Manchester City world’s richest football club after Arab buyout

September 2nd, 2008 - 1:44 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Sep 2 (IANS) Manchester City’s only distinction in British football is its long-term tenancy at the lower end of the league tables. But that has not stopped one of the richest Arab groups from buying out its ownership, making it perhaps the richest club on the planet. The sale catapults un-rated City to the top of the super-rich British club league, hitherto dominated by Chelsea and Manchester United. It also sparks off a war among the moneybag club owners as already evidenced on Monday when millions of pounds were spent by these clubs on a single day to sign in famous footballers.

It was announced Monday that former Thailand prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has sold the club to the Abu Dhabi United Group (Adug), for 210 million pounds (over $375 million). The deal was signed in Abu Dhabi Sunday. Shinawatra is facing an in absentia trial for corruption charges at home and lives in exile in London.

Adug is fronted by Sulaiman al-Fahim, a 31-year-old businessman, property mogul and reality-television show host who is ranked 16th in Arabian Business Magazine’s list of 100 most powerful Arabs.

His personal wealth is said to be 10 times that of Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich, who stunned British football with his 600-million-pound buyout of, and investment in, Chelsea Football Club.

Al-Fahim is the chief executive of Hydra Properties, a company set up only two years ago but which has already signed more than 1 billion pounds worth of contracts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Mexico and around the world. A flamboyant character, he is regularly seen in Hollywood and was recently pictured alongside Leonardo di Caprio.

Al-Fahim said Monday he had not put up the money himself but was a figurehead for members of the UAE’s royal family, whose riches are even greater, and that the aim was to establish City among the world’s elite clubs.

“Our goal is very simple - to make Manchester City the biggest club in the Premier League,” he said.

True to his words, the club wasted little time in flexing its new financial muscle, tabling almost 100 million pounds in bids for new players, including an audacious attempt to snatch the Tottenham Hotspur forward Dimitar Berbatov from Manchester United’s near-certain grasp. Berbatov finally went to United in a 30.75 million pound deal.

However, Chelsea’s Abramovich tasted his first defeat in the player buying contest when Al-Fahim outbid the Russian offer to buy Brazilian Robinho from Real Madrid for a British record price of 32.75 million pounds.

Monday was a day of high-stakes negotiations. Having lost Berbatov to United, City made an opening bid of 28.5 million pounds for Robinho as well as contacting Valencia to see whether 40 million pounds would persuade them to sell David Villa and offering in excess of 10 million pounds for another striker, Stuttgart’s Mario Gómez.

Valencia and Stuttgart did not want to sell, and Berbatov always had his heart set on Old Trafford, but Real were willing to do business provided City offered another 4 million pounds. As Al Fahim told The Guardian: “Money is not a worry to my board.”

City’s executive chairman Garry Cook predicted great things for City.

“Can we be as big, or bigger, than Manchester United? Yes. Can we win the Premier League? Yes. Can we win the Champions League? Yes. It might take 10 years, maybe even longer. But we will.”

With Robinho already in its ranks, City will be watched by the football world on Sep 13 when it plays Chelsea, which is also being seen as a shadow fight for dominance between Al-Fahim and Abramovich.

Al-Fahim will be present on the day of the match, when City supporters are expected to turn up in Arab headgear to celebrate the club’s new-found wealth.

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