, we will strive to build upon the strong foundation that is in place towards sustainable long-term success’.
Gao, 64, added: ‘I am honoured 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.
‘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.’
Southampton began their 2017/18 Premier League season with a home fixture against Swansea on 12th August. Despite the absence of club captain Virgil van Dijk, who has handed in a transfer request, the Saints drew 0-0 with the Welsh outfit. The match was the club’s first competitive fixture under new manager Mauricio Pellegrino.