Speculations surrounding a potential takeover of Manchester United by a Qatari group have raised questions about the level of involvement the Arab world, particularly the GCC, is seeking to have in European football.
While an official announcement or confirmation of a Qatari move for Manchester United has yet to be made, several football clubs already benefit from Middle Eastern ownership.
Numerous reports suggest that the former Qatari Prime Minister, Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, is associated with this potential bid. Commonly known as ‘HBJ’, he has a strong investment presence in London, where he has been involved in various ventures, such as property and hotel investments around Hyde Park.
If the Qatari bid for Manchester United comes to fruition, it is expected to bring about substantial investment in the team Old Trafford and the city of Manchester. Old Trafford and United’s Carrington training grounds require redevelopment, and the Qatari investors are willing to spend significant amounts on restoring the team and the club’s infrastructure to its former glory.
Arab Money the Game Changer
In recent years, Arab investment in European football has been on the rise. Football clubs like Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), and Newcastle United have all seen significant investments from Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Manchester City is one of the most prominent examples of Arab investment in football. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, owns the club. Sheikh Mansour purchased Manchester City in 2008 for £210 million and has since invested heavily in the club. Manchester City has won numerous domestic and international titles, including four Premier League titles, two FA Cups, and five League Cups. According to Forbes, Manchester City is now worth $4.8 billion, making it the world’s fifth most valuable football club.
Newcastle United is another club that has seen Arab investment, with a takeover by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) in 2021. The PIF is the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund and purchased an 80% stake in the club for £305 million. The takeover has been controversial due to Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and alleged involvement in the piracy of Premier League broadcasts. Despite this, the Premier League approved the takeover, and Newcastle United has since been investing heavily in new players.
PSG is also owned by an Arab country, with Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), a subsidiary of the Qatar Investment Authority, purchasing the club in 2011 for €50 million. PSG has since become a dominant force in French football, winning eight Ligue 1 titles, six French Cups, and seven French League Cups. PSG’s success has been built on significant investment in player transfers, including the world-record transfer of Neymar from Barcelona for €222 million in 2017.
In 2018, billionaire Nassef Sawiris purchased a 55% controlling stake worth $36 million in Aston Villa, replacing Tony Xia as chairman. Sawiris’s ownership has significantly impacted the club’s financial success, with Aston Villa receiving $221 million in the top 20 wealthiest clubs last year. With Sawiris’s injection of capital, the club has acquired talented players such as Matty Cash, Diego Carlos, and Emiliano Martínez, strengthening the team’s position in the Premier League. Currently, Aston Villa sits in 11th place in the league.
Controversy over losing European identity and Club Heritage
Arab investment in European football has been controversial, with concerns raised about the influence of foreign ownership on the identity and values of football clubs. Saudi Arabia’s PIF’s takeover of Newcastle United was met with opposition from human rights organizations and some football fans. Similarly, the potential acquisition of Manchester United by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund will likely face opposition from Manchester United fans who value the club’s history and tradition.
— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) October 24, 2021
Arab investment has significantly impacted European football, particularly in Manchester City, Newcastle United, PSG, and potentially Manchester United. These football clubs have seen significant investments in player transfers, infrastructure, and technology. However, the growing influence of foreign ownership on European football has raised concerns about the future of the sport and the values it represents. Football clubs need to balance investment benefits with maintaining their identity and traditions.