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SBD Global/May 10, 2017/International Football

Brexit To Prompt Influx Of Chinese Players Into England's Top Divisions, Wyness Predicts

The U.K.’s exit from the European Union will prompt a rush of Chinese players coming to play in England’s top football divisions, Chinese-owned Aston Villa CEO Keith Wyness said. He said that Brexit would likely prompt a quick trade deal between the U.K. and China which will lead to a "lot more Chinese players coming in the next four to five years." Wyness also suggested that the recent investment from Chinese companies into English football might have reached its peak and is now tapering off. He said, "Right now, there is only a certain number of visas through the EU that people can qualify for. If we leave the EU, which we are doing, there will be new trade agreements. I think China will be one of the first trade agreements that Britain will have. Within that agreement, there will be a certain large number of sporting visas which will allow more Chinese players to come in rather than EU players."

OPENING DOORS: Current FIFA rules mean it is very difficult for a Chinese football player to play in England because of China's lowly world ranking. Aston Villa is now owned by 40-year-old Chinese businessman Tony Xia, who completed a £76M takeover of the club in '16. He is one of a number of Chinese businessmen who own clubs in the West Midlands part of England. This also includes Guochuan Lai at EPL side West Brom, Paul Suen Cho Hung at League Championship side Birmingham City and Guo Guangchang at League Championship side Wolverhampton Wanderers. But Wyness stressed the investment from China into English football might have now reached its peak, as investors had been partly scared off by a backlash against foreign owners and were waiting to see if current investments into English football were working out. Wyness: "I think it has slowed down quite a lot." Wyness was speaking on a panel along with Inter Milan Corporate Dir Michael Williamson and architecture firm Populous Managing Dir, EMEA Christopher Lee on Tuesday at the Telegraph Business of Sport 2017. The panel discussed a number of issues including the benefits of foreign ownership of football clubs and the role of China in world football. Speaking about Xia’s ownership of Aston Villa, Wyness said that the new owner only needed two hours of sleep a night and communicated through messaging app WeChat. Wyness said of how much sleep he is getting, "A lot less than before."

NO PRESSURE: Last year, Chinese electronics retailer Suning bought a majority stake in Inter, marking the highest-profile takeover of a European team by a Chinese company. Williamson said that there was no pressure for Inter to bring Chinese players into the team, but added that such an added commercial benefit would be "fantastic." Lee, meanwhile, complimented the powers that be who have helped engineer the rise of the Chinese Super League, which has attracted some big names such as ex-Chelsea player Ramires. He said, "I think you will definitely see the CSL as a major league in the next decade."

John Reynolds is a writer in London.
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