Owning a soccer club in England is about as big a statement of intent as one can make. Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich and Manchester City’s Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan have received much attention with their huge investments which include buying some of the world’s best players. They are not the only ones to show off their wealth. Chinese company China Media Capital (CMC) Holdings and Citic Capital have a 13 per cent stake in Manchester City. Owning a soccer club is big business that goes far beyond any vanity buy.
Tycoons from Asia have increasingly chosen to invest in teams in the highest-profile soccer league in the world. Here is a list of Asian owners with teams in the English Premier League and Championship.
Vincent Tan — Cardiff City
Malaysian businessman and investor Vincent Tan Chee Yioun owns a majority stake (51 per cent) in Welsh club Cardiff City. Tan, the founder of the Berjaya Corporation, made the Forbes billionaire list in 2010 with an estimated worth of US$1.3 billion the same year he bought Cardiff City. The Welsh club has drifted between the Premier League and the lower-tier Championship in recent seasons, before gaining promotion to the top flight at the end of last season. Tan also has stakes in Bosnian club FK Sarajevo, Belgium side KV Kortrijk and is part of an ownership group of Los Angeles FC in the United States.
The Srivaddhanaprabha family — Leicester City
The soccer world was shook to its core on October 27 after Thai owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha died in a helicopter accident soon after taking off from Leicester City’s ‘King Power Stadium’. Vichai was the CEO and chairman of King Power Duty Free and bought the club as part of the Asia Football Investments consortium. In 2014 the Foxes won promotion to the top flight and two years later the rank underdogs completed a fairy-tale rise by winning the league under Italian manager Claudio Ranieri. While chairman Vichai was credited with the club’s incredible success that season, his son Aiyawatt is vice-chairman of the Leicester board. His wife, Aimon is King Power’s vice-chairman, another son Apichet Sr, along with Vichai’s sisters Voramas and Aroonroong, are part of the executive team. Apichet is also executive director of the club. The Foxes are enjoying a revival under manager Claude Puel.
Fosun International and Guo Guangchang — Wolverhampton Wanderers
Chinese conglomerate Fosun International paid Steve Morgan £45 million (US$56.81) for Wolves in 2016. Fosun Group was founded in 1992 by five Fudan University graduates: Guo Guangchang, Liang Xinjun, Wang Qunbin, Fan Wei and Tan Jian. A 2016 Quartz article named Fosun chairman Guo as the 17th richest man in China with a net worth of US$5.6 billion. Guo described himself as “China’s Warren Buffett,” according to the same article. Guo made headlines for “disappearing” in early December 2015 before reappearing a few days later at a Fosun board of directors meeting, after which the board said Guo was assisting authorities in an unnamed investigation. Wolves won promotion to the Premier League at the end of last season after a six-year absence.
Gao Jisheng — Southhampton
Chinese tycoon Gao Jisheng, the founder and chairman of Lander Sports Development Co., beat off competition from several Chinese rivals to buy Southampton in August 2017. Gao and his daughter Nelly, who enjoy a combined worth of almost £4 billion, won out after a year of negotiations to buy an 80 per cent stake in the Saints for £210 million. Katharina Liebherr, who inherited the club in 2011, has retained a 20 per cent stake. Self-made millionaire Gao, who made his fortune in real estate before turning to sports investment, The self-made millionaire keeps a low profile. Southampton returned to the Premier League in 2012.
Lai Guochuan — West Bromwich Albion
Lai Guochuan, the founder and director of Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited, bought an 87.8 per cent stake in West Brom for an estimated £175 million in September 2106. Lai, who was born in Guangdong province, established Yunyi Investment to buy the club. According to the club’s website, Lai built his career assisting with the development of Palm Eco-Town Development Company Limited from a plant nursery business into China's largest landscape design and construction company with operations throughout China and beyond. Palm became the club’s principal sponsor in May 2017. The Baggies were relegated from the Premier League at the end of last season, but are looking good for an immediate return to the top flight.