Thaksin to reach for stars
BANGKOK, April 19 (Reuters) - English Premier League side Manchester City are planning big-name close-season signings to ensure Champions League soccer within the next two years, executive director Taweesuk Jack Srisumrid said. City's billionaire Thai owner Thaksin Shinawatra has his sights set on the Champions League and wants the world's best players to ignite the club's growth overseas, Taweesuk told Reuters. 'What we will look to do in the summer is to further boost the squad, bring in top quality, internationally-recognised players,' he said in an interview. 'Superstars would help fill the stadium and help our global branding. Primarily, we must win on the pitch -- it can't be a gimmick.' One of those top names could be Barcelona's former world player of the year Ronaldinho, whom Taweesuk confirmed was a transfer target. 'We've had discussions (with Ronaldinho) but we'll see how that pans out,' he said. 'We've looked at a host of players. 'Man City having discussions with superstar players used to be unimaginable, but not now. With the investment, it's going forward. 'It won't be a Galacticos strategy,' he said referring to the expensive transfer policy made famous by Real Madrid, 'but older famous names. We want to build around the team we have.' Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin, ousted in a coup in 2006, bought City for 81.6 million pounds ($162.9 million) while living in exile last July, a deal his critics dismissed as an expensive publicity stunt aimed at a return to politics. The former policeman turned telecoms tycoon invested more than 40 million pounds ($79.84 million) in the squad, then saw City -- three decades without a trophy -- record their best league start in over a century. Taweesuk, a Harvard-educated businessman brought in by Thaksin ahead of the takeover, said the club's owner was highly ambitious and aiming for a top eight finish this year, UEFA Cup qualification next season and a Champions League berth by 2010. He said City were in the process of building up contacts with foreign clubs and agents to bring in top players. The main target for city's growth and future funding will be in Asia, he added, with player visits, fan clubs and soccer academies planned initially for Hong Kong, China, Thailand, Japan and South Korea. 'We don't have the success of Manchester United, but we can grow if we position ourselves as the Asian Premier League club,' Taweesuk said. 'We have the finance for an initial investment period, but we will need some returns at some point and that's where global branding comes in.' He insisted Thaksin, the only Thai prime minister to win two consecutive terms in office, was in it for the long haul with City and his investment was not politically motivated. 'Being in the position he has been in, his circumstances were scrutinised,' he said of Thaksin's ouster, assets seizure and corruption charges back in Thailand. 'It's his love for football, and he wants to build his businesses up. He enjoys success but wants to work with football now.'