West Bromwich Albion have been taken over by a Chinese investment group.
The club said that its chairman Jeremy Peace – who held an 88% stake in the club – had agreed to sell West Bromwich Albion Holdings, the club’s parent company, to Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited. Peace said: “I believe this deal will enable Albion to build on the strong, sustainable foundations that have been the cornerstone of the club’s progress.”
The group is headed by Guochuan Lai, a 42-year-old entrepreneur who, according to the club website, has created his wealth in the booming Chinese economy. The deal, which was agreed in June, is subject to the approval of the Financial Conduct Authority and the Premier League.
Lai said: “I am excited and privileged to have the chance to become the new owner of this great club. 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.”
Peace steps down to an advisory capacity for the 2016-17 season after 16 years spent on the board and will be replaced by John Williams, the former Blackburn Rovers chief executive and chairman. West Brom’s website states that: “Guochuan Lai built his career assisting with the development of Palm Eco-Town Development Company Limited (“Palm”) from a plant nursery business into China’s largest landscape design and construction company with operations throughout China and in other countries. It is listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange with a market capitalisation of £1.8bn.
“The buyer is a new company, focused on the sports industry, formed for the purpose of completing the acquisition. It is controlled by Guochuan Lai, who has provided the underlying equity for the acquisition, together with Palm and funds introduced by Yunyi Investment, a regulated asset management company, which led the negotiations on behalf of the Buyer.”
Lai added: “There are already strong links between China and West Bromwich Albion, which began with an historic tour to China in May 1978 when the club accepted an invitation from the Chinese Government and became the first English club to tour China in modern history. I am proud that I will be the first mainland-Chinese owner of a Premier League club. This historic deal will result in a rapid and significant increase in interest in the club in China, which should lead to attractive commercial opportunities. Meanwhile the club will be uniquely positioned to take its well-regarded training system to China, helping to identify and develop more talented young players in the future.”
If the deal goes through, West Brom will become the third midlands side to have Chinese investment this summer after the Championship sides Wolves and Aston Villa were both sold.
Wolves, who have since appointed the former Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga as manager, were bought last week by Fosun International while a Chinese businessman Tony Xia completed his takeover of Villa in June.
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