The Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, believes no-one “feels completely comfortable” with the prospect of a Qatari takeover of Manchester United.
Speaking to Global’s News Agents Podcast via The Daily Mail, Burnham covered a host of issues relating to ownership of the club, from both the current owners to prospective ones.
The Mayor explained that he understands existing frustrations with the Glazers, saying “I think there’s a lot of people in this city would tell you there’s a lot wrong with the current ownership regime there, in terms of the money that’s been taken out of Manchester United over the last decade or so.”
But he was quick to underscore the issues a Qatari takeover would entail, contending “These are questions that everyone’s having to embrace in this Premier League era … is all the money clean in any Premier League club?”
It’s a question which encapsulates the issues fundamental to nation-state investment in football.
The Premier League top four, the much coveted holy grail of league finishes, comprised Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle last season. If the Qatari bid progresses to the stage of completion, this would leave three of English football’s top four teams under the stewardship of Middle Eastern owners. Abu Dhabi, Arsenal, Qatar and Saudi Arabia may be a more accurate league table in this scenario.
While Manchester City, the current champions, are still awaiting judgement on the 115 charges of alleged financial breaches, Newcastle have been accused of a similar style of impropriety by their fellow Premier League clubs. Allan Saint-Maximin has been linked with an expensive move to the Saudi Arabian league; a league run by Saudi Arabia’s PIF Investment Fund, the same entity who own Newcastle.
The waters appear murky. When the human rights abuses associated with each of these nations is considered, the water grows even murkier.
Qatar’s most recent connection to top level football was the winter World Cup, the first of its kind in the history of the sport. Though, from a competitive perspective, the tournament was excellent, with one of the greatest World Cup finals ever seeing Lionel Messi’s Argentina dramatically triumph over France on penalties, outside of the pitch there was controversy at every stage.
Allegations of corruption in how the country was able to secure the World Cup bid were rife, while human rights abuses, inflicted upon the workers who essentially built the tournament, continue to exist.
Though the prospective Qatari takeover of United is said to be solely led by Sheikh Jassim, without state influence, doubts remain. He is the son of the former Prime Minister of Qatar and the current chairman of the Qatar Islamic Bank, one of the leading banks in the country. His father is “heavily involved” in the running of French club, Paris Saint-Germain. The prospect of state influence and conflicts of interest appear impossible to avoid.
And it’s these competing concerns which combine to create the situation that led Burnham to assert: “I don’t think anyone feels completely comfortable about it and I’m going to be really clear about that.” With good reason.