West Bromwich Albion are the 15th club in the Premier League to come under the control of foreign owners after their sale to Chinese investors was announced yesterday.
Jeremy Peace’s search, which lasted more than 18 months, reached a conclusion with Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development taking control at the Hawthorns. No financial details have been revealed but Peace initially wanted £150million when he put West Brom up for sale.
Chinese entrepreneur Guochuan Lai, a 42-year-old who is worth £1.8billion and was born in Guangdong, holds the controlling stake in the investment group but the day-to-day running of the club will be left to John Williams, the former Blackburn Rovers chairman and chief executive.
The deal is subject to approval by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Premier League but, assuming there are no complications, it will mean that three- quarters of Premier League sides belong to overseas owners.
As for Midlands football, it follows summer take-overs by Chinese investors of Aston Villa and Wolves, while Birmingham City have yet to complete a deal to buy out their Hong Kong-based owners.
Lai said: ‘I’m excited and privileged to have the chance to become the new owner of this great club. We have a strong squad, loyal fans and a unique culture.
‘My immediate priorities will be to maintain the club’s stable structure, respecting its well-run nature and its heritage.
Guochuan Lai Q&A: WHO IS WEST BROM’S NEW OWNER?
Who is Guochuan Lai?
Guochuan Lai is a 42-year-old businessman and entrepreneur who was born in Meizhou, located in the eastern Guangdong province of China.
He is a former general manager of Palm and is currently the chairman of the club’s buyer, Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Co., Ltd.
He also remains a director of a number of Palm’s subsidiaries, including Belt Collins International, Palm Landscape, Hangzhou Nanyue Palm Landscape Construction and PALM Design Holding.
What is his football background?
Lai is a passionate football fan and was drawn to West Bromwich Albion by its ‘rich history, community focus and dedicated fan base’.
He cites ‘strong links’ between China and West Bromwich Albion, which began with the club’s tour to China in May 1978 when the Club accepted an invitation from the Chinese Government to became the first English club to tour China in modern history.
He is also excited about building the club’s presence in China, a market which offers enormous potential as football becomes more popular.
What can the fans expect?
Lai is expected to pledge significant funds to West Brom in hope of elevating their footballing ambitions, and while managers often lose their jobs following new ownership, Tony Pulis is not thought to be in any danger.
‘I have no intention of changing the club’s ethos. I’m proud that I will be the first mainland-Chinese owner of a Premier League club. This historic deal will result in a rapid and significant increase in interest in the club in China, which should lead to attractive commercial opportunities.
‘Meanwhile, the club will be uniquely positioned to take its well-regarded training system to China, helping to identify and develop more talented young players in the future.
‘I am convinced that this transaction will serve to reinforce the love of football, while bringing West Bromwich Albion millions of new dedicated fans.’
Peace, who held an 88 per cent stake in West Brom and will help advise during a transitional period, added: ‘I believe this deal will enable Albion to build on the strong, sustainable foundations that have been the cornerstone of the club’s progress.
‘I have been chairman for 14 years and I am obviously pleased that in that time we have become an established top-flight club. Now, having spent time with Guochuan, I believe he is the right man to take Albion forward.’
Manager Tony Pulis has been searching for new players for his West Brom squad all summer.
The club pulled out of what would have been a record £15million deal for West Ham’s Diafra Sakho on Thursday, as he would not have been fit to start the new campaign.
Williams said: ‘The immediate focus is on our activity in the transfer window. Quite frankly, everything else is peripheral. Tony Pulis and (technical director) Nick Hammond have told the board we are two or three players short; realistic targets have been identified.
‘There are funds available. We need to get them over the line to ensure Tony has a competitive squad for what is going to be a challenging and demanding campaign.’
Italian giants AC Milan announced yesterday that they are also being bought by Chinese investors. Chairman Silvio Berlusconi, who bought the club 30 years ago, has agreed to sell his 99.93 per cent stake in a deal that values the seven-time European Cup winners at £627m. The new owners have agreed to invest £300m in the next three seasons.
PREMIER LEAGUE AND CHAMPIONSHIP OWNERS/MAJORITY SHAREHOLDERS
Arsenal – Stan Kroenke (USA)
Bournemouth – Maxim Demin (Russia)
Burnley – Mike Garlick (England)
Chelsea – Roman Abramovich (Russia)
Crystal Palace – Steve Parish (England), Joshua Harris & David Blitzer (USA)
Everton – Farhad Moshiri (Iran)
Hull – Assem Allam (Egypt)
Leicester – Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (Thailand)
Liverpool – John W. Henry, Tom Werner (USA)
Manchester City – Sheikh Mansour (UAE)
Manchester United – Glazer family (USA)
Middlesbrough – Steve Gibson (England)
Southampton – Katharina Liebherr (Germany)
Stoke – Peter Coates (England)
Sunderland – Ellis Short (USA)
Swansea – Jason Levien & Steve Kaplan (USA)
Tottenham – Joe Lewis (England)
Watford – Pozzo family (Italy)
West Brom – Guochuan Lai (China)
West Ham – David Gold & David Sullivan (England)
15 of the 20 Premier League clubs have foreign owners/majority shareholders
Aston Villa – Tony Xia (China)
Barnsley – Patrick Cryne (England)
Birmingham – Carson Yeung (China)
Blackburn – Venky’s (India)
Brentford – Matthew Benham (England)
Brighton – Tony Bloom (England)
Bristol City – Stephen Lansdown (England)
Burton – Ben Robinson (England)
Cardiff – Vincent Tan (China)
Derby – Mel Morris (England)
Fulham – Shahid Khan (USA-Pakistan)
Huddersfield – Dean Hoyle (England)
Ipswich – Marcus Evans (England)
Leeds – Massimo Cellino (Italy)
Newcastle – Mike Ashley (England)
Norwich – Delia Smith (England) & Michael Wynn-Jones (Wales)
Nottingham Forest – The Al Hasawi Family (Kuwait)
Preston – Trevor Hemmings (England)
QPR – Tony Fernandes (Malaysia)
Reading – Narin Niruttinanon (Thailand)
Rotherham – Tony Stewart (England)
Sheffield Wednesday – Dejphon Chansiri (Thailand)
Wigan – Dave Wheland (England)
Wolves – Fosun International (China)
11 of the 24 Championship clubs have foreign owners/majority shareholders