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Chinese Owners Cease Operations Of Football Club
Sunday, 28th Feb 2021 21:40

In a move that will send shockwaves around the Premier League and indeed Europe, Chinese company Suning have announced they are pulling the plug on their footballing operations.

Those Saints fans who give abuse to Saints owner Gao Jisheng have often not understood the complex situation that has lead to his owning of Southampton Football club and indeed the real reason why he hasn't been able to invest money in the club for the past two years or so.

After their success in hosting the Olympics Games in 2008, China adopted a policy of investment in Western sport and football was at the forefront of that, but with China's relations with the West deteriorating after the election of Donald Trump four years ago in 2017, Chinese policy started to change.

Suning have announced that with immediate affect they are "Ceasing Operations"of their football teams to concentrate on their retail business.

Given their team in China is Jiangsu Suning FC who won the Chinese League title only months ago, this will send shockwaves not only through China but the footballing world.

Former England boss Fabio Capello was their manager between 2017 and 2018 and Gareth Bale was close to signing for them from Real Madrid in 2019.

But the Chinese government is apparently scaling down commitment to Chinese football and is reducing sponsorship and TV rights as the costs have been huge and interest remains in the Chinese League has not taken off as they had hoped.

A statement from the club said:

"Even though we are reluctant to part with the players who have won us the highest honours, and fans who have shared solidarity with the club, we have to regretfully make an announcement," Jiangsu FC said in a statement.

"From today, Jiangsu Football Club ceases the operation of its teams.

"In the past six months the club has been looking around to seek a takeover."

Suning chairman Zhang Jindong, speaking earlier in February, said: "We will focus on retail business resolutely and without hesitation will close and cut down our business irrelevant to retail."

So that is it a football team ceases to exist overnight and it might happen here.

We played Jiangsu Suning on our Chinese tour back in July 2019 and of course we are Chinese owned, but luckily enough not by Suning.

But they do own Inter Milan and the Italian giants have been seeking external investment for a number of months without success.

BBC Sport's Simon Stone had this to say:

The Chinese government is apparently scaling down commitment to Chinese football and is reducing sponsorship and TV rights as the costs have been huge and interest remains flaky.

The European situation is evidently different. However, Inter's owners have been looking for external investment, so far without success, as their wage bill is huge.

Suning were also at the centre of the cancelled £564m contract to screen the Premier League in China to 2022, which has had a significant financial impact on England's top-flight clubs.

The uncertainty around Suning will create a general nervousness in Europe, where there are other examples of Chinese investment in European football slowing, West Bromwich Albion an example of that. Even Wolves' owners Fosun, whilst still spending, have pulled back on some massive capital costs around the development of Molineux, which they had wished to expand to a 40,000 capacity.

Inter are a bigger club of course, and as they stand on the brink of their first title since 2010, their fans will hope the assurances around their future prove accurate.

So this will leave Saints feeling a little insecure themselves, social media has been full of Saints supporters criticising Gao's lack of investment lately, but as I have long said, that is not down to Gao himself, but the Chinese Government's change of policy on encouraging it's companies to invest in sport in the west.

I have often said that although Gao has not turned out to be the owner pumping millions into the club we all hoped for, that he has not done anything bad to the club either, he has turned it into a sustainable business albeit one that is now in the middle of the biggest financial crisis in football ever at the moment, but we are in a far better position to survive without his financial input that other clubs.

Jiangsu Suning have closed down because Suning pulled the plug on investment and they couldn't find a new backer, for all the wishful thinking of Saints supporters, there has not been a massive queue outside St Mary's either, at least not of the type of owner we truly want.

Jiangsu Suning's closure is massive in terms of the future of the Chinese Super League, it is like Manchester City's owners suddenly deciding they no longer wanted to bankroll the club and it being unable to pay the high wage bills of it's players closes down.

That is not likely to happen is it ! well let's keep a close eye on what happens at Inter, as I have always maintained, Chinese investment in Western football club has always been due to the encouragement of the Chinese government and unless the relationship between their Government and the West improves, it is hard to see money being allowed to be put into the club's which is a worry to Wolves and West Brom even to us but to a lesser extent.

Photo: Action Images



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codge added 22:11 - Feb 28
OOPS.
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SaintPaulVW added 22:15 - Feb 28
Do Suning have any Right Backs going cheap?
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SanMarco added 23:00 - Feb 28
Gao "...has not done anything bad to the club either" There is faint praise if ever I heard it. There is an implication here that the guy's done nothing FOR the club but he is alright because he hasn't done anything bad. If I understand the narrative correctly Gao WANTS to invest but is NOT allowed to. Doesn't seem the ideal owner given what Ralph was saying in the Echo today...
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DorsetIan added 23:16 - Feb 28
Nick. This is an interesting news story but you can't resist throwing in further support for Gao, and further criticism of the fans who criticise his ownership.

Some fans will 'give abuse to' Gao. Others of us call his ownership of Saints for what it has been - bad news - without needing to abuse him personally.

