Football: Tycoon Wang's Atletico deal sparks China's football interest

21st January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin has become the latest foreign investor to be enticed by the riches and glamour of European football after agreeing to buy a 20 percent stake in Spanish champions Atletico Madrid.

Wang, who is number 42 on Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest people with a fortune estimated at $18 billion, will invest a much-needed 45 million euros ($52 million) into the Atletico coffers for his share of the club.

Despite great success on the field, which included a run to the Champions League final as well as a first La Liga triumph in 18 years last season, Atletico have consistently had to sell their best players to meet huge debt repayments.

Los Rojiblancos' income of 120 million euros for the 2012/13 season saw them languishing in 20th in Deloitte' Money League of the world's richest clubs, and was just over a fifth of that enjoyed by Real Madrid and Barcelona, the two richest clubs on the planet.

Wang is a known to be a diehard football fan and his Wanda Group greatly increased its profile in China after Wang bought a Dalian football club in 1994, renamed it after the firm, and transformed it into the strongest team in China.

However, he sold Dalian Wanda in 2000 when he was said to have become disillusioned with widespread corruption in the Chinese game at that time.

Wang's investment follows a pattern of La Liga's top sides following the lead of other European clubs looking east for resources in a time of economic crisis at home.

- Grassroots -

Six-time Spanish champions Valencia were recently acquired by Singaporean businessman Peter Lim.

Real and Barca remain beyond the reach of wealthy investors due to their fan-owned membership model. However, both have lucrative shirt sponsorship deals with middle-eastern airline companies Emirates and Qatar Airways.

Wang's, though, is the first serious move from the Chinese market into European football and appears to be looking for more of a return closer to home than investments from the oil-rich Middle East made in English champions Manchester City and French giants Paris Saint-Germain.

As part of the agreement Atletico will be responsible for drafting a plan specifically focused on the growth of Chinese grassroots football overseas.

"This investment will not only provide a golden opportunity for young Chinese players sent overseas by Wanda to be selected by leading European football clubs, it will also strengthen the quality of Chinese football and narrow the gap between the rest of the world," Wanda Group said in statement.

Despite a remarkable rise to the forefront of the Olympics medals tables in recent times, China remains a backwater on the football pitch.

The world's most populous country has only ever been to one World Cup in 2002 when they lost all three games in their home continent in South Korea and Japan.

However, a revolution is already in the offing. China have won all three group games in progressing to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup, where they will meet hosts Australia on Thursday.

In the short-term, Wang's money will help Atletico remain competitive at home with the powerhouses of Real and Barca, but it could also be pivotal in helping China finally make the grade on the pitch at a global level in years to come.

© 2015 AFP

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