Chinese make £190m bid for Southampton
Southampton look set to become the second Premier League club to pass into Chinese ownership after receiving an improved offer from Lander Sports Development to buy a 100 per cent stake in the club for £190 million. The Chinese property development company has proposed a phased takeover in which it would initially buy into the club before going on to take full control.
Katharina Liebherr, the club’s owner, rejected an offer of £180 million in January, as revealed by The Times, but Lander’s improved bid is much closer to her valuation and negotiations are believed to be at an advanced stage. The sale is being handled by the Zurich office of the investment bank UBS, which has been retained by Liebherr since she inherited Southampton after the death of her father, Markus, in 2010.
Liebherr intends to keep some of her shares in the short term to provide continuity before selling up completely if Lander’s promises of additional investment materialise and the buy-out goes well. Lander and Southampton have been talking for more than a year, although a six-week period of exclusive negotiations ended in January without an agreement.
Lander appears to be happy for Liebherr to stay on as a minority shareholder and is not planning any significant changes at the club if it secures a majority stake. The chairman, Ralph Krueger, and chief executive, Gareth Rogers, are likely to remain in place, although Lander will seek representation on the board.
Liebherr’s willingness to sell stems from her belief that Southampton require additional investment to cement their position as a top-ten Premier League club and a desire to spread her assets across a wider portfolio. The Liebherrs’ wealth was reported to be £3 billion after Markus’s death, although that figure is understood to have referred to the entire family’s assets rather than the trust that Katharina inherited.
Southampton posted healthy financial results for the year ending 2015-16 last week, with post-tax profits of £4.9 million and an increased turnover of £124.3 million, although the club retains debts of almost £50 million, a factor that is believed to have played a part in the protracted negotiations.
Lander is seeking to become the second Chinese owner in the Premier League after Guochuan Lai’s takeover of West Bromwich Albion last year.
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