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Saints Fans Should Be Careful Of What They Wish For As Potential Buyer Is Revealed
Thursday, 29th Apr 2021 10:24

As new comes out that there is a potential buyer for Southampton Football Club, many Saints supporters have welcomed it with open arms, but before we jump out of the frying pan we need to look into the fire.

Over the past couple of years there has been increasing disenchantment with our current owner Gao Jisheng and social media has been rife with #gaoout and similar.

But the situation is not just as simple to force an owner out as it was 25-30 years ago when Saints and indeed many football clubs were not owned as such, but run by local businessmen who put little money into the club.

The advent of the Premier League changed things drastically and since then the situation has crept stealthily and indeed almost covertly upon us till we arrived at the antics of the past couple of weeks with the owners for the Big Six acting behind the backs of the rest of the clubs to try and force a European Super League and wanting their cake and eating it.

For many how good an owner is can be measured in just two extremes, firstly how much money he appears to put in and if that means we go up the league then he is a good owner, he can then become a bad owner when he suddenly decides to stop funding the club and the fans start to consider him a bad owner, especially when they suddenly realise that the former great owner has not actually given the money to the club but secured it with loans and now he wants his money back.

Gao so far has not done that , nor has he attempted to get money back on his investment by keeping proceeds from transfers.

The situation with Gao at Saints is not simple, when he bought his 80% share he appeared to so so with good intentions, his statement that he was not going to pump millions into the club but run it as a business was no different from the statement made by Markus Liebherr back in 2009.

The first thing Gao had to do was revamp a club that had slowly took it's finger off the pulse and found itself with a lot of players on high wages, some of those were signed after Gao took over, showing that he was willing to back the club.

But we had grown complacent and Gao had to revamp the running of the club and then found that signing new players was hampered by a roster of players such as Lemina, Carrillo, Boufal, Hoedt and Elyounoussi who weren't getting a game here but where still on high wages we were contracted to for long contracts.

But if that was bad enough suddenly the situation changed Worldwide, when Gao arrived the Chinese government was encouraging it's companies to invest in Western sport, after the Beijing Olympics it was pursuing a policy of dominating sport Worldwide and football was a main priority.

But shortly after Gao arrived at St Mary's , China's relationships with the West soured and suddenly around 3 years ago Gao and others were being discouraged from investing further, Gao had plans for Saints but was unable to invest further to bring them to fruition.

Football fans like to keep things simple, but in this case it is far from being that .

So Gao may not have become the owner that we had hoped for, but he has done us no wrong, as I said he could have attempted to get back some of his investment by the proceeds from transfers, but he has chosen not to, yes cynics will say that is protecting his overall investment by keeping Saints in the Premier League, but if he can do that then that is better than nothing.

Privately Gao has been trying to move on his share in the club for some while, according to the latest media reports he has been looking for no more than he has invested, around £210 million to buy the club and another £40 million he has spent on it, but there have been no takers at that price.

We should bear in mind here that Burnley a club with far less potential than Saints were recently sold to an American company for around £200 million.

The good news seems to be that Gao hasn't cut his losses and run and sold it to the highest bidder whatever their actual suitability and intentions.

Now comes the news that there is potentially a bid on the table from Luxembourg business man Gerard Lopez, on the face of it that sounds good news for Saints fans or is it !

Lopez invests heavily into sport having owned a Formula 1 sports team and French side Lille OSC, but there are issues with the ownership of the latter. According to reports, the 49-year-old borrowed from US creditors JP Morgan and Elliott Management during his tenure and left with the club owing just over half – £107 million (US$150 million) – of the £195.7 million (US$276 million) he acquired.

It now emerges that Lopez had been examining the books of Saints and looking at the club and has made an offer to Gao, but that offer is derisory in the fact that it said to be only around £125 million.

Now given that as mentioned Burnley went for £200 million that is derisory.

Some Saints fans will be desperate for a new owner, any new owner, but it is here we have to be careful what we wish for, Burnley's new owners immediately leveraged their purchase of the club by borrowing their purchase price, paying themselves back and leaving the debt on the club, effectively meaning they have bought the club for free if they borrowed the full amount.

This is nothing new the Glazers at Manchester United did just this almost 20 years ago.

It appears that Lopez borrowed around £200 million and put that debt on the club, the pandemic crisis meant that Lille were unable to service the debt and although initially Lopez claimed he would repay that through transfers, eventually he had to cede control of the club in December 2020 and the circumstances are mired with controversy.

So those who denounce Gao would do well to consider that for all the problems the club has, that Gao hasn't landed us with major debt and that we have managed to survive through a difficult season with no income from matchdays far better than most clubs.

