Saudia Arabia is allegedly lining up a takeover bid for Manchester United as the kingdom faces international scrutiny over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist.
Crown Prince Mohammad – second in command to King Salman – wants to make his mark in the world of football and views Glazer-owned Manchester United as the perfect acquisition, The Sun reported today, citing ‘well-placed sources.’
Either a family friend, a Saudi-owned company or the state’s sovereign wealth fund could bid for the Glazer family’s private shares in the club valued at almost £3billion, the report said.
It comes as governments around the world pile pressure on the Saudis after Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Prince Mohammad, went missing from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago.
Turkish officials fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia has called such allegations ‘baseless’ but has not proved the writer ever left the consulate.
If United’s current owners were to sell the club, it would cost the Saudis more than £3bn – but there is a chance that the crown prince could instead just buy a portion.
Saudi Arabia has already delved into the world of sport with purchases in both F1 and WWE – and football is already part of a wider political battle between the Gulf States.
For example, the Saudis, who severed all ties with Qatar last year, banned Qatari channel beIN Sports.
Then channel BeoutQ, allegedly based in Saudi Arabia, apparently started pirating beIN Sport’s coverage of the English top flight.
It is as yet unclear whether the Glazer family would be willing to sell the club. They have made no comment on the idea of selling since their arrival back in 2005.
WHO IS THE SAUDI CROWN PRINCE?
Mohammad bin Salman, 33, has been Saudi Arabia’s crown prince since June 2017 and is said to be worth around £850billion.
He is also the country’s First Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs and Minister of Defense. He was the youngest ever incumbent of the latter position when he arrived in office three years ago.
His full name is: Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman bin Faisal bin Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud
Co-chairman Avram Glazer’s recent whereabouts have fuelled rumours of an imminent sale though, with him spending a large chunk of his time in the Middle East.
He is even due to attend the Future Investment Initiative conference in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh next week, alongside leading bankers and investors based around the globe.
Business barons including British billionaire Richard Branson and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi have pulled out of the event, dubbed ‘Davos in the desert’, due to the Khashoggi scandal.
Manchester United’s current share price values the club at more than £2.5bn, which is slightly down from the record high of £3.1bn recorded in August.
It is understood that any offer to the Glazers would have to be significantly higher, given the earning power and global brand of the club.
Jamal Khashoggi, who was notoriously critical of Saudi Arabia’s new Crown Prince, entered the consulate on 2 October to get documents to marry his Turkish wife – but has not been seen since.
A Saudi source said on Monday that the Crown Prince has ordered an internal investigation of the disappearance.
A team of cleaners entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul today – just hours before Turkish officials will be escorted around by Saudis in a joint inspection over the disappearance.
The inspection was agreed after a Saudi delegation of a dozen officials arrived in Turkey while Saudi King Salman and Turkish President Recep Erdogan spoke on the phone yesterday.
President Donald Trump tweeted today that he has spoken to the Saudi king on the phone who ‘firmly’ denied any plot to murder Khashoggi.
Speaking to reporters in the White House this morning, Trump said King Salman’s denial ‘could not have been stronger’.