Manchester City’s usual title rivals Liverpool have reportedly been placed on the market by American ownership group FSG, who have owned Liverpool and Anfield since 2010. FSG say they are welcoming offers for the club, and they have put together a sales pitch to prospective investors in a bid to garner bids.
But who is willing to spend more than £4billion to buy a Premier League football club? Britain’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe, has already ruled himself out, and the richest state funds, including those of Saudi Arabia (Newcastle United ), Qatar (Paris Saint-Germain) and Abu Dhabi (Man City) are off the table.
An approach from America is most likely, as we saw when Todd Boehly and his partners bought Chelsea recently. But another name that has been mentioned is Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Al Maktoum made an approach to buy Liverpool in 2006, four years before FSG arrived, but one key event has happened since then.
In 2008, Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment bought City in a move that would change the face of the Premier League, and because of that move, Al Maktoum’s chance to buy Liverpool may have passed.
Al Maktoum is the current leader of Dubai, which is an emirate of the country, the United Arab Emirates, and Abu Dhabi is another one of those emirates, closely linking the two regions. That means Al Maktoum and City owner Mansour have very closely linked interests. Not only that, but Mansour, who is the leader of Abu Dhabi, is actually married to the daughter of Al Maktoum, so the Liverpool-linked billionaire is Mansour’s fatherin-law.
Any prospective owner or director in the Premier League must pass an owners and directors test, and in relation to conflicts of interest, the league’s rulebook states that the person does not qualify if they: “Either directly or indirectly he/she is involved in or has any power to determine or influence the management or administration of another Club or Football League club, or either directly or indirectly he/she holds or acquires any Significant Interest in a Club while he/she either directly or indirectly holds any interest in any class of Shares of another Club.”
Significant interest is defined as: “The holding and/or possession of the legal or beneficial interest in, and/or the ability to exercise the voting rights applicable to, Shares in the Club which confer in aggregate on the holder(s) thereof 10% or more of the total voting rights exercisable in respect of any class of Shares of the Club. All or part of any such interest may be held directly or indirectly or by contract including, but not limited to, by way of membership of any Concert Party, and, for the purposes of determining whether an interest or interests amounts to a “Significant Interest”: (a) any rights or powers held by any Person shall be attributed to any Connected Person to that Person; and (b) any rights or powers held by an Associate or Nominee of any Person shall be attributed to that Person.”
Interpreting those rules, Al Maktoum would have to prove that there are no shared interests with Mansour, which could prove difficult given how reluctant the UAE have been to make public how they distribute money to the different Emirates, which are governed separately - which could be the defence. It would be made all the more difficult for Al Maktoum given he has strong family links with Mansour. Clearly, there is a shared financial interest, be it because of the country they both essentially work for or the family reasons. Those factors would raise concerns for the Premier League, who don’t want any risk of collusion at the top of the division.
There could yet be a way for Al Maktoum to pass the owners test, especially given how subjective the process has proven to be over recent years, specifically with the takeover by Newcastle. But with criticism and fears over ‘sportwashing’ gaining momentum, there would likely be enough evidence here for the Premier League to preventa takeover happening, especially if there is rival interest from America.