Middle East looks to influence Premier League and English Football

The billionaire sheikh who last month bought Manchester City Football Club was among a group of oil-rich investors that yesterday announced a deal to buy almost a third of Barclays Bank.

Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, has agreed to pump £3.5bn into Barclays for a 16% stake. The Qatar royal family, one of the most prolific investors in the region, is aiming to build up its existing holding in Barclays to more than 15% by injecting another £2.3bn.

Mansour’s family is estimated to be worth $750bn, fuelling speculation that the billionaire would indulge in a game of fantasy football at Manchester City by using his vast wealth to buy up the world’s best players. He is minister of presidential affairs, chairman of the Abu Dhabi state oil firm and is married to the daughter of the ruler of Dubai.

Mansour’s part in the Barclays deal was brokered by Amanda Staveley, a senior partner at the private equity firm PCP Gulf Partners. She also helped to agree the deal to buy Manchester City. She described the Barclays investment as “a vote for the UK financial system as a whole”.

The Qatar investment was led by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr Al-Thani, a member of the royal family and the Qatar prime minister. The Qataris already own 25% of Sainsbury’s, 20% of the London Stock Exchange and are leading the £1bn consortium to redevelop London’s Chelsea Barracks.

Will Hadfield, of the Middle East Economic Digest, said the gulf states have “very detailed plans to remove their dependency on oil stretching out to 20 or 30 years. They are diversifying away and creating industries not reliant on the oil price and part of that is investing overseas. They are looking for flagship assets, companies with powerful brands that will be around for a very long time.”

The deal creates a certain conflict of interest, to say the least. Those investing heavily in the main sponsors of the English Premier League (or should I say Barclays Premier League?) are inextricably linked to the same people who own a team in the same competition. If Newcastle or Liverpool are purchased in the next year or so by related groups, that leaves English football open to accusations of, if not actual, corruption.

The influence does not need to be direct – no one in their right mind would suggest that Manchester Dhabi would be getting ‘favours’ from the Premier League. But you can see that when it comes to shaping the future of football, something the Premier League is at the forefront of, then there’s a legitimate interest for the investors to configure the playing field to suit their own long-term needs.

Here’s a prediction – if you thought salary caps were a possibility in England, you can forget about that now. Ownership rules preventing foreigners from buying English football clubs without having a concrete local link? You can forget those too. The game’s wide open gentlemen.

Arsenal are unworthy pretenders to the throne
Celebrating like a true Tottenham fan...