Thursday, July 05, 2007

Who is Birmingham's new Man from Hong Kong?

Prospective new Birmingham City owner, Hong Kong entrepreneur Carson Yeung has insisted he will remain in the background if he manages to take control of English Premier League club. Yeung's HK-listed company Grandtop International Holdings Ltd, a small-scale clothing company with an annual turnover of less than £5 million, is set to take up a 29.9% stake in the Midlands club after directors David and Ralph Gold, David Sullivan, Karren Brady and Roger Bannister last week agreed to sell shares for £14.7 million (US$29.4 million). Yeung is said to be prepared to make a bid for full control in the coming weeks, which would cost him just under £50 million (US$101 million).

Former England and Liverpool winger and ESPN Star Sport football commentator, Steve McManaman was appointed an executive director by Grandtop and will fulfil an advisory role to help the process run as smoothly as possible. In a statement to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the company said: “There is no service contract entered into between the company and Mr McManaman. He has no fixed term of service with the company. He will be entitled to a directors’ fee to be determined by the remuneration committee of the company with reference to their duties and responsibility in the company and the market benchmark.” The South China Morning Post quoted McManaman as saying, "I know a lot of people in the sport, and I have a lot of contacts. I will help out and give ideas as a friend."

Yeung was previously one of the main backers of Hong Kong's Rangers FC and reportedly tried to persuade McManaman to play for the club last December. McManaman turned the opportunity down because of injury. Former Ranger coach Tim Bredbury has accused the billionaire of intervening in team affairs but Yeung has refuted the allegation and reiterated he has no intention of telling current Blues mananger Steve Bruce how to run his side should he take control at St Andrews. "I won't interfere in matters such as team selection," he was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post. "That is the decision of the club management."

However, Yeung is keen to use the opportunity to help develop Hong Kong footballers into potential Premier League stars at the club. "I love football very much and also want to see more opportunities for Hong Kong players,' he said. 'I am sure players from Hong Kong have the potential to play at a much higher level if they receive proper training. I don't mind sending them to Birmingham City for this purpose." Yeung also revealed his belief that his offer for City was accepted partly because of the potential to raise the club's profile in the Far East. "Asia is a huge market for the Premier League, in particular in Hong Kong and China. Although my bid is not the highest, my sincerity about promoting the club in this region impressed the Birmingham City board.'"

According to Shu-Ching Jean Chen at forbes.com, Yeung is a low-profile casino baron who started out running hair salons before hitting it big in real estate. He bought into Grandtop International Holdings for US$8.4 million only days before inking an agreement with Birmingham City. News of the deal sent Grandtop shares soaring 65% and earned him a sizable quick profit on paper for his 16.67% stake in the company. Yeung is believed to derive most of his fortune from investing in several casinos in neighbouring Macau SAR. Top among them is his investment as a founding shareholder of one of the most profitable casinos in Macau, Greek Mythology. Apart from his two years of onwership of the Rangers, Yeung is a committed supporter of football in Hong Kong, constantly making donations to the local football association. He recently made failed bids for two other English clubs, Sheffield and Reading, reportedly brokered by McManaman. In 2005, Yeung bought Asia's fourth-most expensive house for US$18.68 million). He also briefly made news in 2001 for alleged insider trading, a crime that rarely leads to convictions in Hong Kong. He got off with a small fine.

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