With just under two hours to go until the Glazers’ soft deadline on a bid for Manchester United, there has been a second hard development in this process – and one that should be very difficult for the wider game to register. Qatari businessman Sheikh Jassim Bin Hamad Al Thani has confirmed his interest in buying 100 per cent of the club, to match that of Sir Jim Ratcliffe.
Sources and linked reports in France have indicated that Al Thani’s offer is around €5bn (£4.45bn). That would mean the Glazers would not need him, as expected at this point, a move that insiders described as “hardly the starting linebacker”. Naturally there was talk of a third offer, close to the 10pm deadline in the UK.
Although the Qatari offer surprised some parties considering joining – and did not expect a “credible offer from the Middle East” – industry sources said the Independent this would happen on Thursday that view was supported and they were already describing Al Thani’s interest as “the favourite”.
Much will depend on how this auction develops, and much is unclear.
Another aspect that has been glossed over is the exact links between Al Thani and the Qatari state – this should prompt some of the biggest questions in this process and for the Premier League.
Figures within Qatari Sports Investments (QSI) – which own Paris Saint-Germain – and the Qatar Investments Authority (QIA) insisted on Friday night that this had nothing to do with their funds and was a “private” offer, but that is a description. according to human rights workers, there is “laughter” in a state like Qatar.
Before you get to anything else, it is a semi-constitutional monarchy, where the Emir – a longtime Manchester United fan, it is said – exercises “full executive power”. In other words, all roads lead to the top, and of course a proposal of this scale would require state approval.
Al Thani’s career details are there. One prominent football executive was almost incredulous at the argument, saying “this is not complicated, Al Thani is the name of the ruling family”.
The son of a former prime minister, the 40-year-old’s biography proudly describes him as the chairman of Qatar Islamic Bank (QIB). The single largest shareholder of QIB is QIA, the sovereign wealth of the state. Al Thani’s father was previously head of QIA between 2007 and 2013. At this point the discussion needs to go much deeper than Al Thani’s plans to restore the club to its “former glory”.
Since “sports washing” is about the influence and appropriation of institutions, and is not as simple as public relations or image, it is difficult not to describe this takeover attempt as the next step in its evolution.
We are several levels beyond hosting international competitions at this point.
It makes it all the more incredible, and a complete indictment, that the Premier League did not take the opportunity to upgrade its Owners and Directors in relation to state bodies and influence. They have had plenty of opportunities and warnings in the 16 months since Newcastle United took over, and Amnesty International UK are on record as saying they are still waiting for a follow-up from the October 2021 meeting. his most famous, United and Liverpool, for sale at the same time should only raise the alarm.
It could now leave the unfortunate situation where three of the Premier League clubs are owned or influenced by the three major powers that immediately drove the Gulf blockade. This great English competition would be the preserve of political competition involving far worse themes, not to mention the highly criticized human rights records of those states.
It should be a landmark for the game, but we’re well past that.
All you have to do is look at news from earlier in the week about how this path was approved – and even this takeover was approved.
The Public Investment Fund’s takeover of Newcastle was particularly prudent as the consortium was able to offer “legally binding assurances” that there would be a separation between the company and the state of Saudi Arabia. That “fantasy” – as one human rights activist declared it at the time – was directly illustrated when PIF argued in a US court that they should be granted sovereign immunity from having to disclose information related to LIV’s legal battle Golf with the PGA turned back because they were part of the Saudi government.
One wonders how the Premier League would have dealt with this situation if the regulations had been slightly upgraded – but they weren’t.
Uefa might be an issue, though. PSG is owned by QSI, of course a subsidiary of QIA. If Al Thani’s bid is successful, Uefa rules on ownership could conceivably mean United and PSG could not play in the same continental competition, as many figures within the game argued on Friday evening. And yet there was already confidence that this would not be an obstacle.
Of course, Uefa could consult the European Club Association on this matter. But its president is also president of PSG, and chairman of QSI, not to mention a figure close to the Emir of Qatar: Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
You can begin to see why LaLiga president Javier Tebas described the PSG boss as having “too many conflicts of interest”. You can also see the end point of the game, and how it got into this mess.
There is now the possibility that the biggest institution of English football will be the biggest club yet to represent a sports washing project.
In that context, they could win everything and it wouldn’t matter.
You could solemnly say that this increases the need for an independent regulator. It is already too late, as this early phase of United’s sale has shown.