Terms of reference in the right race

Finds himself in the right race and very strong Poly form has him as the one to beat. — Larry Foley on his best bet Terms Of Reference (above)
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Kok hopeful of Conilad making it two-up

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Speedy dragon breathes fire

GOTCHA: Speedy Dragon getting up on the outside to beat The General and company in the third of six trial at Kranji yesterday morning.
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New Villa owner Xia will spend to reinforce team for promotion push

Xia Jiantong, the chairman of Recon Group.

The Chinese magnate buying English newly relegated football club Aston Villa said his company could pay more than £100 million for the club, but would not be "burning money" to turn the team around.

The deal, which would drop to about £75 million if the club do not get back into the English Premier League (EPL) next season, will see the chairman of little-known Recon Group, Xia Jiantong, become the first mainland Chinese to fully own an English team.

Xia revealed yesterday that the club would spend £30-40 million on players for next season.

That would be a hefty budget for a team in English football's second tier, but not for the EPL.

"The club won't take the path of burning money; we are a business, not funded by Arab oil wealth," he said, in a statement yesterday.

Xia said yesterday that Villa were one of eight EPL clubs he had considered buying.

He went on to reveal he was in talks with various teams in Spain and Italy for potential acquisitions within three years, and was also in talks in China and India.

Beijing has ploughed huge sums into grassroots academies, television rights, transfer deals for overseas players and investment in clubs abroad, as China work hard to see if they can qualify for the World Cup again.

Recon Group, which has a controlling interest in five publicly listed companies on the Hong Kong and Chinese stock exchanges, said it was in talks to appoint a new Villa manager who has won the Champions League.

RUMOURS

That will stoke the rumours that Roberto di Matteo, who as caretaker Chelsea manager won European football's top competition in 2011-12, is favourite for the job.

Xia said the club were already considering specific candidates after more than a month of searching and an announcement could come within two to three weeks.

Villa said Xia's immediate objective was "to return Aston Villa to the Premier League and then to have the club finish in the top six, bringing European football back to Villa Park".

Villa's American owner Randy Lerner, who put the club on the market in 2014, struck the deal after former English champions Villa suffered a miserable season, ending bottom of the EPL, with only half the points of the second worst team.

The deal with American-educated Xia, 39, ends an unhappy tenure for Lerner, who bought the club for £62.2 million in 2006.

Fans had openly demonstrated against his continued involvement with Villa, who were European champions in 1982 and have won the English top-flight title seven times, most recently in 1980-81.

Xia, who said he had played football in middle school and dreamed of owning a club since his time in university, declined to say how long he had been in talks with Villa, but they had begun before it was clear the team would be relegated. - Reuters.

LA Liga makes us better

Sevilla's Kolodziejczak says playing in Spanish league gives them the edge

SENSATIONAL: Sevilla's Kevin Gameiro (centre) celebrating with his teammates after equalising.
Sevilla's Coke scoring his side's controversial third goal to seal Liverpool's fate.
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Beaten, but Liverpool will be better next season, says Gary Lim

Despite defeat, Klopp's side show signs they mean business next season

Liverpool's coach Juergen Klopp.
DEJECTION: Liverpool players (above) and a fan digesting their Europa League final loss. But with Juergen Klopp at the helm, many feel the setback could be a watershed in the revival of the Anfield outfit.
DEJECTION: Liverpool players and a fan (above) digesting their Europa League final loss. But with Juergen Klopp at the helm, many feel the setback could be a watershed in the revival of the Anfield outfit.

FINAL

LIVERPOOL 1
(Daniel Sturridge 35)

SEVILLA 3
(Kevin Gameiro 46, Coke 64, 70)

This time, there were no scenes of joy among the men in red at the final whistle, only tears and sorrow.

At St Jakob-Park yesterday morning (Singapore time), Liverpool's hopes of Champions League qualification were ruthlessly snuffed out.

This time, it was Sevilla who staged a comeback, winning the Europa League final 3-1.An appalling second-half display from Liverpool saw the two-time champions score three goals through Kevin Gameiro and Coke (twice) to wipe out Daniel Sturridge's stunning opener before the break.Once Gameiro equalised within 20 seconds of the restart, Liverpool went into meltdown.

An angry Juergen Klopp insisted afterwards he alone should shoulder the blame for the Reds' defeat.

It is his job, he said, "to help the players react in different situations better".

And the manager promised changes.The fans firmly believe Klopp is the one to take Liverpool forward, even though the German revolution certainly hasn't moved as fast as one would have initially thought.Talk of the club becoming darkhorses for the Premiership title following his appointment last October was quickly extinguished.

BETTER STATS

His report card shows only a slight improvement from the man he replaced, Brendan Rodgers.

The Northern Irishman posted a 36 per cent win record (four wins in 11 games, including a penalty shoot-out victory) in the first two months of the 2015/16 season.

Klopp's stands at 44 per cent, or 23 victories in 52 outings.

Hardly a dramatic contrast there, but the statistics hardly reflect the transformation the Anfield outfit have undergone under Klopp.

His charisma and enthusiasm have been infectious.He inherited a squad that had lost their way, and instilled in the players a sense of purpose and drive.He convinced the players to trust in his ways and play a vastly different system.

Inconsistency remains, but there have been enough encouraging performances to suggest Liverpool supporters aren't wrong to be optimistic about the direction the club are heading.

Their journey to yesterday's final saw them clear some significant obstacles, notably Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund.

Significantly, Klopp turned weary minds into rejuvenated souls.

Centre back Dejan Lovren was in danger of turning into one of the club's biggest flops until a sudden surge in form.

Adam Lallana, for the first time since moving from Southampton in 2014, is looking like a First-11 player.

Even the ageing Kolo Toure, who was the Reds' best player against Sevilla, is now the commanding self he was a decade ago.

Klopp is less than eight months into the job and had only the January transfer window to work with so far.

Two finals in a period of transition certainly represents progress.

SOLID CORE

Plans have already been made to plug the gaps and complement a sound core that includes Nathaniel Clyne, Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Daniel Sturridge.

The commanding Joel Matip will arrive to shore up the defence, while January signing Marko Grujic, a midfielder, will join after his loan spell with Red Star Belgrade. Talk of a reunion between Bayern Munich's Mario Goetze and Klopp is also gathering pace.

Klopp will use his personality to bring in more big names.

Defeat in Basel leaves them without European football next term, which could make recruitment of stars tougher.

On the flip side, it also leaves Klopp without any midweek distractions as he goes about building a Liverpool team in his own mould.

Given financial support, a top-four finish and a cup triumph next season are on the cards.

The German vowed: "We will use this experience together and then some day everyone will say Basel was a very decisive moment in the future of Liverpool."

He believes the Reds are on course for lift-off.

There have been enough signs to suggest he is not wrong.

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