On Chinese New Year this year, MOMS dropped into Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter to check out the festivities. As you’d expect, the dancing dragons and Chinese bangers in The Arcadian proved the highlight that the on-and-off rain couldn’t dampen, but something more low-key also caught the attention. On nearby Hurst Street, there was a tarpaulin draped row of street stores and amongst the culinary delights, Chinese massage and medicines on offer, was a small pitch representing Aston Villa.

Despite being staffed by some friendly people behind a fold-up table, it wasn’t really offering much apart from conversation and a prize draw. For a Premier League football club, it was a sorry-looking effort. It seemed the club were just there to fulfil an obligation, rather than become an active part of the celebration and really engage with the community event. Where were the claret & blue dragons?

 

Chinese New Year Birmingham

 

While other clubs aggressively expand their supporter base overseas (e.g. Leicester City’s recent colonisation of Thailand), Villa can sometimes fail to embrace an opportunity that presents itself on its front doorstep. It reminded me of what a Manchester City-supporting friend said, when talking about his away trips to Villa Park. He reckoned that apart from the small club shop on the High Street, you struggle to see any real Villa presence in Birmingham. Adding, by comparison in Manchester, within 30 seconds of coming off the train in the city, you can’t fail to see United or City’s imprint on the city.

He has a point.

Fast-forward a few months and ironically, it seems the Chinese maybe about to educate Aston Villa in how to spread the claret and blue gospel, as they are in the running to potentially use the club to give credence to their own football mission.

 

 

Chinese Whispers

As you’d have read in recent weeks, Villa are close to potentially sealing a new ownership deal. Press reports of Chinese interest, while hardly sacrosanct (considering some of the papers in question), do line-up with Villa chairman Steve Hollis’s mention of Far East interest at the recent Fan Consultation Group meeting that MOMS attended. Hollis also said that there were parties out there that potentially could have some major scale plans for Villa, mentioning in the same breath, the increasing Chinese governmental drive behind football, as an example.

His statement that followed last week seemed to mirror the sentiment.

“Parties that we believe have the passion and ambition to return the Club to winning the highest honours in European football,” said Hollis.

The Beijing Times reported that Villa allegedly have a preliminary agreement (non-binding agreement) with a £100m purchase figure lined-up with a mysterious Chinese company/consortium. Also, the paper mentioned a previous failed attempt last May by a Chinese consortium, who had visited Villa Park, but their £150m offer had broken down for some reason. It’s unclear, if the two are linked.

Various consortium names have been mentioned, but MOMS concern here is not the who, for they will reveal themselves soon enough, but the ‘why?’

Football Mission

In 2015, China took the position of world’s largest economic power off the United States, but when it comes to political, cultural influence and acceptance in the world, China still struggles to make in-roads outside of Asia.

To essentially market the country and extend its influence on a global scale, it is no secret that China is now fully focused on sport being its portal to do so, by achieving success and dominance in it.

When Beijing last year won the bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the Chinese capital became the first city to host both the Summer and Winter games. The success of the 2008 summer Olympics certainly opened the world’s eyes to the country and it is this kind of sporting outreach that has seen football mad Chinese president President Xi Jinping publicly proclaim that not only should China now host the football World Cup, but win it.

 

As we know, there’s nothing the football bodies (especially FIFA) like more than money and it’s no coincidence that last month The Wanda Group became the first Chinese company to sign up as a Fifa Partner, at a considerable cost that now puts them among the elite sponsors of football’s world governing body.

In a nutshell, this means the company holds the prime sponsorship rights for the next four Fifa World Cups, including the 2030 World Cup, which China is expected to host.

In tandem with huge scale national football youth development, the Chinese domestic league is now growing like never before. Once troubled by corruption and let down by a string of failed overseas poster boys, including Paul Gascoigne and Nicholas Anelka, it is a league reborn by the power of the Yuan.

Recently Russia had been a go-to place for leading Brazilian players to ply their trade, but China is now fast usurping it. To the extent, that it has the financial clout to outbid the major European leagues for leading players. Jiangsu Suning outbid Liverpool for Brazilian striker Alex Teixeira for 50 million, while former Chelsea midfielder Ramires also joined Jiangsu for 28 million.

