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Fosun eyes wider vision with move to sell Wolves stake

Raul Jimenez of Wolverhampton Wanderers scores his team's equaliser during the Premier League match against Southampton at Molineux (by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Wolverhampton Wanderers chairman Jeff Shi has said that Fosun International is seeking to sell a stake in the English Premier League football club, with the effort looked upon as a means for the Chinese conglomerate to assess the viability of an eventual public listing of the team along with other Fosun-owned sports assets.

Fosun made its first major impression in the European football market in July 2016 when it acquired the West Midlands club. While the 2016-17 season saw Wolves flirt with relegation from the Championship, the club raced to the second-tier title in the following campaign and then finished seventh in the Premier League in its first season back in 2018-19.

Shi today added weight to the recent reports that Fosun is looking for external investment, telling the Financial Times newspaper today (Tuesday), that the group has been looking for investors for months. Regarding the notion of a wider Fosun public listing, he said: “It’s more to test the market, to see the value of Wolves.”

Fosun paid £45m (€52.2m/$58m) to acquire Wolves and is said to be looking to sell a 20-per-cent stake for between £50m and £100m. This would value the club at around £350m. According to Shi, Fosun is looking for an investor to help promote the team outside of China, where the club engaged in an array of commercial activities in pre-season as it won the Premier League’s Asia Trophy competition.

He said: “It’s more about getting the right partner with strategic connections. We are not just trying to sell the shares to anybody, we are very picky. We are doing it slowly.”

Previous reports of a stake sale have come in the wake of the high-profile demise of another of Fosun’s assets. British travel group Thomas Cook collapsed last month and Fosun is facing an undisclosed writedown of its investment in the firm. Shi has denied that the Wolves stake sale is due to a shortage of funds at Fosun.

Fosun stated it is still in the early stages of deciding whether a public listing of Wolves alongside other sports assets would be viable. In January 2016, Gestifute, the powerful football agency founded by influential Portuguese agent Jorge Mendes, entered into a wide-ranging strategic partnership with Foyo Culture and Entertainment, a subsidiary of Fosun International. Mendes has been a key part of Wolves’ transfer dealings since the Fosun takeover.

Another key future project for Fosun is the redevelopment of Wolves’ Molineux stadium. Speaking at a recent fans’ parliament meeting, Wolves’ head of marketing Russell Jones admitted the chances of work starting in May 2020, as had been targeted, are small, with efforts to carry out the project “properly as opposed to quickly”.

Molineux, the club’s home since 1889, has a current capacity of just over 32,000. The club has a vision to rebuild the Steve Bull, Sir Jack Hayward and Billy Wright Stands across multiple phases to expand the capacity of Molineux to 38,000, 43,000 and 50,000, respectively.

Shi added that Fosun is likely to reduce its direct investment in the team, which it has provided with interest-free loans worth at least £75m in recent years. He noted: “When we won the Championship, Wolves was not strong enough to be independent and we could only depend on our parent group. But now we are much stronger. Now is not the time to always get funding from Fosun.”