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China real estate group ‘targets Southampton’ in latest English takeover speculation

A Chinese conglomerate is in talks to take over English Premier League football club Southampton, Bloomberg News reported, after a string of European teams were bought by Chinese investors.

Lander Sports Development Co is in talks over a deal which could be worth £200 million (HK$1.91 billion), Bloomberg said, citing people familiar with the matter.

China has been making inroads in English football in recent months, with Premier League team West Bromwich Albion and second-tier sides Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers all bought by Chinese investors.

Chinese companies are said to see the deals as attractive as traditional growth drivers, like real estate, cool, and with Chinese president Xi Jinping expressing a desire to promote the sport at home.

Southampton finished sixth in the Premier League last season and had a profit of £12 million on sales of £113.7 million for the year ended June 30, 2015.

The chairman of Lander, Gao Jisheng, is a former soldier who joined local government and then, like many others with good connections, entered the real estate industry in the 1990s, in time for the world’s largest property boom.

His firm has recently expanded into entertainment and sports, in 2015 signing an agreement with Venetian Macau, a subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands, to explore the sports event market.

Lander, based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, did not respond to a request for comment.

Its shares have been suspended from trading on the Shenzhen stock exchange since Monday at its own request, pending what it called a “major asset restructuring” in a statement to the exchange.