In Depth

Aston Villa takeover confirmed as Tony Xia passes tests

Chinese businessman set to hand new manager Roberto di Matteo a transfer kitty of £40m

Chinese businessman Dr Tony Xia has completed his takeover of Aston Villa after passing the Premier League and Football League's fit and proper person test.

He will become chairman of the West Midlands club after the £76m deal agreed in May with the club's former owner, Randy Lerner, has been rubber-stamped.

Villa have already appointed Roberto di Matteo as their new manager, with former Chelsea team-mate Steve Clarke as assistant, as they plot a path back to the top flight after an awful season in which they won only three games and were relegated to the Championship. Xia is expected to hand Di Matteo a transfer kitty of up to £40m.

There has been some confusion over Xia's background, but the BBC reports that he "spent six years at Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including five months at Oxford University, before returning to China.

"He made his fortune as the owner of Recon Group, a holding company that has the controlling interest in five publicly listed companies on the Hong Kong and Chinese stock exchanges, employing 35,000 people in 75 countries."

The total cost of the deal will exceed £100m adds the BBC. "His takeover comprises a £52m purchase price and a £24m overdraft. In addition, he will contribute £60m in operating costs."

International financier Chris Samuelson will become vice chairman, with former Everton chief executive Keith Wyness stepping into the same role at Villa Park. 

"It remains to be seen what impact Xia will have at the club and 'cautious optimism' is probably the best way for the claret and blue brigade to proceed for now," says the Birmingham Mail, which praises outgoing chairman Steve Hollis for brokering the deal.

Lerner, who bought the club for £68m in 2006, had been trying to sell Villa for two years amid mounting problems. "Aston Villa Football Club desperately needed change – and Hollis, despite the circus going on around him, was able to achieve that," it says. 

He also "tried to maintain clear lines of communication with staff and fans and that is a lesson in transparency that the new regime will hopefully take note of".

Who is new Aston Villa owner Tony Xia and can he save them?

19 May

Aston Villa fans finally have something to cheer after the club's unpopular American owner Randy Lerner agreed a £60m takeover last night with Chinese businessman Tony Xia following relegation to the Championship.

The club's ownership will transfer to Xia's Recon Group once it has been approved by the Premier League and the Football League, and Xia will take over from Steve Hollis as chairman.

"Villa fans will hope new ownership can draw a line under a troubled decade under Lerner," says The Guardian.

The American's reign started well under Martin O'Neill but Lerner appeared to lose interest after 2010 and the club has been on a downward trajectory since then.

"Lerner will effectively recoup the £62m he paid for the club, but will write off the tens of millions of pounds he invested covering debts," says The Times.

Xia's first task once he has his feet under the table will be to appoint a permanent manager. The role has been vacant since Remi Garde left the club in March. Nigel Pearson has been tipped to take over, but former Chelsea boss Roberto di Matteo has now been installed as favourite for the role.

He is likely to be joined by Damien Comolli, the former Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool technical director, who is in line for a similar role at Villa Park, adds the Times.

In a statement to fans, Xia said his immediate objective was to get Villa back into the Premier League and then qualify for Europe. "He plans to make Aston Villa the most famous football club in China," said the club.

Xia, who studied at the University of Oxford and Harvard, has apparently been a Villa fan for "many years".

According to the Financial Times, he "trained as a landscape architect in the US and now runs a large, lossmaking Shanghai-based producer of monosodium glutamate, as well as an eclectic mix of Chinese and Hong Kong companies involved in everything from smart city design to small personal loans".

It also claims "he does not appear to have published an annual report or audited financial statements".

However, there is hope for a "bright new future" under Xia says the Birmingham Mail, but it urges the Chinese businessman to show leadership and interest in Villa's fortunes.

"Try to retain a love for the club or get out as soon as that interest drops," says the paper. "Lerner pulled the plug years ago and that has driven Villa into the Championship simply because he wasn’t interested in rebuilding."

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