- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) - Aston Villa was sold Wednesday to a Chinese businessman after a decade under the American ownership of Randy Lerner.

The sale to Tony Jiantong Xia’s Recon Group follows the central England club’s relegation from the Premier League after place last in the 2015-16 season.

No details of the deal were available. The takeover is subject to approval by English football authorities, Villa said, including Xia being declared a “fit and proper” director.

One of Xia’s immediate priorities is appointing a manager to lead the club’s return to the top flight, Villa said on its website, with the new owner then targeting European qualification with a top-six finish.

“Tony has built his career around infrastructure,” Lerner said. “He is certainly a hugely successful businessman but importantly for me he is passionate about architecture, site design and planning.”

Lerner said Xia is committed to investing in the squad and developing the Villa Park stadium, which has a capacity of more than 42,000.

“I remain convinced that this is a crucial part of the club’s future as it provides a critical, long-term second source of revenue and therefore sustainability for the club from which squad-funding can potentially come,” Lerner said.

Recon Group owns the controlling interest in five publicly listed companies on the stock exchanges in Hong Kong and China, according to Villa, as well as “many other private companies employing 35,000 people in 75 countries.”

Villa’s profile of Xia said he became a fan of the club “many years ago.”

It is the latest investment from China in global soccer.

A consortium of China Media Capital Holdings and CITIC Capital invested $400 million to buy 13 percent of Premier League club Manchester City last year.

In March, property and cinema giant Wanda Group signed up with FIFA as a World Cup sponsor through 2030.


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