Tony Xia says Aston Villa takeover is solo venture
Xi agreed a deal worth $95m for the English soccer club
Aston Villa was relegated from the English Premier League last season
Chinese businessman Tony Xia has played down suggestions that his country’s government is involved in his purchase of English football club Aston Villa.
Last week Xia bought Aston Villa – recently relegated from the English Premier – from American Randy Lerner, formerly an owner of the Cleveland Browns NFL franchise, for a reported $95 million.
In the immediate aftermath of the deal, Xia announced his grand ambitions to return Aston Villa to the English top flight and make it “the most famous football club in China with a huge fan base.”
Xia’s comments, combined with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s desire to transform his country into a football superpower, fueled suggestions China was extending its reach into English football.
“I think people have too much imagination,” Xia told CNN’s Matt Rivers during a live Facebook Q&A in Beijing. “That’s (the Villa deal) just pure business for me and my company.”’
Investment in Chinese football is at an all-time high with its domestic clubs spending millions importing star names from Europe.
The Chinese Super League’s transfer record was broken four times in quick succession at the start of 2016, with Jiangsu Suning’s purchase of striker Jackson Martinez for $55m the most expensive deal of a busy transfer window.
China is also serious about nurturing its own talented players.
In just 10 months, and at a cost of $185 million, real estate company Evergrande turned an area of rural southern China into the biggest football school in the world.
And in the form of Xia – who’s Hong Kong-based Recon Holding Group owns Lotus Health Group, a producer of the food additive MSG – China is making a significant play in the European football market.
“Fit and proper persons” test
However, the Villa deal still needs to be ratified by English football’s administrators.
The Football League, which governs English football’s second, third and fourth divisions, conducts a “fit and proper persons” test on all prospective owners.
Neither Villa nor the Football League responded to CNN’s request for comment as to the likelihood of Xia passing that test.
The Chinese businessman is confident he will pass the test and told CNN he has $100 million deposited in an English bank account ready to complete the deal for Villa as and when it is green lit.
In addition to buying the club, Xia will also need to fund an overhaul of a Villa playing squad which won just three Premier League games during the 2015-16 season.
Asked if Villa fans should be concerned about how much money he has to spend, Xia responded: “That is not a problem for us,” while refusing to reveal how much he is worth.