LONDON: The Chinese incursion into European football has been extended with the purchase of Premier League West Bromwich Albion by investment group Yunyi Guokai (Shanghai) Sports Development Limited. The deal is subject to approval by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Premier League.
No price has been announced but departing chairman Jeremy Peace put the club on the market last year with a valuation of more than £150m.
The Baggies will become the third Midlands club to have Chinese investment this summer after second division neighbours Wolves and Aston Villa.
Wolves, who have since appointed ex-Italy goalkeeper Walter Zenga as manager, were bought last week by Fosun International while Chinese businessman Dr Tony Xia completed his takeover of Villa in June.
Back in the mid-1970s West Brom were one of the first European clubs to head to China on a ‘football missionary’ tour after the initial opening up of interest in entering the mainstream game.
Chinese entrepreneur Guochuan Lai holds a controlling stake in the investment group and will become the Premier League club’s new owner.
He said: “I am excited and privileged to have the chance to become the new owner of this great club. We have a strong squad, loyal fans and a unique culture.
“My immediate priorities will be to maintain the club’s stable structure, respecting its well-run nature and its heritage. I have no intention of changing the club’s ethos.
“I am proud that I will be the first mainland-Chinese owner of a Premier League club. This historic deal will result in a rapid and significant increase in interest in the club in China, which should lead to attractive commercial opportunities.
“Meanwhile the club will be uniquely positioned to take its well-regarded training system to China, helping to identify and develop more talented young players in the future.”
Former owner Peace has also resigned as chairman with immediate effect and will be replaced by ex-Blackburn chairman and chief executive John Williams.
Peace, who held an 88pc stake in the Baggies and will help advise during a transition period, added: “I believe this deal will enable Albion to build on the strong, sustainable foundations that have been the cornerstone of the club’s progress.
“I have been chairman for 14 years and I am obviously pleased that in that time we have become an established top-flight club. Now, having spent time with Guochuan, I believe he is the right man to take Albion forward.”
Lai built his career helping with the development of Palm Eco-Town Development Company Limited from a plant nursery business into China’s largest landscape design and construction company.
It is listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange as being worth £1.8bn.
New chairman Williams promised the priority remains bringing in new players, with Albion having pulled out of a £15m deal for West Ham’s Diafra Sakho on Thursday because he would not be fit enough for the start of the new season.
Williams said: “The immediate focus is on our activity in the transfer window; quite frankly, everything else is peripheral.
“(Manager) Tony Pulis and (technical director) Nick Hammond have told the board we are two or three players short, realistic targets have been identified and there are funds available. We need to get them over the line to ensure Tony has a competitive squad for what is going to be a challenging and demanding campaign.”