Fringe player

Former hair salon owner buys into Premier League

Fringe player

English football has its fair share of Russian, Arab and American owners. It only had to be a matter of time before the Chinese began to arrive.

In fact, a Chinese acquisition seems to have been pending for a while. The Financial Times journalist James Kynge recalls a conversation he once had with Yin Mingshan – a motorbike tycoon – five years ago.

Yin told him he was considering a bid for Manchester City. The club would later be bought by Thaksin Shinawatra and is presently owned by the Abu Dhabi United Group.

But finally there is a Chinese owner on the block, with the purchase of Birmingham City by Hong Kong-based businessman Carson Yeung.

The $94 million takeover means that 10 of the 20 clubs playing in the English Premier League are now foreign owned.

Yeung, however, is one of Hong Kong’s lesser known tycoons. Just a decade ago he was running a hair salon in a hotel in the city, reports the South China Morning Post.

But a string of successful – albeit low key – investments in China and Macau have seen his personal worth soar. Yeung has seen his local profile increase too, especially since he acquired one of Hong Kong’s larger newspapers, Sing Pao Daily News, last year.

Birmingham City – currently sitting 14th in the Premiership – are not the most glamorous choice.

But they do hail from England’s ‘second city’, enjoy a solid fan base and own their own stadium.

The club reported revenues in 2008 of £49.84 million but Yeung may think there is an opportunity to boost sales, especially in sponsorship and merchandising. Especially, if he can get more Chinese supporters backing Birmingham, of course. And the South China Morning Post agrees that Yeung’s executives will look to bolster the club’s appeal, mainly by tapping into China’s growing appetite for the ‘beautiful game’.

Yeung can claim some knowledge of the football businiess too. He was chairman of Hong Kong’s Rangers between 2005 and 2007.

The acquisition has been welcomed by Birmingham’s manager, Alex McLeish. “I am looking forward to working with the new owners,” says the Scot. “We are looking forward to a new era. I am ambitious and they are ambitious, and of course if there is money to spend, we would welcome it.”

Chinese billionaires will be watching how Yeung gets on. They may also be keeping a keen eye on Celtic too.

The Scottish club recently purchased Zheng Zhi, the captain of the Chinese football team. The British media has been speculating that the transfer is as much about shirt sales in China as it is about putting balls in the back of the net.

But the Celtic manager, Tony Mowbray told the BBC it had nothing to do with commercial opportunities in China. “He’s just a good footballer and I’ve said from day one I like good footballers,” Mowbray said.

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