The Chinese Super League clubs spent US$366 million* during the recent transfer window, nearly US$100 more than that of clubs in the English Premier League (*according to Transmarkt).

China are playing the long game, but it is now gathering rapid pace, scale and momentum.

So, where does Aston Villa fit into all of this?

Middle East Tactics

The Middle East provides the perfect model for how the Chinese seek to gain influence in football. Once the area was simply known for just desert and oil, but once the city’s infrastructure of hotels and roads were in place, the United Arab Emirates used football to market Dubai as the Gulf’s sports and tourist hub, to give it economic diversity to counter the day the oil runs dry. Such investment is ultimately more cost-effective, organic and productive than just simply advertising, as very few things in the world has such 24/7 media exposure as football.

Fast-forward to the present day, two of the Premier League’s major stadiums – the Etihad and Emirates – are named after United Arab Emirates airlines, with the later also the principle sponsor of the FA Cup.

While football has played a massive part of launching and validating Dubai as a business and tourist centre, China would have also noticed that investment in established European teams also helps build foundations and credibility for World Cup bids too. Look at Qatar Sports Investments buy out of Paris St German and Qatar Airways sponsorship of Barcelona, plus a certain Russian transformation of Chelsea. This certainly aided both country’s World Cup hosting bids.

Chinese Villans

After the Wanda Group, paid $52 million for a 20% stake in Spanish La Liga club Atletico Madrid, the Chinese are also already on the move when it comes to English football, it’s largely gone unnoticed by the wider football community, that the Chinese consortium, CMC, last year bought a 13% stake in Manchester City. If Aston Villa is the next step on the Chinese government cheerleadered expansion into football, it’s perhaps a logical one.

Villa is certainly ripe for picking. In many ways Aston Villa is in a similar situation that Manchester City was in prior to its purchase. A genuine big club at a cut-rate price, a large fan base with great international expansion potential, planning permission for Villa Park to be extended to a 50,000 stadium, and a rich history that perhaps hasn’t been commercially exploited as it could have been.  This season’s relegation will be considered a minor obstacle, when you factor in the bonus of a £50m price reduction.

 

 

While frivolous to most Villa supporters, the fact that the current British Prime Minister and the next British monarch support Villa, will not be lost on the Chinese and it will not doubt be a delightful bonus to any acquisition.

Villa Networking

Depending on the links of the potential buyer, there’s scope for Villa to have kinship with a Chinese Super League team, ala the way the Abu Dhabi United Group and the Chinese part-owners have set up the City Football Group that currently encompasses Manchester City, New York City, Melbourne City and also Japanese side Yokohama F. Marinos.

For better or for worse, Aston Villa may become a pawn in football Empire building, but at least in the short-term, it could be the primary concern of any network of clubs.

Johnny Foreigner

There’s been a slightly xenophobic reaction in some quarters to the news of potential Chinese buyers of Aston Villa, with some fans trying to play the fear monger by throwing up the example of what happened to neighbours Birmingham City due to their Asian owner experience with Carson Yeung.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the ‘Better the devil you know’ notion, when that devil has just relegated the club and cursed it in limbo for over half a decade.

You only have to look east across the Midlands to see the Thai revolution at Leicester City to see the potential spectacular fruits of Asian influence.

What the Foxes have achieved will not have gone unnoticed by any potential Chinese buyers, neither will the fact that the manager who built the very foundations of the Foxes success is currently available.

While Randy Lerner may have lacked direction, ambition and know how, a Chinese buyer, egged on by their country’s president, will not.

If a Chinese takeover is on the cards and it indeed involves a major player, future Chinese New Year celebrations in Birmingham could become very claret and blue indeed.

