Soccer: Middle East petro-dollars changing Europe's game

Shopping spree changes cultures, bankruptcies included

20 April, 18:41

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA, APRIL 20 - Oil money from the Middle East is changing the European football landscape, including its Mediterranean shores in Spain and in France, with Italy involved to a lesser extent. Millions are being spent on clubs and although these are having the effect of changing the business culture of football, sometimes these operations prove of short-term impact only or even lead to club bankruptcies. So says a report by Turkey's daily paper Hurriyet. The article reviews operations conducted by Middle East tycoons in Europe, especially in the UK and in Germany over recent years. Behind the acquisition of clubs and of television rights, the newspaper sees a strategy both of national pride and of seeking out business opportunities. But they have so far led to few football trophies, as Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton pointed out last year: money is not enough to win the English league.

As Hurriyet Daily News points out, this wave of acquisitions was started in 2004 by the sponsoring of Arsenal over 15 years by Emirates Airlines. They went on to sponsor Milan, Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, Hamburg and FIFA itself. The first Middle Eastern club purchase in Europe was that of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United Group. This was greeted by turban-wearing fans, who also drew the portrait of the Sheik to replace that of Queen Elizabeth on banknotes. The euphoria was justified by the great number of player acquisitions totaling 100 million pounds, acquiring Brazilian star Robinho from Real Madrid for a record 32.5 million, ahead of Chelsea. This campaign brought Manchester City its first silverware in England in 42 years, as well as qualification for the Champions League.

The club also signed a ten-year sponsorship agreement worth 400 million pounds with Abu Dhabi airline Etihad. The Royal Emirates Group, based in Dubai, also acquired Spanish club Getafe for an estimated 100 million euros while in Germany Jordanian businessman Hasan Abdullah Ismail saved 1860 Muenchen from a financial crisis. But money from the Middle East also brings with it cultural restrictions linked to Islam. The Turkish site points out how William Hill Plc was dropped as a sponsor for its gambling interests and how a pavilion was dedicated to Arab culture in the Getafe stadium. Also in Madrid, Real players had to give up the cross on their shirts. This choice was justified by pointing to the global dimensions of the football business, which includes the construction of a sporting resort costing one billion dollars in the United Arab Emirates. But even the sheikhs pockets are not bottomless: Hurriyet notes how Qatar had to give up its bid for Manchester, Roma and for the agency that controls the TV rights of the World Cup, as Dubai International Capital's bid for Liverpool failed many moons ago. And even a successful bid may be of short duration: three months after buying Portsmouth, Emirati multimillionaire Sulaiman al-Fahim sold his stake on to Suadi tycoon Ali al-Faraj, who then left the club to face bankruptcy. A similar fate befell Austria's Admira Wecker and Geneva's Servette following acquisitions by Iranian businessman Majid Pishyar.



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