Southampton bought by firm fronted by Serbian media giant

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Southampton has been bought by a company fronted by the founder of eastern European telecommunications giant United Group

SOUTHAMPTON, England — Southampton has been bought by a company fronted by the founder of eastern European telecommunications giant United Group, the English Premier League club said on Tuesday.

Dragan Solak’s Sport Republic purchased the 80% stake held by Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng, who has been majority shareholder at the south-coast club since 2017.

No financial details were disclosed by Southampton, which is 14th in the 20-team league and has been in England’s top division since 2012.

Sport Republic is an investment firm in the sports and entertainment industry and described by Southampton chief executive Martin Semmens as “the right partner to take the club forward.”

“Southampton has so many of the qualities we have been looking for in a major sports organization,” said Solak, the lead investor in Sport Republic. “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 organization we plan to build.”

Solak keeps a low profile, rarely appearing in public given he is portrayed in his native Serbia as an enemy of the state by the country’s right-wing populist government. That is because his media group controls some outlets which are critical of the government.

He was chief executive and then chairman of United Group, and still acts as an advisor to the board after a majority stake in the company was acquired by an outside investor in 2019.

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