Aston Villa’s Chinese owner: Saint or Sinner?

Tony Xia has been hailed in some quarters as Aston Villa’s knight in shining armor, but how much is really known about the Chinese businessman?

Reading the Meet our new Owner introductory page on Aston Villa’s official website, new chairman Tony Xia ticks all the right boxes: young, presentable, well-educated, former player, long-time Villa fan and – as an employer of 35,000 people in 75 countries – presumably also fantastically rich.

But the truth, it seems, is not quite that simple.The first red flag is the fact that in a seven-paragraph article, Tony himself doesn’t actually appear until the fifth paragraph, begging the question who is the real owner – him or the Recon Group? Is he the king of the empire, or is there someone lurking behind the throne?

So what of this empire? Recon owns controlling interests in five publicly-listed companies, of which the largest two are from the Chinese mainland (and the other three listed in Hong Kong). The jewel in the crown is the Shanghai-listed Lotus Health Group, China’s largest manufacturer of the food additive MSG, widely used throughout the country, but increasingly being shunned by discerning Chinese diners.

Next up comes Shenzhen-listed Tianxia Zhihui, which started out as a company that made shampoos and soaps – rebranded as Softto in 2004 – but was then renamed and restructured last year into an entity involved in the smart city business.

Beijing set to unveil new KHL club

China’s winter sports push continues with arrival of professional ice hockey franchise in the capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Beijing this weekend and is set to sign around 30 new deals with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but the most interesting of all from a sporting perspective will be fresh details about Beijing’s new franchise in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), Russia’s answer to the NHL.

The logo of Beijing’s new KHL team, Red Star Kunlun, was first leaked on Twitter two weeks ago.

The possibility of a Chinese team was first mooted towards the end of last year, but since that time several expected deadlines to finalize details have come and gone with no apparent deal in place. But China Sports Insider has learnt that although details have been in place for several weeks, the official launch of the team – to be known in full as ‘HC Beijing Kunlun Red Star’ (or just ‘Kunlun Red Star’ for short) – has been held until Putin comes to town, so as to make more of a splash with the announcement.


Long road to NBA for Chinese duo

Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin become first Chinese players drafted for nine years, but both face an uphill battle to play in the NBA.

A year ago, ice hockey player Song Andong was touted as China’s next big sporting star after being drafted by the NHL’s New York Islanders, then swiftly promoted as one of the faces of China’s 2022 Winter Olympic Games bid campaign. This spring, it is the turn of two Chinese basketball players, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin, who were drafted by the NBA’s Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies, respectively.

Zhou Qi at the NBA draft combine

While Song was something of a trailblazer as the first China-born player to be drafted into the NHL, several other Chinese players have previously played in the NBA, with Yao Ming‘s massive footsteps creating a daunting path for Zhou and Wang to follow. In fact, while their draft success gained significant attention back home as the quest for the next Chinese NBA star continues, in the US they were simply seen as two of a very international draft class. This CNBC article, for example, lists 11 countries from which players were drafted without mentioning China.

In contrast to other drafts which have multiple rounds – Song, for instance, was chosen in the sixth round, in the 172nd spot – the NBA has just two rounds of 30 players, making it much harder to be selected. By the time Zhou Qi was taken with the 43rd pick, players from 15 other countries had already been called. Another four nationalities were added before Wang Zhelin’s turn came at No.57.

AC Milan’s Chinese saga nears end as rumor mill grinds on

AC Milan is the latest in a long line of European football targets picked out by Chinese investors – and it won’t be the last.

On the football pitch, the Italians are known for a slow, tactical style that, while effective, can bore an opponent into submission.

Off the pitch, it may also be a similar story.

Rumors about a Chinese bid for AC Milan have been dragging on for over a year with flexible deadlines passing without incident.

While Chinese and Italian tabloids have delighted in quoting each other’s speculation – as if that somehow gives their respective reports more credibility – a veritable laundry list of Chinese entrepreneurs has been dredged up in a quest to put a name to the now common “mysterious Chinese consortium”.