Serbian Billionaire & Television Mogul Dragan Solak Buys Southampton Football Club for $135 Million from Chinese Owner
7th January 2022 | Hong Kong
Serbian billionaire & television mogul Dragan Solak has bought 80% stake in English Premier League Southampton Football Club for $135 million (GBP 100 million) from Chinese owner Gao Jisheng through a take-over deal by Sport Republic. Katharina Liebherr, who is the granddaughter of the late Hans Liebherr who invented the first mobile crane and founded construction machine Liebherr Group, will continue to own a minority stake in Southampton Football Club.
“ Serbian Billionaire & Television Mogul Dragan Solak Buys Southampton Football Club for $135 Million “
Serbian Billionaire Dragan Šolak
Dragan Šolak founded United Group in 2000, growing a small cable operator in Central Serbia to become a regional leader delivering broadband, mobile, and pay-TV services a market of more than 40 million people across eight countries. Dragan Solak has founded many other companies, including the motion picture production and distribution company VANS, which he established in 1990 with a group of friends and movie enthusiasts.
The Saints: An Introduction:
Since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, Southampton have competed in 20 of the 27 seasons completed to date, accumulating close to 1,000 points. The principle honour of the club, formed in 1885, is being the FA Cup holders in 1976 but, since first winning promotion to the old Division One in 1966, they have spent just two stints, amounting to 11 seasons, out of the top-flight. Their longest absence being the spell in the Championship and League 1 between 2005 and 2013.
That odyssey might well have ended in League 2 had it not been for the intervention and investment of Swiss-based, German-born entrepreneur Markus Liebherr.
Southampton Financial Crisis
During the summer of 2009, with Saints in financial straits and the supporters bracing themselves to experience the club’s first season in the third tier since 1959/60, Liebherr bought the club out of administration. Thereafter, the mood of Southampton’s football public took a definite upswing. Sadly, Markus Liebherr was to die in August 2010, by which time Saints were holders of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and geared for upward mobility.
With Markus’s daughter Katharina now the owner, Premier League football returned to St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday 25th August, 2012, when Saints faced their first home game back in the top-flight – one week after losing narrowly at defending champions Manchester City in the opening match of the campaign. Uncannily, their opponents were a club they had never before met in a league encounter: Wigan Athletic.
Saints lost 2-0. However, Liebherr’s judgement had proved sound. Saints may have been out of money and luck when he moved in, but the club did possess a fine new, international-class stadium, a substantial training ground and had some talented young players.
In manager Nigel Adkins’s squad that day were young midfielders Morgan Schneiderlin (signed as an 18-year-old from Racing Club Strasbourg in 2008) and Academy graduates Adam Lallana and James Ward-Prowse. Lallana and Schneiderlin started the match and Ward-Prowse would come on as a substitute. Academicians Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers would also make their debuts that season, underlining a theme across many decades of development of young players through the club’s youth set-up.
In August 2017, Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng purchased a controlling interest in Southampton FC from Katharina Liebherr, keen to build on the club’s traditions. Those traditions are strong ones. Markus Liebherr had become so popular during his short association with the Saints it was felt fitting to have a memorial service for him at Southampton’s “mother church”, just 700 yards from the stadium that adopted its name. And, furthermore, where the club that became Southampton FC was formed.