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Graham aus Liverpool

Arab's cash a major threat to Ferguson and Co

Startbeitrag von Graham aus Liverpool am 18.12.2006 10:41

Arab's cash a major threat to Ferguson and Co.

Last Saturday morning two envoys of the world’s fifth richest man boarded a train in London on a mission that will transform English football as spectacularly as Roman Abramovich’s annexation of Chelsea.

A mission that will catch Manchester United in a north-south pincer and bring beads of sweat to Arsenal’s brow; an expedition that may cause Abramovich to suspect his days as undisputed king of the sugar daddies are numbered.

Disowning helicopters and limousines, the two businessmen raced north like any other fans observing the ancient Saturday ritual of going to the match. But Sameer Al Ansari and Rabih I Khoury travelled not as southern Koppites but representatives of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, supreme ruler of Dubai and architect of an economic miracle in the desert.

The chief executive and senior vicepresident of Dubai International Capital (DIC) — an investment company owned by Sheik Mohammed’s government and therefore the oil-rich brothers — were met at Liverpool’s Lime Street station by a club car and proceeded to watch Rafa Benitez’s team cane Fulham 4-0. Later they met Benitez, captain Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, two local torchbearers for the Anfield tradition.

Manager and Scouse heroes are said to have left the talks enthralled. No wonder. The sheik’s ambassadors spoke for a country the size of Kent that has generated investment of £140billion — ‘more than every single foreign dollar invested in America and China last year combined’, according to one analyst.

As takeover dizziness sets in, the swoop of the desert hawk on Merseyside might seem easy to ignore as another boardroom shuffle or rich man’s whim. DIC sounds like some faceless merchant bank fiddling with its portfolio.

In reality, the Anfield takeover places Liverpool at the core of Dubai’s metamorphosis from oil producer to East-meets-West corporate nerve centre, complete with seven-star hotels, artificial island paradises and sun-blasted futurescapes.

At DIC they avoid mentioning the Maktoum family in the same breath as Liverpool in case we re-christen England’s most distinctive club ‘the Godolphin of football’ or fantasise about epic battles with Abramovich in the transfer bazaar.

The message is that Sameer and Rabih are two Liverpool fans who spotted the chance to add a G14 club with five European Cups and 18 League championships in the cabinet to a stable of big leisure and entertainment assets that includes Madame Tussauds, Alton Towers, Chessington, one-third of the London Eye and, discordantly, the Travelodge hotel chain, where you would be more likely to run into Alan Partridge than Arab sheiks.

Rick Parry, the club’s chief executive, promised this week that a Maktoum-owned Liverpool would not be ‘a rich man’s plaything’ or ‘ludicrously profligate’.

But no one with knowledge of their fiefdom is convinced by the idea that Sheik Mohammed and his clan of football loving sons will join the Doug Ellis school of stingy ownership. The quickest glance at their family history tells you they come to spend and win. A racing dynasty of 3,000 thoroughbreds was built on the principle that if you need to spend Andriy Shevchenko’s transfer fee on three untried yearlings to help you win the Derby then you waste no time in handing over the cheque.

From the days when Sheik Rashid, the bedouin nobleman, earned the epitaph ‘the Winston Churchill of the desert’ after the horseback and camel war of 1946, the Maktoums have become known as Anglophile, autocratic financial warriors whose quest is to secure a future for the tiny emirate when the oil runs out, in around 10 years.

‘These men dwell in a society of brothers’ it was once said of the Maktoums. They should have no difficulty, then, in joining in with You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Liverpool’s good fortune is to have become a marketing tool for the new Dubai: a symbol that appeals to the Maktoum sense of tradition and family while also cutting a path to a future of elite sporting ‘brands’ sold around the world as television, internet and image rights finance a new galaxy of super- clubs ensconced in luxury stadiums.

A few years back they were asked whether they might have any interest in buying Leeds, but that was before the current boom in TV revenues and the Premier League’s brilliant marketing campaign in promoting English clubs as musthave accessories.

On first inspection the Burj Al Arab hotel and planned Tiger Woods golf course have little in common with The Kop or the tight red-brick terraces of chip shops, pubs and two-up-two-downers that surround Anfield. But sources confirm that DIC want to build the new stadium in Stanley Park more quickly than one of the countless luxury towerblocks shooting up on the Dubai shore, while also investing heavily in the team.

To a world television audience, no chippies or boozers are visible when the vibrant red shirts, the badge, the fanaticism of The Kop are filling screens in the UAE, Sydney or Hong Kong. The Maktoums are buying a message, an ethos, a spirit. No matter that Liverpool’s proud working-class traditions are at odds with the political make-up of Dubai, where there is no parliament, no elections and no right to trial by jury.

An icy blast strikes the club’s great rivals who, under Sir Alex Ferguson, seized domestic power from the bootroom dynasty of Shankly, Paisley, Fagan and Dalglish. Liverpool have not won the league for 16 years.

But here are some more telling statistics: the Glazers borrowed £540million to buy United. Since their inception two years ago, DIC have stumped up £800m for Tussauds, $1bn for a stake in DaimlerChrysler and £700m for an engineering group nobody outside the trade will have heard of.

Each purchase, every strategic move, is approved by Sheik Mohammed through the two aides who took the train from Euston last weekend. Insiders say the takeover has progressed more slowly than expected because the two men are Liverpool fans and so need to convince their employers there is no trace of sentimentality in their dealings.

There remains an outside chance that the £450m will be spent next week, but the smart money is on a completion just after Christmas, by which time Arsene Wenger might be doubting even his talent for competing with the league’s financial powerhouses through clever talent-spotting and United will be fearing a Shanklyesque revival on Merseyside.

'What would Shanks think?' has been a popular refrain these past two weeks. ‘He wouldn’t mind — they’re Scottish aren’t they?’ a colleague joked the other day. ‘The MacToums.’

Whatever the doubts about English football’s takeover frenzy (and there are many), racehorse trainers, jockeys and stable staff here will attest to the Maktoums’ patience, generosity and loyalty.

For Liverpool, a trail that took them to the Thai prime minister, an NFL franchise owner and the more prosaic Steve Morgan of Redrow Homes is about to end with their absorption into the empire of a bedouin prince whose father once warned in more bloody times: "It is unwise to play games with the ruler of Dubai."

Ferguson has already taken on one racing mogul and lost - John Magnier’s ‘Coolmore Mafia’. Now he confronts the even greater might of the Maktoums.

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