SOUTHAMPTON FC is “marching on” to new beginnings after being taken over by a company backed by a Serbian billionaire and television tycoon.

The Premier League club confirmed Sport Republic has bought Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng’s 80 per cent stake in the club.

Sport Republic, a London-based investment firm, was founded by Henrik Kraft and Rasmus Ankersen and backed by lead investor and Serbian billionaire, Dragan Solak.

Daily Echo: A general view of St Mary's Stadium, SouthamptonA general view of St Mary's Stadium, Southampton

Chief Executive of Southampton FC Martin Semmens has described this deal as a “new beginning.”

He 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.

“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.

Daily Echo: Former Southampton owner Jisheng Gao, left, and Katharina LiebherrFormer Southampton owner Jisheng Gao, left, and Katharina Liebherr

“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.

"Continuity, stability, and clarity of the way forward are equally as important as the new initiatives and ideas we can now bring to the club.”

Martin Semmens is set to stay on as CEO at the club, working alongside Kraft and Ankersen, the latter having spent the past six years working at Brentford.

The takeover brings an end to the majority ownership of Gao Jisheng, but Katharina Liebherr retains her minority shareholding of 20 per cent.

Daily Echo: St Mary's (PA)St Mary's (PA) (Image: PA)

Discussing the takeover, Solak, who is also the founder and chairman of the advisory board of the telecommunications company United Group, 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.”

Sport Republic chairman Henrik Kraft insists their takeover of Saints will bring “an active and engaged owner, "but we will not be starting any revolutions.”

He said: “We were attracted to Southampton because it is already a well-run club that follows a clearly defined strategy.

“Southampton’s CEO Martin Semmens will continue to run the day-to-day operations of the club, and Sport Republic will be working closely with him and his team to help the club grow.”

A statement from Saints read: “Sport Republic is an investment firm in the sports and entertainment industry. They have purchased the shareholding of the club held by Mr Gao and will work in partnership with Katharina Liebherr who retains her minority shareholding.

“Everyone within the Southampton community would like to wish Mr Gao and his family well for their future.”

Martin Semmens said: “Everyone at Southampton welcomes Dragan, Henrik, Rasmus and the people within Sport Republic to our great club.

"We searched the world for good people with the ambition and resources to lead us into the next era and I am happy to confirm we have found them. 

“We can’t wait to get started and be part of the future of Sport Republic.”

Daily Echo: Martin SemmensMartin Semmens

Southampton  politicians have so far praised the takeover calling it good news for the city. 

Royston Smith, the Tory MP for Southampton Itchen, said: “It’s good news. 

“We have a club with a fantastic ground and a really remarkable set of fans who filled that ground when the club was nearly bankrupt and in League One so deserve investment. 

“Investment into the club is good for the fans, club and the city.”

Meanwhile, councillor Satvir Kaur the leader of the Labour party in Southampton said she was positive about the move.

She added: “This is definitely good news for the club and our city. 

“Being a Saints fan can be an emotional roller coaster. 
“There’s been so much talk about a new takeover, so I’m pleased we have some certainty now. Hopefully, this new step will lead to bigger and better things for us. 

“We march on.”