Belfast Telegraph

Ralph Krueger: Gao family are 'right thing at right time' for Southampton

Southampton chairman Ralph Krueger believes the Gao family are the "right thing at the right time" for a club whose football model will remain unchanged by the new majority owners.

Lengthy discussions finally bore fruit on Monday when Chinese businessman Jisheng Gao and his family purchased 80 per cent of the south-coast club.

The deal, struck privately with the Gaos rather than their company Lander Sports Development, is believed to be worth £210million, with Katharina Liebherr retaining 20 per cent in what has been called a "partnership".

The Gao family will join the daughter of late Saints owner Markus Liebherr on the ownership board along with chairman Krueger, who believes the deal is right for all parties.

"First and foremost, (the ambition is) to continue on the path we're on - of developing this club into a consistently successful team in the Premier League after four years in the top eight," he told Press Association Sport

"That next level of growth is a tough one. We all know what the barriers are ahead of us, but we believe we have the potential of finding a way back into Europe.

"It's never easy in the Premier League but it remains that which we strive for. We are patient.

"They would like us to maintain the football model that we have going right now.

"I would say the growth will be more in and around the club. We're looking at different investment opportunities that will touch the academy, our stadium and so on.

"We will get more specific into the fall on what these projects will be, but we're not looking at any change as far as our football model is concerned.

"We like the way we built the club, we like the way we've built the depth in the roster.

"We like the consolidation plans that we have this summer. They are working out for us and they're not completely done.

"Only one player, Jay Rodriguez, has gone out and two have come in, with (Jan) Bednarek and (Mario) Lemina, and I think that shows a different kind of Southampton evolving here and how much we treasure continuity.

"We like where we're at so we don't need a big change of course.

"With Mauricio Pellegrino, we made a critical change in the summer for us. We decided to go another direction of leadership and they like that course.

"I don't have a big list right now other than that we have a very intelligent, experienced and passionate family coming into the equation who also have shown a competitiveness and a love for sport in the conversations that we've had."

Krueger expects "continued growth in the global community" eventually under the Gao family, but for now the "paint's still wet".

The Saints chairman says there will not be any huge cash injection on the transfer front, with the expectation that the Gao family will take a similar approach to the understated Liebherr.

The family confirmed in phone calls on Tuesday and Wednesday that Saints should stick with their plans - including keeping hold of wantaway defender Virgil van Dijk - with the only changes coming to the ownership board.

"The partnership just seems to be the right thing at the right time for the club, with the right people, the family Gao," the Saints chairman said.

"We're feeling really optimistic and very comfortable right now."

As for Liebherr, she retains a 20 per cent stake in a club she has grown to love.

"If you'd have been a part of the process, she was searching for somebody who really embraced what is happening here, the way club is run, the culture and everything," Krueger said.

"So for her to stay on board is excellent on both fronts.

"One is for Katharina, who just wants to be a part of it because she's having fun and she loves it, and she loves the club, the people and the fans.

"And other thing is it's good to keep in her because of her family is so humble and she's so humble, and they have strong instincts."

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