UTV

UPDATE 19th May: Villa will indeed be bought out by the Chinese Recon Group with the take over headed up by Dr Tony Xia. The Recon Group has substantial links with government departments (see below, from their website), reinforcing what has been written above.

chinese government connectionsFollow MOMS on Facebook here – myoldmansaid & Twitter here – oldmansaid

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20 COMMENTS

  1. I have got nothing against Chinese or Americans per se, but if there is one thing we have learned is that if somebody lives on the opposite side of the world they are less likely to take an active role in the club. It would have been much easier for a European, or even a Middle Eastern owner to keep a watching brief. But America and China are both a very long way away.
    Also, a lack of knowledge about English football has been at the root of many of Villa’s problems – when Villa fans were shouting for David Moyes as manager, they appointed Remi Garde, no doubt hoping he would be able to turn Villa into Arsenal. When Villa fans were crying out for the club to spend £15 million on Charlie Austin at the start of the season, they instead spent £50 million on exotic foreign talent which might have done ok at a club in a less precarious position, but was not what Villa needed at the time.
    The talk of Roberto Di Matteo does not bode well – one cannot help but think they have simply read that he won the European Cup with Chelsea, so must be a top manager. I can’t help but think that if they had done their research properly, they would have realised that his record is mediocre at best, and he is not the strong character Villa need to put some steel into this dysfunctional squad.

  2. Hollis needs to be careful. The whole thing could end up as the largest Chinese Take Away ever. Remember Longbridge folks?

    • no, he’s heading for the same tip lerner was slung onto, its obviousbirmingham city supporters(?)
      don’t have the courage,(or brains) to organise and carry out worthwhile demonstrations to force change, they are a sad mediocre, jelous tribe from a slum area, who will forever be in awe of aston villa and its place and honours gained. i love it

  3. I am one of those with concerns over who becomes the next owner of Aston Villa. I am not a claret eyed optimist, nor am I particularly xenophobic. I am however cognisant of the awful woes that can befall a football club if it gets into the wrong hands. Blackpool’s owner carries a UK passport, yet who would want Karl Oyston in charge of their club? Leeds are in the hands of an Italian, fancy him? Charlton are dissolving under the leadership of a Belgian.

    Nationality is of no concern – neither is being rich (as Lerner has shown). What is of importance is that the next owner of Villa is emotionally stable, mature, and puts the growth of the club ahead of the inflation of their ego.

    Leicester’s recent success is not all down to the Thai owners, it was more down to getting the right people in the right positions at the club, and everyone sharing a simple philosophy of football. Steve Walsh and Craig Shakespeare remained after Nigel Pearson was sacked, and the effect of this continuity should not be underestimated. Unless of course you buy into the recent meme of Ranieri’s latent genius…

    Villa have consistently placed the wrong people in the wrong positions – from Faulkner to Fox and everyone those two incompetents subsequently appointed. Villa have been a basket case since O’Neill spent the family silver and walked out days before the season started. It has been the blind leading the blind, and it has taken complete and utter disaster to reveal the lack of clothing on our football emperors. To recover will take not only a revolution in coaching and playing staff, but also time.

    Lerner is not a bad person, he is just deeply incompetent at running sporting clubs. His decisions have been naive, and his manner mysterious. His heart was in the right place, but sadly his head was not. It has been all over the place. He has wasted many millions of his money and brought us, the fans, nothing but disappointment and heartache for all his expenditure.

    The next step for Villa, whoever owns them, is to get the right CEO and the right manager. Everything flows from that – from player retention and recruitment, to youth development, to football philosophy. Villa have had the wrong people at the club for the last five years and as we have seen, chopping and changing managers cannot overcome that.

    Get the right manager and Villa can rebuild. The owner, and how much money they are prepared to gamble, will only make that process go faster or slower. Without the right people, as Lerner has found, money alone cannot build anything.

    UTV

  4. Mmm. You are aware the Thai’s hate the Chinese because they are everything the Thai’s are not. I notice that the Xenophobe word is thrown around as well, nice. Get the inferred racism slant in for anyone who might not agree with this takeover.
    I for one do not want Chinese owners, they will not do things for the greater good of Aston Villa unless it directly benefits their long term interests. Ask Google how they like dealing with the Chinese. Another fail in a continuous line of fails from Hollis but he seems to be a little Teflon in that nothing sticks and he’s still seen as competent. Hahaha.

    • Is there a sane business group in the world that would do things for the greater good of Aston Villa without directly benefitting their long term interests? Unless there is a Villa Supporting Billionaire we don’t know about.