Gao is perhaps not the man to take us to the next level as we hoped, but he has put us in a better position to help us avoid the level down.

Next season will see many club's struggle financially and that will impact on their ability to remain competitive far more than Saints.

This is not a PR campaign for Gao, but putting things into perspective, he knows that due to the relations between China and the West he is not going to be the man to take us forward and those relationships are not going to get better, indeed they are going to worsen, but he is not selling us cheaply to the wrong type of buyer either.

In a month when suddenly the Big Six owners have been exposed for what they are, do we really want owners like that.

Football is changing, the money is dropping out of the game and things have to stop being stupid on a financial level, if we get the right man in then we could be in a good position to capitalise, but in the meantime we should consider that jumping out of the frying pan and straight into the fire is not the best option, as we found out back in 2006 when Michael Wilde made loads of promises that he couldn't back up financially which ultimately led us to administration and near on extinction.

Back then it was about Rupert Lowe out and that anything would be better than him, it was easy back then, the board was full of local businessmen and could be removed, things have changed drastically since then, but the principal is still the same, sometimes you have to play the hand you have rather than gambling everything.

Photo: Action Images

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ssxsaint added 11:15 - Apr 29
Hopefully the enhanced Fit and Proper test for Premier League Directors will be in force before chancers such as Lopez can take over our club.

beynali73 added 12:26 - Apr 29
Nick, totally agree with the sentiments of the article. Goa may not have been our sugar daddy but he didnt squeeze out as much as he could from the club - at least not that we know of.

The likes of Leicester, Villa and Brighton seem to have the ideal set up for a club of our size.

Thinking back to when Markus bought us we dodged a destructive warhead with SISU who took over Coventry. We want to avoid that as all costs. Hopefully the enhanced fit and proper test asks more than what is your name and have you ever be responsible for mass genocide.

saintlee added 12:54 - Apr 29
I admire your sentiments Nick when it comes to local businessmen running the club and putting little money into the club but football has moved on from that. Foot ball is multimillion pound business nowadays. Mr Gao needs to invest in the team or we will be relegated eventually. However I agree that this bloke is not the answer !!!!

Ali_Diarea added 13:27 - Apr 29
Nothing that Gao has done has convinced me that SFC is nothing more to him than a vehicle for him to get his money out of China where he will be free to spend it as he wants to.

If all we can hope for is that we find an owner who doesn’t saddle us with debt then that really is a sad state of affairs. why are your expectations so low? We must demand more and throw our weight around. We are one of only 20 clubs in the best and most lucrative league in the world. That is worth something and brings with it huge opportunity for a new owner.

We need to stop giving Gao excuses.

Crispinmumbles added 13:35 - Apr 29
We're not children. I slammed DaGrosa after checking him out but Gao's attempt to get money out of China by buying us with the obvious intention of selling us once he'd cleared the bank loans coupled with the fact thyat he's a ruthless gangster meant he should never have been allowed near ownership. #gaoout
As for thwe FA and their fit-and-proper-person test, we've seen what a joke that is.

PJ17 added 17:44 - Apr 29
I agree that Lopez is not a suitable prospective owner and Gao will not be stupid enough to sell at a reduced price. I don’t trust the FA fair and fit owner test as Gao had to accrue massive debts to pay for his purchase of 80% of the club and he was a fit owner. We are stuck with a man who is still removing money from the club to pay off that debt. Where has all the money from Sky and transfers of star players gone? Yes we made some poor transfer decisions but putting them on loan has surely meant the majority of their wages should have been covered. It is just frustrating that the new players we need will have to be financed by the deadwood we still carry. Good luck Ralph building a team on nothing.

SanMarco added 23:45 - Apr 29
Yes - we don't need this kind of chancer. I can't think of example of this type of person helping any football club. It would be nice if Gao sold to a suitable buyer but this guy aint it...

1885_SFC added 13:22 - Apr 30
I'd much prefer Jennifer Lopez to buy us...

pwithers123 added 06:09 - May 1
Good outline. Pandemic has changed the current finances of football. Gao bought high - he will need to hang on until the better times return. Buyers are seeking to get in on the cheap. Not the approach that indicates investors with big resources.

Ralph has done incredibly well given all the investment tied up in players on loan. That is still holding club back.

We have done well this year despite highly variable results. Squad is light given the current high intensity game pattern. Ralph also uses high press and possession passing game that is very demanding on players - yet we got to FA Cup Semi Final.

Keep it up Ralph. Given the owners currently looking to buy club - we may see this season as a high point.

KriSaint added 16:11 - May 1
Can I ask who is responsible for player recruitment in our club?

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