Sport

Zhu’s goal

Chinese to buy Liverpool FC?

Zhu names his price

Jose Mourinho has a special knack for attention-grabbing press conferences. The self-styled ‘Special One’ recently won his second Champions League title, Europe’s most prestigious soccer tournament. Cue a press call in which the Portuguese-born manager told journalists that in his considered opinion winning the Champions League was a far greater achievement than coaching a national team to victory in the World Cup.

Well, Chinese football may too have found its very own Mourinho. The evidence so far is that Zhu Jun – described by China Entrepreneur magazine as “the crazy man of football” – has a similar fondness for grandiose remarks.

Zhu has announced his intention to buy top flight English football team Liverpool from existing owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. When the media asked how he would finance the £800 million purchase, Zhu said he would be borrowing the money – lessening the call on his own funds. In his blog he elaborated that “opening a shoeshining shop would need more cash” than buying Liverpool.

Liverpool fans wouldn’t agree. One of their gripes with the current American owners is that they have not invested enough. Plans for a promised new ground have been delayed, for instance.

Zhu seems to be keeping the press guessing as to whether his intentions are serious – saying he could easily finance a leveraged buyout of the English Premier League Club. Admitting to ESPN he does not have the cash on hand, he retorted it wasn’t a problem for a Chinese entrepreneur like himself: “Frankly, you must know who has money and who will help you in accomplishing the deal.” On another occasion he told the Beijing News: “What is important is a plan full of imagination. Money is not a problem.”

Zhu currently owns local soccer club Shanghai Shenhua but he is far better known as the boss of internet gaming firm, Ninetowns. Until recently, Ninetowns was a cash-cow. But having lost the rights for top game World of Warcraft to Netease, that has changed. Last year, Ninetowns lost Rmb409 million.

China Entrepreneur magazine now estimates Zhu’s wealth has fallen below the Rmb1 billion mark, which has led to speculation whether he could even pull off a Liverpool bid. But the local press observes too that Zhu has a penchant for the sensational as well as the daring. Perhaps so; Zhu has hinted that he has been negotiating with Diego Maradona to become Liverpool’s next manager.

Nor, he says, is it his first attempt to buy the Merseyside team. According to the Oriental Sports Daily he was spotted in 2007 with former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra at one of the club’s pre-season games – with both men ready to make a joint bid. Zhu has quipped to journalists it “was the last time I played with Liverpool”.

It is not the first time Liverpool and China have been linked recently. In WiC59 we reported that in the club’s last home game of the season its players wore Chinese characters on their shirts.

Having got the media’s attention with the Liverpool bid, Zhu is also promising a financial turnaround at home too. The Beijing News reports that while his share of the Chinese online gaming market has dropped from 11.5% to 0.3%, he promises that Ninetowns is soon to release a “revolutionary game worldwide”. He is working on the the new game with Red5, a software firm with team members previously involved in developing World of Warcraft. “I guarantee this game will bring a big shock,” says Zhu, who evidently likes to stand out from the crowd. “It will be a starting point for Ninetowns to become a global company. All will be clear in September.”

If the new game turns out to be as cash-generative as he says, Zhu might even be able to afford to buy a few world class players for the Liverpool squad. The club definitely needs them. That might make the Scouse fans a little more likely to welcome him with open arms – even if he turns up with Maradona in tow.


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