Southampton owners in talks to buy Goztepe and Valenciennes

Southampton’s owner Sport Republic is in talks to buy Turkish side Goztepe and French team Valenciennes, The Athletic understands.

Founded by Danish duo Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft in December and bankrolled by Serbian media tycoon Dragan Solak, Sport Republic bought an 80 per cent stake in Southampton a month later.

However, that was always just going to be the start for the London-based firm, as its plan is to create a multi-club group built on similar lines to the City Football Group, Manchester City’s owner, or the Red Bull stable of teams.

Based in Izmir, the country’s third largest city, Goztepe finished 19th out of 20 in the Turkish Super Lig this season, ending a five-year stay in the top flight. Their most successful period was in the 1960s and early 1970s, when they won two Turkish Cups and regularly competed in Europe.

Valenciennes is a town on the French-Belgian border and its football team have spent most of their history yo-yoing between Ligue 1 and 2. Last season, they won their last two games of the season to pull away from the relegation zone, finishing 16th out of 20 in Ligue 2.

The Athletic understands that Rasmus Ankersen, Sport Republic’s co-founder and chief executive, visited Turkey earlier this month to continue negotiations with the TFF First Division side.

Mehmet Sepil, Goztepe’s current owner, is thought to have been open to bringing new investment into his club for some time now and is open to selling.

Reports in Turkey have indicated that Sport Republic have negotiated an initial 70 per cent stake in the Turkish side, although sources close to the group highlight nothing has been agreed at this stage and that any potential deal could still break down.

Sport Republic’s talks with Goztepe are believed to be slightly further along than the negotiations with Valenciennes but The Athletic believes Ankersen, Kraft and Solak are also looking at clubs in other leagues.

It is understood they are particularly interested in teams with the potential to play in the top flights in Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Turkey, as they are considered “band two” competitions – just below the “big five” leagues of England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – for the purposes of gaining Football Association approval when players are signed from those leagues.

Post-Brexit, English clubs can no longer simply sign any player they like from within the European Union, as foreign players now require work permits that are earned via a points-based system. Players who play regularly in tougher leagues, earn more points than players who compete in weaker leagues. For example, there are more points on offer for playing in Ligue 2, a “band four” league, than there are for playing in the top divisions in China, Denmark or Poland.

If their vision turns into a reality, then it’s likely players will be passed around within the group to aid their development and offer a different experience.

As well as clubs, Sport Republic is keen to invest in other businesses in the sports and entertainment sectors. So far, it has only bought Southampton and Danish-based, grassroots player-development app Tonsser, but Solak is one of Serbia’s richest men and a serial entrepreneur, while Kraft has a background in investing in media and technology companies.

Southampton and Sport Republic declined to comment when approached by The Athletic.

(Photo: Robin Jones/Getty Images)


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