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Wanda strikes soccer deal in Europe

2015-01-22 14:08 Global Times Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Group to take 20% stake in Spanish champions Atletico Madrid

China's leading real estate developer Dalian Wanda Group announced Wednesday it will take 20 percent equity stake in Spanish soccer champions Atletico Madrid, becoming the first Chinese company to invest in a leading European soccer club.

The investment, worth 45 million euros ($52.09 million), will make the billionaire founder Wang Jianlin the latest businessman to enter the European soccer domain.

"I am quite satisfied at the price and the future [cooperation]," Wang, Chairman of Wanda Group, said at a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday.

According to Wang, the investment will provide opportunities for young Chinese players to be selected by leading European soccer clubs, and also improve the quality of Chinese soccer, narrowing the gap with the rest of the word.

The Atletico Madrid have won the La Liga Championship 10 times.

Wang's investment came on the heels of the Chinese national soccer team's advance to the knockout stage with the best-ever three straight wins in the AFC Asian Cup on Sunday.

Wang said Wanda, together with the Spanish partner, will invest 30 million euros in a training center for young Chinese players, and also fund three soccer schools in China.

Wang has a long history of association with soccer, and owned Dalian Wanda FC, the nation's first professional soccer club, from 1993 till 1999.

Most recently, Wang met Atletico Madrid's president and chief executive in July last year.

"Wang's move shows his ambition for the development of the soccer industry in China," He Wenyi, an expert with the China Sports Industry Research Center of the Peking University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

With the cooperation of a leading European soccer team, Wang could develop a talent pool to select the best players. He said, "The core of soccer competition is the talent. The team which can recruit the talent will win in the future."

Wang is not the only Asian businessman interested in soccer. Singaporean investor Peter Lim bought a controlling stake in Spanish team Valencia last year, and AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes is chairman of London club Queen's Park Rangers, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

In China, Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma Yun purchased a 50 percent stake in Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande FC last year.

In July last year, the Ministry of Education said the nation will expand the number of primary or middle schools with a soccer specialty from the current 5,000 to 20,000 by 2017, a move to improve the popularity of soccer in Chinese schools and lay a foundation for development of more talented soccer players.

The investment is in line with Wang's soccer dream and also in accordance with the strategy of Wanda, which is in a process of transforming itself from a real estate-oriented company to a conglomerate with core business spanning across culture, tourism, finance and e-commerce sectors, Ji Ning, a Beijing-based sports marketing expert, told the Global Times Wednesday.

Wang said on Saturday at the company's annual meeting that Wanda aims to grow revenue by 147 percent to 600 billion yuan ($96.6 billion) by 2020, with more than 20 percent coming from overseas, according to information on the company's website.

On Wednesday, Wang said he will not rule out the possibility to invest in other clubs in Europe.

Meanwhile, he revealed that Wanda is now negotiating a big project which could lead to an investment of 3 billion euros in Europe.

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