SOUTHAMPTON FC is a prime target for Chinese investors who want to capitalise on its successful training academy, sports experts have said.

News of a potential takeover of the Saints by a Far East firm has come as no surprise to global footballing experts who say the success of its academy which has produced the likes of Gareth Bale and Theo Walcott, would be a major attraction for Chinese investors.

Professor Simon Chadwick, a lecturer in Sports Enterprise at Salford University in Manchester, said Saints’ world leading academy will be cast into the spotlight in China’s crusade to develop a new generation of footballing stars who could be sent here to nurture their talent.

He also revealed that the club was among three teams business leaders in the Far East considered ripe for buying as part of their Government’s multibillion pound masterplan to turn the Asian country into a ‘world footballing superpower’.

As reported in the Echo Katharina Liebherr and representatives of Lander Sports Development have held discussions in recent weeks as the China based giant aim to get a foothold in the Premier League.

However, talks between the two parties remain in the early stages, and there is as yet no solid indication over whether there will indeed be a £200m offer to buy the club, potential investment with Libeherr still the majority owner, or nothing at all.

The club has entered a six-week exclusivity agreement with the company and if it cannot come up with a suitable offer then other options will be considered.

Southampton FC said there would be no official comment from the club.

Professor Chadwick, a lecturer in Sports Enterprise at Salford University in Manchester, said on a recent visit to Qatar, a close source told him that Saints was one of three Premiership teams that footballing intermediaries were eager broker a deal with Chinese businessmen.

He said it follows Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiling a strategy to invest billions to enable the country to become football world beaters by 2050.

Several teams in the Midlands – plus a swathe of clubs across Europe – have already bought by the country’s investors a part of a scheme to learn successful coaching skills and develop homegrown talent – paving the way to attempting to win the World Cup.

Professor Chadwick said he thinks that Saints are in the spotlight due to the success of their academy and its record on producing players who have gone on to become England internationals.

He said: “Saints have a long and successful history in developing talent and the Chinese want to develop their own domestic talent.

“Players have gone on to represent their national teams, so this is not a coincidence.

“Southampton is like a model for the way the Chinese want to develop their football.

“You can expect more Chinese players coming over and it is likely that clubs will sign partnerships with Chinese teams to help develop talent.”

He added that there are many commercial and economic reasons for Chinese businesses to be attracted to the Premier League and added: “In China it is in the best interests of business people to be seen publicly to support state policy.

“The Premier League is also high profile and lucrative and if you invest in it you can make money.

“But also Hull and Southampton are port cities with shipping and cruise line industries, while I suspect investing in Midlands clubs is down to HS2.”

But he warned that Saints fans are unlikely to see huge amounts of money being invested into marquee signings such as other club owners like Roman Abramovich the Russian billionaire owner of Chelsea.

He added: “Don’t expect any big names or spending sprees as these are more long term investments.

“It is unlikely whether they will extend stadiums to fit in more seats but they may be interested in expansion if it involves creating a new hotel or conference centre.”

A spokesman for the Premier League said that prospective new owners must undergo rigorous legal, financial and background checks to ensure they are suitable to take over.

He said this included: l Evidence of sources and sufficiency of funding to complete the acquisition.

l A business plan showing the projected financial position of the Club should the change of control take place.

l Future Financial Information showing that all the Club’s liabilities can be met.

He said that anyone proposing to own 30 per cent more of the shares in a club, or proposing to be a director on the board must undergo an Owners’ and Directors’ Test.

The test prohibits anyone who from taking charge if they have an unspent conviction resulting in 12 months’ imprisonment, a dishonesty conviction (irrespective of sentence) or is subject to a ban from a sporting or professional body.

The Echo approached the FA but they said they were unable to comment as decisions on club ownership rest with the Premier League.