The new owner of Premier League side Southampton Dragan Solak is a thorn in the side of Serbia’s authoritarian rulers whose venture into English football has landed the club in the center of a high-stakes political drama, the Times said.
The London daily newspaper said that Solak was recently listed in a magazine as Serbia’s third-richest man who made his fortune building the country’s first cable TV network early this century before diversifying into news, sports and entertainment through United Group which he co-founded in 2007.
It said that Solak did not make his fortune through political connections but by building up his own company, adding that he did not use political connections to privatize state-owned assets. Solak also kept his distance from politicians in power and his media outlets are the only ones in Serbia operating freely, not under the control of President Aleksandar Vucic whose anger he incurred.
According to The Times, Vucic is wants to establish control over the media, both state-owned and private. It said that Solak and United Group are not apt to giving the president a lot of air time.
The daily said that things came to a head in 2021 when the state-owned Telekom Serbia bought the TV rights to the Premier League by outbidding United Group which has 10 Sport Klub channels and paying the huge amount of 600 million Euro for a six year contract, much more than the 12 million a year paid earlier by United Group. The decision to buy those TV rights is an attempt to push United Group out of the Western Balkans market.
The Times quoted a story in the pro-regime Informer tabloid which claimed that Solak’s purchase of Southampton is part of a British conspiracy to weaken Vucic and inflict economic damage on Serbia.