After the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, it is unsurprising that many organizations, including European football teams, are reluctant to engage in any type of business with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the country more broadly.
In the world of European football, before the Saudis were implicated in Khashoggi’s murder, the crown prince attempted to negotiate the ownership of Manchester United with its current owners, the Glazer family.
In stark contrast to Manchester United, Manchester City has been thriving atop the Premier League. In fact, it has consistently performed at peak capacity since Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi took over the team. Mansour has spent over $1.6 billion on Manchester City since 2008, according to The Guardian sportswriter David Conn. Since that time, Manchester City has won three Premier League titles and the FA Cup.
In fact, Manchester City’s success may indicate the crown prince wanted to invest in a football team in order to take on his Middle Eastern rivals, such as the Abu Dhabi owners of Manchester City.
However, the Glazer family was not looking to sell Manchester United to the prince. Regardless, an analysis of the deal shows that numbers really do tell a story. The family’s rejection of a partnership with the prince is a sign: Any major movements by the Saudis from here on out will be watched with great vigilance.
The prince, regarded as one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, had been looking to invest in a major European football club, possibly as a mechanism to consolidate his power by improving his image abroad. Under normal circumstances, Crown Prince Mohammed is used to getting his way — especially considering his family’s staggering net worth of approximately one trillion U.S. dollars.
Talks about the prince acquiring a significant stake in a European team occurred around Oct. 15, at the same time speculation about Saudi Arabia’s role in Khashoggi’s Oct. 2 death arose. Naturally, Saudi Arabia pushed back against international pressure, denying any role in the disappearance of the prominent journalist.
The allegations from the public and the Turkish government sent a clear message not just to the Glazer family, but also to the rest of the world: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman most likely killed a man. Accordingly, the Glazer family figured a Saudi acquisition might be a shaky investment considering the global outrage that would follow their association with the nation. Understandably, few would want to be recognized as a friend to the Saudis.
In fact, it would not make sense for the Glazer family to give up the team to anyone, considering they only acquired the team in 2005 and have taken out immense sums of money from the club without much profit.
The Glazers may have had an exit strategy planned all along. Since their takeover, the Glazers have taken over $1 trillion out of the club when accounting interest, dividends and other expenses, according to Conn. Soccer writer Scott Patterson even stated that “some players have shown an appalling attitude, others haven’t fulfilled their potential … but the root cause of all our problems is the Glazers … this mess will continue for as long as they stay.”
In terms of a potential deal, Manchester United is valued at slightly over $3.8 billion, but the Glazer family would only consider an offer if it exceeded $5 billion.
Crown Prince Mohammed may have expressed interest in the team simply because he had the means, but such a scenario is unlikely.