Aston Villa are set to become the first major English club to fall into Chinese ownership after the club confirmed a takeover by businessman Tony Jiantong Xia.
The deal, which still has to be ratified by the Premier League and Football League, is thought to be for £60m – roughly the same price current owner Randy Learner paid for the team in 2006.
Xia is buying the Midlands outfit, who were relegated after finishing bottom of the first tier, through his company Recon Group, which also controls five companies listed in China and Hong Kong.
A club statement said Xia “became a fan of Aston Villa many years ago” and listed his ambitions as returning the club to the Premier League and making them “the most famous football club in China”.
“Aston Villa Football Club is pleased to announce that an agreement has been signed today for the sale of 100 per cent ownership by Randy Lerner to Recon Group owned by Dr Tony Jiantong Xia subject to the approval of the Premier League and the Football League,” the club said.
Villa added that Xia would become chairman and that a new manager, to replace caretaker Eric Black, would be appointed “shortly”. Former Chelsea boss Roberto di Matteo and ex-Leicester manager Nigel Pearson have been linked with the vacancy.
American Lerner has been seeking a buyer for two years but failed after quoting an asking price of £150m-£200m. The price has dropped following the club’s relegation.
Xia’s move is the latest example of China’s growing influence in the world’s most popular game, encouraged by president Xi Jinping.
Manchester City’s parent company City Football Group sold a 13 per cent stake to Chinese investors for £265m late last year, while Alibaba founder Jack Ma has been strongly linked with buying AC Milan.
Villa are not the first English club to be Asian-owned. New Premier League champions Leicester are owned by the Thai Srivaddhanaprabha family, while Indian chicken magnates Venky’s bought Blackburn, now in the second tier, in 2010.