Could Southampton be about to become the richest club in the UK?

Extraordinary rumours suggest that Southampton may be the target of a bid from Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin, with former chairman Cortese involved.

Southampton are supposedly the target of an extraordinary takeover bid from the Far East, as Wang Jianlin is linked with a £175m takeover of the Premier League club.

Remarkably, there are suggestions that Nicola Cortese, who quit as the club's chairman on Wednesday, could be the man engineering the deal.

Cortese walked out of St. Mary's Stadium on Wednesday, having allegedly persuaded Mauricio Pochettino to stay on.

Pochettino has made no secret of his close relationship with Cortese, as a close friend and a neighbour of the controversial Italian banker. Pochettino had previously pledged to follow Cortese out of the club, raising questions as to what may have prompted his stay.

Wang Jianlin, 59, is a Chinese businessman and one of the world's largest real estate developers. He is China's richest man, with an estimated worth of $14.2bn.

The Dalian Wanda Group, which specialises in development projects, is worth in excess of £19 billion .

The deal would see Southampton overtake Manchester City as the richest club in British football.

It is understood that Jianlin is keen to invest in a football club, after holding recent talks with La Liga sides Villarreal and Valencia.

Southampton are expected to be the next club to enter talks with Jianlin, with reports suggesting that Southampton owner Katharina Liebherr is keen to sell the Saints.

His interest in investing in football is further evidenced through his sponsorship of the Chinese Super League.

Jianlin has ties to the south coast club through his ownership of luxury yacht company Sunseeker, who are an official club partner of Southampton, and have involvement with the club.

It is thought that this is where Cortese's association with Jianlin emanates from.

Beyond football, Jianlin is reported to be keen on moving Sunseeker from their base in Poole, Dorset to Southampton. He is also alleged to be looking at purchasing the disused Ford factory in Southampton, which has been out of use since July 2013.

The Chinese billionaire is currently committed to building a landmark hotel on the banks of the River Thames, and is discussing a £1.6bn investment for a residential construction project in the UK.

He is also the world’s largest operator of movie theatres after the purchase of AMC Entertainment Holdings for US$ 2.6billion in 2013. He is thought to be keen to make further investment in western assets to increase the awareness of his company within Europe and the United States.

If he was to arrive it could see Cortese back at the club - with an even bigger pot of gold to play with.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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