Wake up and smell the coffee. Ralph now complaining about the size of the squad; the fact that we have become in hock to US interests lending at very high rates; and now news that Chinese interests might be pulling the plug on football completely.

It's all part of the same story: Gao may be a lovely man with the best of intentions, but the negative consequences of his ownership of Saints just become clearer and clearer.
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Bison added 08:21 - Mar 1
Did he pay for your trip to China Nick ? He must have something on you as you are not writing like a concerned Saints fan who runs a a Saints mong board.
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PaleRider added 09:50 - Mar 1
Nick. You say "social media has been full of Saints supporters criticising Gao's lack of investment lately"- I have a simple question: other than buying the shares in the first place, which put not a single penny into Saints, how much had Gao invested in Saints before the tightening of cash flows out of China? As a financial expert, presumably you can tell us from a fairly quick scrutiny of the accounts.
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sidsaint added 10:21 - Mar 1
As far as I know only 3 premier league clubs have taken loans during the pandemic. Spurs' huge loan at an interest rate of 0.25% presumably Arsenal's rate was similar. Saints loan cost is at a staggering 9.25%. Perhaps the financial markets know more than us about Gao. We were stuffed with expensive loans before Marcus rescued us and it looks like history may be repeating itself. Not only do we need referees to give us a break it looks like we need a white knight coming over the hills to help. It's a foggy morning and I see no saviour.
1

underweststand added 11:12 - Mar 1
When Mr. Gao invested in the club he plainly said that he would not be investing money in a club he wanted to be self-sustaining. At the time, that was no problem, we had some stability, and even made modest profits in the beginning. Pre covid.
1) Rather than blaming Mr. Gao for our poor economy, we ought not to forget that Messers. Reed and Wilson who (having sold our Crown Jewels once again), presided over transfer fiascos (and presumably the cheque book), spending +/- £100 million on players who are so poor that they are no longer considered for our first team squad, and with huge salaries that will continue to cost millions for at least another year ..or two.

2) Let's not confuse our Western democracies with China where their Government dictates who can trade with other countries and how financial transactions are handled. Like many other Chinese businessmen, Mr Gao has to tread carefully with his overseas investments whilst living in a country that still executes people for crimes involving financial wrong dealings. A sobering thought that would certainly bring shivers to some of the "oligarchs" in other parts of the (Free) World.
No doubt Mr. Gao may find himself in a difficult situation, where he may be forced to divest himself of his overseas holdings, and Saints find themselves with a new owner, and as Nick noted - we are not alone in that respect.

3) Finally, like everyone else Ralph is concerned about one of the worst injury crises that Saints have had in the last 15 years, when we have new injuries practically every game and with a long queue for the treatment table in attempts to get players fit enough to put on a shirt and DAJFU every week (sometimes twice), and with the prospects of replacing them "long-term" with suitable replacements will take very careful negotiation.

It's easy to sit and write hard criticisms, but few people have any viable suggestions to resolve the obvious problems we are facing. This is not the worst situation I've seen in my 62 years as a Saints fan, but to my mind our greatest achievement this season will be to secure our Prem. status and have a "sensible" re-vamp of the staff during the summer.



3

Saintaxidriver added 11:31 - Mar 1
I think there clearly is a serious financial problem when you have to farm out the only cover you have at full back to keep the wage bill down. It is a tough time for many people and institutions at the moment and the financial level football clubs operate at means it doesn't take too much to have a problem. I don't think Gao has necesarily done anything wrong but I don't think he is a good fit for us as a club and our aspirations.
We have bought badly over the last few years and our young players coming through haven't been good enough to succeed at this level leaving the squad quality low outside our best 13 players and vulnerable to the sort of injury list we have had over the last few weeks. In the old days we would have had a couple of solid old pros towards the end of their career to fill in the gaps and provide the experience and mentality to steady the ship.
If we can avoid relegation I think we need a complete overhall of how we do things and hopefully a new owner in place to move us forward rather than just survive.
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SanMarco added 13:05 - Mar 1
Just one comment on underweststand's views: My understanding is that Gao and any others operating in sport outside of China are very much part of that authoritarian and brutal establishment. I think the problem is not necessarily Gao as an individual but the whole idea of Chinese ownership. The complex geopolitics of the moment mean that Chinese money ISN'T welcome here. Russian, Saudi, Gulf money IS welcome, however filthy it is.

Sadly, all this has little to due with ethics/human right etc. Chelski says it all on that front. It seems the choice is dirty money or none at all - we get none at all + the taint of Chinese brutality. I wish it were otherwise and I am sure most of those who 'have a go' at Gao know it is pointless - just like Mike Dean, Lee Mason, Van Dick and all the others we let off steam about. Nice to let off steam as long as it is not abusive...
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PaleRider added 14:17 - Mar 1
San Marco - lots to agree with here. add in a general sense of disconnect with the direction of modern football. Unfortunately it seems to be killing of the love of the game, and particularly Saints, which many of us have. Maybe it's also down to getting older but we have all seen ups and downs in the past.
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