Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Englishman leading the EPL's Asian invasion

Asian investors are beginning to make a major impact on English Premier League clubs with former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's successful £81.6 million bid for Manchester City and with Hong Kong entrepreneur Carson Yeung's HK-listed Grandtop International Holdings Ltd scheduled to emerge with the largest single shareholding, 29.9%, in Birmingham City when it pays £14.7 million on 16 September.

The Englishman paving the way for the current Asian invasion is former Football League chairman Dr Keith R Harris, the Executive Chairman of Seymour Pierce Investment Bank. Harris has been publicly associated with Thaksin including assuring the Premier League and the Man City board that his purchase funds were untainted by corruption as alleged by Thailand's military government. He has also been acknowledged as the party who introduced Yeung to Birmingham City. Asia's high-flyers no doubt knew of Harris's assistance to American Randy Lerner's purchase of Aston Villa and his advisory role on the Icelandic consortium's takeover of West Ham United.

Seymour Pierce is a leading London based investment bank and stockbroker focused on advising companies and raising finance for them. Previously Harris was Chief Executive of HSBC Investment Bank Plc, President of Morgan Grenfell in New York and Managing Director of Drexel Burnham Lambert and Apax Partners & Co. He is a non-executive director of a number of private and public companies with particular expertise in the sports and media sectors, having advised a number of leading UK football clubs. He is a also a director of Wembley National Stadium Limited.

Other research reveals he also advised magazine publisher Richard Desmond on buying Express Newspapers and helped Chris Akers sell Sports Internet to Sky for £220 million. He "once tried to sell Manchester United to BSkyB before politicians stymied the deal", advised both Manchester United and Celtic football clubs and spent two "very frustrating" years as chairman of the Football League. "There were plenty of good parts to my time, but it was awful at the end," he recalled. Claiming football at boardroom level is marked by ingratitude and short-sighted self-interest, Harris urged structural changes. These included trimming the First Division and replacing the Second and Third Divisions with regional divisions.

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