Chinese Football Association

Tycoon's purchase of club is mainland milestone

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 February, 2007, 12:00am

An information technology tycoon has taken over Chinese Super League powerhouse Shanghai Shenhua in what could be the most expensive acquisition in the sport's history on the mainland.

The bid could be a milestone for China's troubled soccer industry.

Zhu Jun, who owns the Nasdaq-listed The9 Limited, one of the biggest online gaming companies, has shelled out 150 million yuan to acquire the majority shares in Shenhua and will merge it with his own Shanghai United FC. The deal is awaiting approval from the Chinese Football Association.

Shenhua finished runners-up to Shandong Luneng in the 2006 CSL season, while United came seventh in the 15-team league.

The much-hyped foray from Zhu, listed by Forbes China as one of the country's richest businessmen with an estimated US$154 million in assets, marks a new era for China's nouveaux riches making inroads into a sport once dominated by huge state-owned enterprises.

Shenhua was a symbol of that dominance. The club had been firmly under the control of companies affiliated to the Shanghai Municipal government since it came into existence 13 years ago.

But China's soccer landscape will inevitably take on a new look when the curtain comes up next month on the 2007 CSL season Ownership of the 15 CSL clubs reveals a list of promising candidates who could become China's answer to Roman Abramovich.

Newly promoted Zhejiang Lvcheng has Song Weiping, a real-estate baron who boasts a fortune of US$640 million, at its helm. In the north, Dalian Shide is in the hands of Xu Ming, a financial services industry giant with US$1 billion of assets.

Defending CSL champions Shandong Luneng remain the only state-owned entity among the elite teams, although rumours of a sell-off loom large. 'Any judgment on the effect of this changing of the guard is premature,' Titan Sports said. 'But they should help towards efforts to improve the management style of clubs and introduce true corporate spirit.'