21 October 2016
Tony Xia now owns 100 percent of Aston Villa.
Photos: Facebook/Aston Villa FC
Tony Xia now owns 100 percent of Aston Villa. Photos: Facebook/Aston Villa FC

Could Chinese owner of English football club kick off a trend?

It might not be too far-fetched to imagine an Alibaba or Wechat logo on the jerseys of players in the English Premier League now that we have the first mainland Chinese owner of an English football club.

Tony Xia Jiantong just paid 60 million pounds (US$87.6 million) for a 100 per cent stake in Aston Villa FC.

Arguably he got a bargain.

The team had a continuous 26-year history in the Premier League until this season, when it finished dead last with only 17 points.

As a result, Aston will play in the second-tier Championship League next season.

But the price Xia paid seems to reflect a non-Premier League discount.

In October, China Media Capital paid US$400 million for a 13 per cent stake in 2013-2014 Premier League champion Manchester City FC, which dropped to fourth place this season but ahead of its popular neighbour Manchester United FC.

Chinese businessmen are rushing to snap up European football clubs after President Xi Jinping, a die-hard soccer fan, said he wanted China’s national team to win the World Cup by 2050.

China is well-placed to dream the impossible dream, knowing that in the world of capitalism, money can make the world go around.

So even if its national football team is worse than most of those in the “One Belt, One Road” countries, hopes run high that, one day, it will be a contender against the likes of the Brazilian and German teams.

But Chinese investors haven’t yet succeeded in working magic with their money.

Not even China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, who paid 45 million euros (US$50.4 million) last year for a 20 per cent stake in Club Atlético Madrid, which trailed behind the powerful FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF most of last season and finished in third place in La Liga.

Least lucky was Carson Yeung Ka-sing, who became the first Hongkonger to own an English Premier League club, Birmingham FC, in 2009.

Yeung was arrested for money laundering in 2011 and sentenced to prison in 2014.

Meanwhile, Birmingham has been demoted to the Championship League and is now in the hands of liquidators.

What Xia will do with Aston Villa is anybody’s guess.

The 40-year-old businessman from Zhejiang province reportedly owns a multinational conglomerate, Recon Group, that operates six core businesses, ranging from new energy to smart city technologies, and employs 35,000 people in 75 countries.

Xia made the news in December, when his Lotus Health Industry Holding Group named Xi Yinping, a cousin of Xi Jinping, as an independent director. The nomination was mysteriously dropped the next day.

Still, the scramble to please the paramount leader goes on.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. is in talks to become a top sponsor of world soccer governing body FIFA after Dalian Wanda Group signed a similar deal earlier this year.

Alibaba E-Auto is the title sponsor of the FIFA Club World Cup.

And the chase for China’s football dream goes on.

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EJ Insight writer

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