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Club takeover can help nurture our young soccer talent, owner says

By Qiu Quanlin in Guangzhou (China Daily) Updated: 2016-09-19 09:28

The businessman behind China's latest investment in European soccer has spoken of his delight at completing a deal he hopes will help the domestic game to progress.

Investment firm Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development last week sealed a deal to buy a controlling stake in West Bromich Albion, which plays in the English Premier League.

The value of the deal was undisclosed, although earlier reports said it could be in the region of $195 million.

According to a statement from the club, former chairman Jeremy Peace transferred ownership of West Bromwich Albion Holdings, which holds a 88 percent stake in the club, after preconditions of an agreement in the summer were met.

Yunyi Guokai was set up this year by Lai Guochuan, a businessman from Meizhou, a city in Guangdong province with a strong soccer tradition.

"I'm delighted to complete the acquisition and to become the next steward of the club," the new owner was quoted as saying in the club's announcement.

Lai, 42, said he first learned of West Brom, as the club is commonly known, through people involved in the club's historic tour of China in 1978. The team played four exhibition matches in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong.

"I'm a lifelong soccer fan," he said. "My passion for the game is one motivation for the acquisition, but there is more to it than that. From a business view, the club is a great investment, given it is financially sound and has a strong management team."

Lai is a major shareholder in Palm Gardening Holdings, an urban landscape design and development company in Shenzhen. The company, which is part of the investment firm, has unveiled plans to build world-class soccer facilities in up to six new-town projects across China.

"Clearly, the West Bromwich Albion brand would be linked to those exciting developments," Lai said in a message online to fans.

He said the deal will serve to reinforce the love of soccer in China while bringing West Brom millions of new supporters, and added: "It will have a huge appeal for youth soccer, and it is a great opportunity to bring West Bromwich Albion's training system to China to help nurture young talent."

John Williams, former chairman of Blackburn Rovers, will take over as chairman of West Brom while Peace has agreed to stay on in an advisory capacity to assist with the transition during the 2016-17 season.

The deal is the latest in a spate of investments by Chinese companies in European soccer. Wang Jianlin, the chairman of Wanda Group, bought a 20 percent stake in Spanish side Atletico Madrid in January last year, China Media Capital acquired a 13 percent stake in Manchester City, while Suning now owns Inter Milan in Italy.

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