Aston Villa, one of English soccer’s oldest and most famous clubs, has fallen on hard times. Relegated from the Premier League for the first time in nearly 30 years last season, the proud Birmingham-based club, whose heyday in the the 1970s and 1980s included league titles and even a European Cup win, is in need of a major overhaul—a revolution, of sorts.
The team’s new Chinese owner has perhaps taken this too literally.
Tony Xia, a 40 year-old businessman from Zhejiang province, paid tribute to the founding chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, in a tweet:
The tweet came amid news that the 141-year-old club is interested in buying strikers from Premier League clubs West Ham and Hull City, demonstrating Xia’s willingness to listen to fans’ views on the matter. Since coming on board at Aston Villa, Xia frequently interacts with fans on Twitter, even hinting at deals before official announcements.
Xia bought the club in June for a reported $87 million, and is the owner of Beijing-based Recon Group, a privately held holding company that engages in businesses ranging from IT to transportation. He has pledged to make Villa among the top European clubs within five years.
Xia’s tweet attracted criticism as many consider Mao to be among the worst dictators in history. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the Cultural Revolution, a decadelong campaign led by Mao aimed at cleansing China of intellectuals, capitalists and other enemies of the Communist Party.
Mao’s economic policies also led to the Great Famine between 1958 and 1962, which by some accounts resulted in over 36 million deaths. This week, thousands of Australians signed a petition calling for the cancelation of tribute concerts to Mao in celebration of the 40th anniversary of his death.
The Mao quotes Xia tweeted come from Quotations from Mao Zedong, commonly known as the “Little Red Book,” which all Chinese citizens were required to read and recite during the Cultural Revolution.
Xia clarified his tweet hours later on Twitter:
Professional soccer has become the latest target of China’s global buying-spree. Chinese investors have sunk some $4 billion into European soccer clubs since 2015, with top European clubs like Italy’s AC Milan and Inter Milan now majority owned by Chinese investors.