Football

New Villa owner Xia will spend to reinforce team for promotion push

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.

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