Xia Jiantong, the chairman of China-based Recon Group, which this June bought 100% stake in English club Aston Villa, wants to own a club in the Indian Super League. The ISL club, either a takeover of an existing franchise or a new one when the league expands to a 10- or 16-team format, will be among the many 'Villa branded' clubs in the world, with the company stating its ambition to invest in the US Major League Soccer and Australia's A-League.
On Monday, Recon Group announced their arrival in India with a modest beginning, tying up with the New Delhi Municipal Council to start an Aston Villa Academy in Delhi. "We have already identified the land for the academy. The work for setting up the infrastructure would begin soon. The NDMC will be financing that, we will provide coaches and technical support. This would be an academy for the masses, not the affluent," said Chris Samuelson, the deputy chairman of the Aston Villa Football Club. The club say, they have an agreement to run the academy for at least three years.
The ambition for the group, however, is not limited to the grassroots. They have already held talks with the various stakeholders of Indian football, and have put in a roadmap for their larger goals. "The feedback we got from the various people is the ISL will be expanded to a 16-team league, or the other option is they will add two more clubs next season to make it a 10-team league. We need to see which is the best solution for us," said Jiantong. The group's interest in the ISL was spiked with the IMG Reliance's push to expand the league to a full-calendar format than the existing two-month version. "Our plans are to expand to many countires. It is to have franchises in different countries, to have a platform for players to play across leagues. We may brand all the clubs 'Villa' with the name of the city they would be based in," Jiantong added.
The group's plan is reminiscent of what Abu Dhabi United Group has done through their City Football Group, the owners of English club Manchester City, MLS' New York City FC and A League's Melbourne City.
"That we have identified India as the destination for our next club says a lot," said Samuelson.
Recon Group, a private Chinese conglomerate, is known to have investments in varying sectors, including smart city designs, food additives and loan assistance. The company claims to be responsible for designing 400 smart cities in China. "We are also keen to work with the federal and state government in its ambition to build 100 smart cities in the country," Jiantong added.
However, according to Financial Times, UK, Lotus Health, the only company the FT could verify as owned by Recon, made a net loss in 2015 of around $77.6m (Rs 522 crore). However, according to South China Morning Post, in December last year, the Lotus Health named Xi Yinping, cousin of China President Xi Jinping,as one of its independent director. The nomination was soon dropped after it raised many eyebrows.