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Owner of Southampton FC: Sport is my belief

By Andrea Huang 26 Jul 2018

One year after purchasing a majority stake in English Premier League side Southampton FC, Mr Gao Jisheng talked more about the purchase, his learnings and his thoughts about Chinese football at today’s Leaders Summit in Beijing. 

He says that he did not make much change to the management approach because he trusts the management team. Unlike bosses who prefer to have more of a presence in the running of the club, or bosses who do not give instructions at all, he chose to communicate with the original management team with honesty and trust and by working together and adjusting to each other they share the common goal of making the club better. 

Last season Southampton were very close to being relegated but survived on the very last day of the campaign. Mr Gao acknowledged that they were under pressure and had a hard time going through it, but he had confidence in the club because it has a deep and strong culture, very good players, excellent operational ideas but most importantly, had very healthy operational mechanisms. 

The business term, “shengyi” in Chinese, can be interpreted as “the meaning of life” according to Gao Jisheng who demonstrated a very unique way of explaining the Chinese word by separating it into two parts “sheng” and “yi”. Shengyi could therefore be understood as consisting of beliefs and pure economic activities. Buying Southampton  was not purely an economic activity but he also had faith in it. These beliefs empower people with great fortitude. 

“I believe a person with aspirations has three kinds of beliefs. The first kind is political belief. The second, religious beliefs—one may or may not have it. The third is career beliefs. Sports/football is my belief. My belief protects and guides me to success.” 

After owning the club for one year he is learning more about football in the Premier League and other parts of the world. Gao Jisheng says the most apparent difference he finds between Chinese football and top football countries and leagues around the world is how connected football is with the grassroots level. Southampton FC is a grassroots football club from certain perspectives. The future of Chinese football depends upon creating a similar close relationship with the grassroots level to grow the football population faster. 

When asked about his opinion on Chinese owners engaging in selling up or offloading their shares in overseas football clubs, his commented that we should not criticise these  actions because like in any industry, investments and selling up are common business practices, and sports and football are the same. 

He used a metaphor to describe how to develop football. “To develop football, we need to make a stew.” he says. 

Proofread by Raymond Fitzpatrick

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