'Wolves buyout is cold business choice - and that's good'

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For Wolverhampton Wanderers' new owners, buying the club is a cold, hard business decision.

These aren't starry-eyed football fans with a personal fortune to spend. Fosun have built an international conglomerate by making sound, long-term, investments, writes Express & Star Business Editor Simon Penfold.

It doesn't splash the cash unnecessarily – and when it sells a company, it sells it for a hefty profit.

That is why its student founders, including current chairman Guo Guangchang, have been able to take a £4,000 start-up and, over the last 24 years, build it into one of China's biggest privately owned companies with assets worth around £46 billion.

In his first press conference in front of the English media, Fosun's head man on Wolves' board of directors, Jeff Shi, said the company believes Wolverhampton Wanderers is a business it can build on.

"In the past two years we have been looking at clubs for investment, around 15 or so," said Mr Shi.

Jeff Shi meets the fans

"The reason for our interest in Wolves is very simple," he said. "For investment we needed to find space for growth. How would you grow Manchester United?

"With Wolves we have found some space to grow. We also needed a very good structure. Very few clubs in the world can combine those two things together but Wolves is one of them."


  • MORE: Watch the full press conference here
  • COMMENT: Wolves success is there for the taking under Fosun
  • WATCH: Tim Spiers on Fosun's arrival at Wolves

The club also comes with a great history and legacy, and a very strong fan base, he said. "It just needs some more money in to buy better players."

Mr Shi said he and his fellow Fosun board member, Sky Sun, will make finding a new chief executive one of their first jobs.

While he intends to spend only a quarter of his year in Wolverhampton eventually – his main job is running Fosun's growing entertainment arm – for the first few months he will be here fairly permanently until a replacement is found for Jez Moxey. And he made it clear he had asked Mr Moxey to stay on.


Wolves' sound structure and financial management was one of the club's key attractions for Fosun.

Another is its relatively simple image. That iconic wolf's head badge and the name Wolves translate very well into Chinese – 'very eye-catching and unique', said Mr Shi.


His colleague Sky Sun will know all about branding and marketing. The new head of the sports business unit at Fosun's Foyo entertainment arm, he previously spent five years with Nike in China.

Mr Shi said there were already Wolves fans in China but the company clearly aims to make it a bigger name, and that means delivering success – long-term Premier League football.

That is where the money is in the UK, and where the money is in terms of building a fan base in China among the millions of people now watching Premier League matches week in and week out as the game grows enormously in popularity.

Both Manchester United and Manchester City have been on tour in the country in recent days ahead of the Premier League season accompanied by eager fans keen to glimpse the stars.

Enthusiastic Manchester City fans in the Far East

Mr Shi has been listening to Kenny Jackett and clearly intends to deliver the five-to-eight new players the Wolves' coach says he needs this season.

Given the likely cost of that kind of spending spree, it will rapidly eat into the £20-£30 million that Fosun initially indicated it was prepared to spend for success at Wolves.

But that figure may have been more of a symbol, Fosun saying it was prepared to spend at least as much again as it forked out for the club as a whole.

Fosun's resources are, to all intents and purposes, unlimited. It will spend whatever it thinks makes business sense in order to make Wolves a Premier League success story.

Because with that kind of success comes seriously big money in terms of TV rights at home and overseas, massive kit sales to fans and all the other commercial aspects of the modern game.


And, of course, if Wolves can secure a top four Premier League slot the club could find itself back in Europe in the highly lucrative Champions League.

It's a lip-smacking prospect for anyone with a trace of black and old gold running in their veins.

But Mr Shi isn't making rash promises just yet: "We will work very hard, work smart and just be patient," he states.

Part of that smart working has been Fosun's link-up with Portuguese 'super-agent' Jorge Mendez, who handles the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho.

Together they are aiming to create a major football agency handling transfers and image rights in China.

Mr Mendez is clearly a valuable source of knowledge about the often murky work of international football – Mr Shi described him as 'a very good friend'.

Many think the close links between Mr Shi and Mr Mendez could see some Portuguese footballing talent making its way to Molineux.


And Chinese talent? "Not for a while," laughed Mr Shi. But the growth of football in China is clearly the mainspring for Fosun's investment.

China's president, Xi Jinping, is a football enthusiast and has said he wants to make his country a footballing superpower in the coming decades. And China's businesses are keen to follow.

That means money pumped into Chinese football and deals that give Chinese fans a stake in major European teams like AC Milan.

Wolves isn't a major team these days, but with the right backing it could be.

Money talks in modern football like never before, and a story of Chinese owners bringing success to a historic British team would play well with football fans in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as in the Black Country.

For Fosun, all the football eggs are in one Molineux-shaped basket. Mr Shi says the company has no intention of buying any other football clubs until they have secured success with Wolves.

A real sign of progress for Wolves will be the appearance of Fosun chairman Guo Guangchang in the director's box at Molineux.

It will mean Wolves securing the attention, and the backing, of one of the richest men in China.

At the moment we are one of his company's smaller investments – he is currently engaged with the flotation of a £2bn US insurance company.

If Mr Shi and his colleagues can deliver football success to their boss, and can make a Wolves fan out of him, the sky is the limit.


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