West Brom became the latest high-profile club acquired by Chinese investors Friday after they struck a deal with a consortium led by landscaping and construction magnate Guochuan Lai.
Remarkably, the Hawthorns are the fourth midlands club to be snapped up by Chinese investors in the off-season after rivals Birmingham City, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers all underwent ownership changes this summer.
The timing and concentration of the takeovers is peculiar but this is likely a coincidence borne out of convenience rather than any grand design.
The actual grand design belongs to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is determined to make the country relevant in international soccer. In recent months domestic clubs and opportunistic investors have taken advantage of relaxed restrictions and freedoms afforded the sport by the President.
“I have no intention of changing the club’s ethos.” – Guochuan Lai
Sought after talents like Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira and Ramires commanded astronomical transfer fees en-route to the Chinese Super League, while various Chinese based and backed businesses also now own significant stakes in Inter Milan, Manchester City and Atletico Madrid.
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With this latest takeover, only five of the Premier League’s 20 clubs are English-owned. These are Crystal Palace, Stoke City, Tottenham Hotspur, and two of the newly promoted sides, Middlesbrough and Burnley.
It will probably disappoint Hawthorns fans to know that, unlike those at the helm of the likes of Chelsea and Paris Saint Germain, the new ownership group, Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited, are likely to take a slow and steady approach to the club’s development.
However, outgoing Chairman Jeremy Peace assured supporters that the imminent season kick-off has not been lost in the shuffle as the takeover went through.
“I have had several meetings with the board to discuss the strategy of the club with regards to the playing staff and transfer window and will be looking to support them in strengthening our squad,” Peace told the official club website. “We are committed to the task of ensuring we tackle this first season of a new era with a competitive team.”
No official confirmation has been given about the status of manager Tony Pulis but he is believed to be safe after proving reliable in his 18 months in the job.
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New owner Lai expressed his enthusiasm for the task at hand when speaking after the announcement of the takeover.
“I am excited and privileged to have the chance to become the new owner of this great club,” he told the club website. “My immediate priorities will be to maintain the club’s stable structure, respecting its well-run nature and its heritage.”
“I have no intention of changing the club’s ethos.”