SOUTHAMPTON TAKEOVER: DRAGON SOLAK BACKED COMPANY BUYS PREMIER LEAGUE CLUB.

Southampton have been taken over by a company backed by Serb media mogul Dragan Solak.

The Premier League club confirmed Sport Republic has bought Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng’s 80% stake.

Gao h took over Southampton in August 2017, with Katharina Liebherr, who inherited the club from her late father Markus in 2010 when they were in League One, retaining 20%.

Liebherr will continue to own her minority stake in the new deal.

Saints are 14th in the Premier League, after being promoted to the top flight in 2012.

Solak is chairman and founder of the United Group media company, while Southampton say Sport Republic is “an investment firm in the sports and entertainment industry”.

The club’s chief executive Martin Semmens says they have found suitable investors after being on something like a “dating process”.

“It is a pivotal moment in time,” he told BBC Radio Solent.

“We have reorganised our plan and set out our path and Sport Republic were the right group to take that forward as they have the same values and beliefs as us.

“It’s a bit like being on a dating process and we had to make sure we chose the right partner. Sometimes you need to go on a lot of dates to find the right partner and I think we have done that now.

“There is a lot of wealth and rich people on the market and it can be unsettling. There are also lots of people who want to get involved in football but don’t have the right resources.

“First and foremost, we were looking for good people and experienced investors – and we have found that.”

Solak says Southampton will be the “cornerstone” of his organisation.

“Southampton has so many of the qualities we have been looking for in a major sports organisation,” he added in a statement.

“It has a great management team, excellent talent development, talented teams playing attractive football and a dedicated fan base.

“We are delighted to be able to complete this acquisition as a first step towards execution of our investment strategy.

“Southampton will be a cornerstone of the organisation we plan to build.”

Analysis

Adam Blackmore, BBC Radio Solent’s sports editor

When Gao came along in 2017, it was at a time when the Chinese government had decided it was good for some of their businesses to invest in overseas sport.

But three weeks after he bought the club, the Chinese government pulled the rug on their strategy of backing overseas investment in sport.

So it is fair to say Saints have been limping along and basically making ends meet as there hasn’t been too much investment from Gao, with his hands tied almost immediately after he bought the club.

The model they have had for the last two years is something they will keep. They have been looking for a good partner to take his place and enable them to take the club forward, with the ability to progress and have more investment.

Nobody knows how these new owners will behave but, on paper, I think this is really good news for the club. Not only because of their financial clout and their expertise, but I like their comments about being active and engaged owners.

The club have been treading water for four years, but I think they can go a bit further now.