Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammad bin Salman is indeed personally interested in launching a bid to buy Manchester United from the Glazer family, according to reports.
It was recently claimed by the Daily Star – and then corroborated by outlets like Sky Sports and the Telegraph in the following days – that Bin Salman, the son of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, was keen to enter the world of football by purchasing a giant of the game, and views Man United as an ideal candidate.
The Glazers, who bought 98 per cent of the club’s shares in a 2005 debt-loading takeover, have never stated whether or not they would sell the club. However, Avram Glazer has added credence to the reports by making frequent visits to the Middle East over the last few months. He will, interestingly, travel to the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh this week to meet with bankers and investors.
United have chosen to stay quiet about the reports of Saudi interest. But the Independent‘s Miguel Delaney has noted – just like Sam, this site’s editor, outlined in a video earlier this week – that their relationship goes back further than you might think. Saudi Telecom is the club’s longest lasting commercial partner. Just last year, away from view, United struck a “strategic agreement” with Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority. In other words, there is already Saudi money sitting in the club’s coffers.
These reports come at a time when the microscope is firmly on Saudi Arabia following the disappearance and alleged death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, last seen at a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. There is also the often ignored fact that the Saudi government, armed by the United Kingdom and other Western countries, is perpetrating a war against Yemen which, according to a 2017 census, is killing around 130 children per day.
It would not be a stretch to suggest that Bin Salman’s ‘interest’ in buying United, one of the most high profile sporting institutions, can be viewed as something of a political manoeuvre. Ever since Bin Salman assumed power he has sought to eradicate the global image of Saudi Arabia as a deeply conservative and violent Islamic plutocracy whose main source of profit and relevance in the international market is oil.
Following the suit of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, the Salman royal family no doubt view United as a delightful golden goose which, alongside its profitability and potential to grow even further, would lead to a vast number of people talking about Saudi Arabia without discussing oil and war. This is what Bin Salman wants: to normalise Saudi Arabia in the western public consciousness.
We are a long way away from any theoretical takeover. The Glazers will, according to other reports, consider selling the club for £4bn, but that number appears to be plucked out of thin air. United’s owning family are ruthlessly private and keep a watertight circle.
The important point, though, is that the links between the kingdom and the club already exist, which could well pave the way for something much bigger.