English Premier League

End-of-term report shows contrasting fortunes for Chinese-owned soccer clubs across the globe

A round-up of the progress made under Chinese owners across Europe and Australia

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 8:02am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 May, 2018, 1:42pm

While the Chinese Super League is merely on pause for World Cup 2018, most leagues have blown their final whistle on their 2018 seasons.

It was an exciting climax for the Chinese-owned Milan clubs in Italy; Inter made the Champions League at the death as AC Milan were forced to settle for a place at Europe’s children’s table. While Parma made their long-awaited return to Italy’s top league.

Three Chinese-owned clubs were consigned to the drop in England, while a couple escaped by the skin of their teeth. However, there were also success stories there too. As well as near misses in Australia, Czech Republic and France.

It’s been a campaign of contrasting fortunes for the Chinese-owned (mainland and Hong Kong registered) soccer clubs around the world.

Here is how they got on.

Northampton Town – 22nd in League One

The Chinese owners of the Cobblers, Guangzhou-based 5U Sports were forced out of the club after nine months with the relationship turning sour and the company forced to sell back their 60 per cent share. The Northampton Chronicle & Echo reported in March that the company still considered themselves the sole owners of the club’s major shareholder. They were in the relegation zone in January and stayed there. Will play in League Two next season after being mid-table last season.

Manchester City – 1st in Premier League

Only part-owned by China Media Capital, who bought a 13 per cent stake in the City Football Group that owns the club and its sister teams around the world, but easily the most successful of sides that could be considered Chinese-owned. Pep Guardiola’s team sashayed to the league title from 3rd last time, knocking up record points and goals, and also won the League Cup. Pep signed another five-year contract and that is bad news for the rest of the league.

Slavia Prague – 2nd in Czech First League*

Last year’s champions are consigned to second thanks to being left seven points behind champions Plzen with just one game to go, things are going worse for the owners. CEFC Energy Boss is still missing, its credit rating has been cut and it has creditors calling for their cash. Slavia will finish second bar a wild goal-difference swing.

West Bromwich Albion – 20th in Premier League

Owner Guochuan Lai sacked Tony Pulis to hire Alan Pardew but the attempt to keep them in the top flight had the opposite effect and Pardew’s time will be remembered for a mid-season break in Barcelona that saw senior players steal a taxi. Darren Moore steadied the ship but it was too late and the Baggies will be in the Championship next season.

Wolverhampton Wanderers – 1st in the Championship

Arguably the biggest success story of Chinese ownership. Fosun came in and set out a model that relied heavily on their part-ownership of Jorge Mendes’ Gestifute agency. It may have annoyed fellow Championship clubs but it worked and Nuno Espirito Santo’s side stormed the league to bring Premier League football back to Molineux from 15th a year ago.

Birmingham City – 19th in the Championship

Trillion Trophy Asia had to celebrate for the silver lining of staying in the second tier on the final day of the season. Garry Monk, hired in March, guided the Blues to safety, with the owners having sacked Steve Cotterill in December. They started the season with Harry Redknapp but sacked him in September to bring in Cotterill in October, which was the same time that someone from TTA spoke publicly, almost a year after taking control of the club.

Barnsley – 22nd in Championship

Only taken over by a consortium in December last year, one that included “Moneyball” pioneer Billy Beane, Chien Lee of NewCity Capital and Grace Hung of Pacific Media Group. They lost manager Paul Heckingbottom to Leeds United and brought in Jose Morais. His and his backroom team’s contracts were terminated on being relegated on the final day of the season.

Southampton – 17th in Premier League

Majority owner Gao Jisheng took over in August but his biggest act of the season brought in former Saints player Mark Hughes in March to replace Mauricio Pellegrino – who replaced 8th place finisher Claude Puel in the summer – and the Welshman kept them up with a win at Swansea City in the penultimate game. Hughes has indicated he would like the job full-time.

Granada – 10th in Segunda Division

One of a number of sports teams owned by Jiang Lizhang, the side finished mid-table in their first season back in the second tier after finishing bottom of the top flight last year.

Parma – 3rd in Serie B

Another of Jiang’s stable, which also includes CSL side Chongqing Lifan and a part-share in the Minnesota Timberwolves, the reformed Parma finished in third on the final day thanks to their win at Spezia and Frosinone’s draw with Foggia in the last minute. They return to Serie A for the first time since the 2014-15 season, three seasons after they went bankrupt and were refounded in Serie D.

Newcastle Jets – 2nd in A-League

The Ledman-owned Novocastrians continued their rise with a runners-up finish in the league and the Grand Final, the latter of which was down to a controversial offside goal for Melbourne Victory. Riley McBreen scored the goal of the season.

Melbourne City – 3rd in A-League

Part of the City Football Group. Finished third under former Manchester United youth coach Warren Joyce. Lost to Newcastle Jets in the semi-finals. Sister club New York City in the MLS are third in the Eastern Conference.

Atletico Madrid – 2nd in Primera Liga

Winners of the Europa League and three points ahead of Real Madrid in the league, Atletico are no longer Chinese owned after Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin sold his stake to Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer’s Quantum Pacific Group in February. Wang’s Dalian Yifang retain a partnership with the Spanish club who still play in the Wanda Metropolitano stadium.

Aston Villa – 4th in the Championship*

Hired Steve Bruce to get them up to the Premier League and he delivered the play-offs final after beating Middlesbrough. Now Wembley beckons and the most valuable game of football on the planet. If they do it then chairman Tony Xia might break Twitter. A massive improvement on 13th last year but does the success match the investment if they don’t go up?

Inter Milan – 4th in Serie A

The Suning-owned side hired Roma boss Luciano Spaletti to guide them back up the table and improve on their seventh place finish in 2016-17. They made the Champions League after beating Lazio in the final game. Dramatic.

AC Milan – 6th in Serie A

Europa League football beckons again for the Rossoneri who have improved vastly since one former player Gennaro Gattuso took over from another, Vincenzo Montella, in November. Owner Li Yonghong had to deny that his and the club’s finances were imperilled at several points during the season. Same position as last season.

Sochaux – 10th in Ligue 2

Ledus-owned Sochaux improved from 13th the season before in the French second tier.

Auxerre – 11th in Ligue 2

Another improvement, up from 17th last season but hardly the return to glory days heralded by ORG taking over in 2016.

Nice – 8th in Ligue 1

Majority-owned by a Chien Lee-led consortium, they finished much lower than the third spot and Champions League status they achieved last year.

Olympique Lyonnais – 3rd in Ligue 1

An improvement on last year’s 4th-place finish for the team part-owned by a Chinese private equity fund and largely down to a run of wins in recent months. They are expected to lose their best players in the summer, though.

US$28 million a year China boss Marcello Lippi second only to Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho as best paid

RCD Espanyol – 13th in Primera Liga

Rastar boss Chen Yansheng stated he wanted Barcelona’s other team to be in the Champions League within three years when he took over last January. Not this season. It’s a backwards step after finishing eighth last season.

ADO Den Haag – 7th in Eredivisie

Chinese owners United Vansen were told to pay up by Dutch courts in January and they finally delivered it all in late March to put an end to a cash crisis that had run on from their takeover in 2014. Despite that turmoil, they finished 7th in the top flight, up from 11th the previous season.

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* – indicates league campaigns are not yet concluded.