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International midfielder Zheng Zhi's hopes of remaining in the English Premier League brightened when a Hong Kong billionaire became Birmingham City's major shareholder on Monday.

Textiles tycoon Carson Yeung has been outspoken on his intention to bring Hong Kong and mainland players to the newly promoted top-flight club.

Zheng shone while on loan to the joyless Charlton Athletic outfit last season.

But after the club's relegation, his career reached a crossroads.

While China's chief playmaker is guaranteed a place at his domestic league club - Shandong Luneng - if negotiations break down, the odds of him signing with Birmingham firmed significantly on Wednesday when Yeung reiterated his intention to sign Chinese.

"I don't have any politics and I only want to buy for interest because I love the sport," the 47-year-old told Daily Sunshine. "I even play soccer every week in Hong Kong.

"We are planning to buy three Chinese players - I hope the deals will be completed in three months."

Although Yeung's assistant confirmed they were interested in both Zheng and Mao Jianqing, China's left winger during the Asian Cup campaign, a decision is still some time away.

Reports have Zheng currently staying in his hometown Shenyang but refusing to comment on his future.

Full control

In a shrewd marketing ploy, Yeung also plans to open a chain of Birmingham-themed cafes and restaurants in Hong Kong, China and possibly elsewhere in Asia, as well as soccer training schools.

The Premier League deal, worth roughly 15 million pounds ($US31 million), will help him launch a bid for full control of Birmingham.

Yeung, who purchased the stake through his clothing company Grandtop International Holdings Limited (GHIL), confirmed he was eyeing the club's remaining shares on Monday.

If he is successful in a full-scale takeover bid, Birmingham City will become the ninth English Premier League side to be owned by foreigners following Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Portsmouth, Aston Villa, West Ham, Fulham and Manchester City.

"The Premiership is the best league in the world and most countries and regions focus on it - especially in China and Hong Kong," Yeung said.

"Signing Chinese players is a good chance for the sport's development in China.

"I hope the club will become a good platform for them. We will also strengthen our co-operation with China Football Association in the future."

Although some fans are concerned Yeung will intervene in transfer deals, traditionally the preserve of club managers in England, he will not be the first wealthy owner to do so.

Chelsea's big-spending Russian owner Roman Abramovich bought superstars Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko last season without consulting manager Jose Mourinho.

In Manchester, three Thai internationals have secured trials at Manchester City at the behest of new owner and deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, local newspapers reported after he took full control on Monday.

Defenders Suree Sukha and Kiatprawut Saiwaeo and striker Teerasil Dangda will train with the team in Manchester next week.

Thaksin has said he expects new manager Sven Goran Eriksson to sign at least two Thai players in addition to the latter's lengthy shopping list, which is adorned by Olympiakos's Mexican striker Nery Castillo and Juventus defender Georgio Chiellini.

Chinese duo play on

Another factor encouraging Zheng to continue his career in England is national teammates Sun Jihai and Dong Fangzhuo's likely contract extensions at Manchester City and Manchester United respectively.

They are also touted for a possible move to Yeung's Birmingham City under Thaksin's pro-Asian regime.

But Sun, the most successful Chinese in an overseas league, still has a year left on his contract and said he would fight for a spot in the starting line-up under Erikson.

"I know I need some time to get used to a new team and a new coach," Sun said.

"But I have been there for five years and I have proved that I am capable of competing in the top league."

Manchester United has also shown trust in striker Dong's potential, even posting a story about his burning ambition on the club's website.

"Dong says he is determined to prove he is good enough to warrant a regular place in the Reds' first team squad," the story reads.

Dong joined the Reds' Asia Tour squad earlier this week in Macau after spending the last month on international duty for China at the AFC Asian Cup.

He enjoyed 30 minutes of game time in United's 6-0 thrashing of Shenzhen FC on Monday and hopes for further chances to prove his prowess during the 2007/08 campaign.

"I am trying to prove I am good enough to play for Manchester United," he told PA Sport.

"I need to train hard and work hard, but that is no problem for me.

"Like every Chinese player, it is tough when you move to a new country because of the language and the fact it is a different culture.

"But, while those three years at Antwerp were hard, in a way they may help me because I am used to playing in Europe now."

(China Daily July 27, 2007)

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