Theories have emerged this afternoon surrounding the true motive behind Tony Xia’s purchase of Aston Villa, and whether it had anything to do with the impending high-speed railway project.
Words by Harry Trend (@HazaTrand) and Regan Foy (@FindFoy)
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It could be that Tony Xia’s motives behind buying Aston Villa in 2016 are a lot deeper than once thought. The £55.7 billion HS2 project, a high-speed railway connecting major cities in England, including Birmingham, is scheduled to open in phases between 2026 and 2033.
The railway will run through Villa’s training ground, Bodymoor Heath, wiping out a section of the facility, namely all the academy pitches and two first-team pitches. Members of the Villa board have already held discussions with senior HS2 executives over a compensation deal.
And the South China Post recently revealed that members of China’s government and biggest state-owned railway companies met with HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston in the capital of Beijing earlier this month, with China bidding for construction contractors.
However, the HS2 presented Villa with an opportunity to sell-off the training ground as a development to one of the property companies owned by billionaires Edens and Sawaris, should they wish to take it.
On the other hand, Xia’s shares in the club have been diluting month by month. Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and the American billionaire Wes Edens purchased a 55% percent stake in the club in the summer, leaving Xia will 45%. However, in January, Villa CEO Christian Purslow announced he was down to 20%.
However, Professor Simon Chadwick, a Professor in Sports Exercise at the University of Salford has raised some interesting points regarding Tony Xia’s purchase of Aston Villa, and the purchase of West Midlands clubs by Chinese owners.
He mentions that China’s acquisition of English football clubs, especially those based in the Midlands, are likely to have motives other than football. In fact, Wolverhampton Wanderers owning Fosun have recently signed a contract for mass-scale, privately owned, high-speed railways in China. This makes things a little more interesting – as Wolverhampton was the headquarters of the now liquidated HS2 contractor Carillion. The fact that a company like Fosun has rail interests and that HS2 has discussions that involve ‘China Railway Construction’, who are partnered with Fosun, make it ever more likely that there’s more than meets the eye here.
His sources, according to his Twitter account have said that Tony Xia’s intentions were always much, much bigger than buying a football club. More so that he saw owning Aston Villa as a vehicle towards engaging in wider infrastructural development in Birmingham – which links nicely with his architectural background. That, and an interest in leisure and entertainment – areas which the city is booming with investment currently.
The theory is that many of these new Chinese owners are here to play the long game, thinking long-term about their investments. They come bearing gifts, promises and good will – i.e we will improve the city’s football team – which should build positive attitudes towards foreign investment in the city. Take it as – “We’ve got you Premier League football, now we’re going to build this and this in your city” – which certainly works for Wolverhampton Wanderers anyway.
It makes sense that the purchased clubs include Aston Villa, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers – as HS2 would require significant work in each of their local areas if it is to be successful. The Midlands is a key hub for the project.
There’s always also the chance that these business men and their specific companies (Fosun, Recon, et. al) came to invest within sport but their true motive was to battle for interest in the UK’s high speed railway project.