• Xia was bidding for Southampton right up until Villa deal
  • Now he’s frustrated by the sport’s resistance to change

It didn’t matter which English soccer club Tony Xia bought, just as long as he got one.

The Chinese businessman was so keen on an acquisition that he wrote to bankers expressing interest in Premier League team Southampton. That was days before completing his 60 million-pound ($74 million) deal in May 2016 to buy Aston Villa in Birmingham.

“It wasn’t just Southampton, we also held discussions with a lot of clubs,” Xia said in an interview in Beijing last week. He agreed to buy Villa after striking up a relationship with the club’s former owner, American billionaire Randy Lerner.

The almost arbitrary nature of the purchase offers an insight into China’s blossoming relationship with the world’s most popular — and richest — game and the seemingly insatiable appetite for assets that’s continued into this year.

It follows President Xi Jinping’s endorsement of a plan to develop China’s sports economy and, in particular for the soccer-loving leader, a national team that might one day win the World Cup. Since then, businesses have poured billions into the sport, with some of the country’s richest men grabbing clubs abroad.

“Even if we didn’t buy Villa, we would have entered the sports industry through other means,” Xia said. “Now that we have control of Villa, we will leverage this opportunity and use it to further our business in the sports industry.” That might include a partnership with a “prestigious” French team whose controlling shareholder approached the club for a partnership, he said.

Read more…