      I don’t think that really has anything to do with where they are from. There are plenty of asset stripping British and American groups that I would not want anywhere near Villa either. As the article said, even the owners of Man City and Leicester have spent money in order to further their own business empires – it’s just a question as to whether that is at the expense of the club, which is more down to the amount of money they have to burn in the 3, 5, 10 years until we become profitable and they make it back.

      • I was hoping the Long Term Business interests would be the success of Aston Villa, I don’t think that isn’t the case with the Chinese.
        Elison is a better choice. He hates to lose, and is willing to put money in to win.

        • As Dan suggests, it’s naive to think that a wealthy billionaire/consortium is looking to ride in to Villa Park on a white horse to simply invest for the greater good of Aston Villa.

          Nationality is immaterial (xenophobia – called as seen repeatedly), what this article is saying is that if the alleged Chinese interest is in line with a similiar strategy of the UAE, for example, then the scale of where Aston Villa could go, could get very interesting. The Chinese value pedigree, history and are also on a major footballing mission.

          We do not have details of the ‘who, what or why’ of any particular consortium hailing from China, so you can not just dismiss ‘The Chinese’. Hypothetically speaking, if Villa were suddenly the most popular English team in China, it would be a complete game changer for the club.

          Elison – I’ve seen nothing so far to suggest he is anything other than a perpetual media red herring.

          At the moment, I wouldn’t necessarily put money on an owner coming from either China or the USA, as there is another party firmly in the mix.

          • I have not seen much positive press around Chinese/western joint ventures in general. In fact quite the opposite when things go sour. The Queen herself said the Chinese delegation was rude when they visited, they didn’t need to be polite, the UK was practically begging them for investment into the nuclear power plant (I forget the name). But check out Baha Mar for what could happen.
            Furthermore you purposely confuse the term Xenophobia which is a fear and hatred of all that is foreign and strange, with someone’s wish to not have Chinese owners specifically for Aston Villa. Based on your criteria anyone who doesn’t want Lerner owning the club is a Xenophobe, as Lerner is a foreigner too. My concern is for an owner who will put the club 1st, you wanna bet the Chinese will?
            However I do appreciate you often have insider information and to hear there is another interested party is comforting.

          • And to address the inference that I am naïve by my comment. Man City, PSG, Chelsea, Monaco (I think), are all owned by wealthy individuals/consortiums who have invested purely for the success of the clubs.
            I cannot be displaying a lack of knowledge or experience when there are real life active case studies to reference.
            I am often amazed that the English do not have a grasp of their own language. I am not often amazed that it has become a cultural norm to insult people in that country.

            • Lets get real, the very rich oil folk from UAE & Qatar didn’t suddenly ‘invest purely for the success of the clubs’. As the article states, they are marketing to build and future proof their business and countries. The oil will run out one day.

              PSG considering its location was a no brainer of an investment. The marketing and exposure they have got for the Qatar concerns in both France & Europe has been a big success. It was easy to build a dominating team in La ligue & a Paris club was the obvious choice.

              It all goes beyond just football.

              The Russians owned most of West London as it was, before Chelsea was pocketed.

              • I agree with both points, the latter is so true but so wrong for so many other reasons. UK Res Non Dom for tax is one.
                The Middle East interests aren’t using PSG to build something at home to be football world champions. China is, and their business model is to appropriate, imitate, and then innovate. Also the future proofing for the sheiks post oil is being done financially in other ways. They are totally using the brand and they have ego to satisfy so must have success. Also I believe there is an ego in charge of chelsea, so again success is needed to feed it. Ego is forbidden in Communism. I looked at the pharma company that is rumored to be involved, they are ultimately run by the Chinese state as they are the largest shareholder. Mmmm. Not overly comforting for me.

                • If you could link us to the source that shows the Chinese State is the major shareholder? The FT, the HK stock exchange, and Bloomberg, all show it as a small private concern.

                  • I did a dive in Bloomberg and the majority shareholders trace thru several companies to a Chung Cha KA who has done nothing but CEO roles, which need party approval to be given, and to a classictime investments company, who had a majority shareholder of China Investment & Finance Group. But Classictime is now private so I can’t go farther. This is all based on I saw a report that it was Rui Kang Pharma to buy Aston Villa.

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