Southampton confirm takeover by Sport Republic and Serbian billionaire Dragan Solak

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Southampton have confirmed a takeover of the club by Sport Republic, an investment firm led by Serbian TV billionaire Dragan Solak.

Solak and his consortium have bought a controlling 80 per cent stake in the Premier League club from Gao Jisheng, whose four-year tenure on the south coast has now come to an end. 

London-based investment firm Sport Republic was founded by Henrik Kraft and Rasmus Ankersen, with the latter only stepping down as Brentford’s director of football at the end of 2021.

United Group founder Dragan Solak has completed a deal to buy Southampton

United Group founder Dragan Solak has completed a deal to buy Southampton

The group is backed financially by Solak, who is the founder of Serbian cable TV operator United Group. 

It was reported last month that two interested parties were in advanced discussions with Jisheng over his stake in the club, before Solak moved ahead of his rivals in the bidding. 

It has also been claimed, by talkSPORT, that the deal will see Southampton become part of a multi-club group, similar to the Red Bull family with the likes of RB Leipzig and New York Red Bulls among others. 

Solak founded United Group in 2000, and has overseen the growth of the company into a multi-national business with more than 40 million users across eight territories.

Southampton have confirmed they have been taken over by Sport Republic, led by Solak

Southampton have confirmed they have been taken over by Sport Republic, led by Solak

According to the company’s website, they generate more than £1.7billion annually, and it has been reported that Solak himself has a net worth of more than £1bn.

Serbian news website Kurir report that Solak has tried to keep himself out of the spotlight in recent years, and that he has ‘gone virtually unnoticed’ while accumulating his colossal wealth.

Previous Southampton majority shareholder Jisheng bought his 80 per cent stake back in 2017, but recent reports claimed he was looking to sell, and he has now relinquished control of the club.

It has been reported that the Chinese businessman spent around £210m acquiring his stake, making the purchase from Katharina Liebherr, who inherited control of the club from her late father Markus in 2010.

The Liebherrs still own a 20 per cent stake in the club after buying them in 2009 when they were in a dire financial situation.

Previous owner Gao Jisheng (centre) bought his 80 per cent share from the Liebherrs in 2017

Previous owner Gao Jisheng (centre) bought his 80 per cent share from the Liebherrs in 2017

Speaking about the deal on Tuesday, Solak said: ‘My partners and I have experience in long-term investments in the sports and entertainment industry and Sport Republic has been founded to combine this expertise and deliver something unique to the market. 

‘Southampton has so many of the qualities we have been looking for in a major sports organisation. It has a great management team, excellent talent development, talented teams playing attractive football and a dedicated fan base. 

‘We are delighted to be able to complete this acquisition as a first step towards execution of our investment strategy. Southampton will be a cornerstone of the organisation we plan to build.’    

Meanwhile, Martin Semmens, CEO of Southampton, said: ‘Over the last two years, together with the shareholders of our club, we have searched for the right partner to take the club forward. Today we have found the perfect solution for our club.

Co-directors Rasmus Ankersen has been crucial to their success

Rasmus Ankersen (left, in 2015) was hugely successful in his previous role at Brentford

‘Sport Republic are experienced investors, but also experienced within the world of elite professional sports. That combination is very hard to find, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement that secures our short and long-term future.

‘We are grateful for the support of Mr Gao and Katharina that allowed us to take our time, turn away the wrong options and ultimately find the right partner for the future of this great club, its fans, staff and the people of Southampton.

‘Today we welcome a new beginning with a new ownership group. We have found partners with ambition for the future, but with a clear understanding of what Southampton stands for and the direction we must go in now. The strategy is to push forward with the plans we have had in place over the last two years, but with their support we can now do this with a renewed focus and speed.’

Of the Sport Republic group, Ankersen is the most well-known to English football fans after spending seven years with Brentford and overseeing their rise to the top flight.

In the same time, he was executive chairman of Danish club FC Midtjylland, overseeing the most successful period in the club’s history, winning three Danish championships and qualifying for the Champions League group stages in 2020.    

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