Swiss billionaire rescues Saints

Southampton given dream lifeline as wealthiest owner outside top flight takes over
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An extraordinary period in the history of Southampton took another turn yesterday as the club became the property of the wealthiest owner outside of the Premier League, with the confirmed takeover by the Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr.

Though Liebherr's arrival will not presage an Abramovich-style spending spree on the south coast, he will not be remote from the club and an ownership resembling Randy Lerner's at Aston Villa is expected – a remarkable turnaround for a club on the brink of going out of business over the summer and in administration when he arrived.

Liebherr, whose wealth from his engineering businesses is €3bn (£2.6bn), stepped in when the Matthew Le Tissier-backed Pinnacle consortium withdrew from the running last month. He visited St Mary's two weeks ago and was taken with the club's infrastructure and academy and the surrounding area. He is understood to be an enthusiast for the sport and indicated he will undertake "rapid" restructuring – with developments and management changes likely within three to four weeks.

Liebherr, 61, said he intended to "rebuild this great club" and joint administrator Mark Fry said the businessman wanted the club to "regain their rightful place in the higher echelons of English football."

First, Liebherr has to tackle the 10-point deficit with which Saints will start the new season, having entered administration 98 days before his takeover was sealed. "We will act rapidly, but also plan for the long term, because I am here for the long term," he said.

Manager Mark Wotte, who agreed to stay on at the helm last week despite his contract expiring, is expected to keep his role but goalkeeper and the club captain Kelvin Davis is on the verge of joining West Ham United.

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Markus Liebherr's wealth in billions of pounds.

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