Manchester United’s American owners are holding out for £1.8 billion in haggling with the Qatari royal family over the sale of England’s storied soccer club.
The Glazer family’s £1.8billion demand is £200 million lower than what the Americans were originally holding out for, but £200 higher than Qatar’s reported bid of £1.6 billion.
Manchester United has repeatedly denied that it is in negotiations with Qatar Holdings, an investment arm of the Qatari royal family.
Qatar’s effort to acquire Manchester United is part of the gas-rich Gulf state’s effort to establish itself as global sports hub and a major force in world soccer.
Qatar became in December the first Middle Eastern state to win a bid to host a FIFA World Cup. It has since signed a $200 million sponsorship agreement with FC Barcelona and the Qatari president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), Mohammed Bin Hammam, has indicated that he will challenge Sepp Blatter in FIFA presidential elections scheduled for June.
The Qatari royal family is believed to have balked at the Glazers’ most recent demand, according to British newspaper The Daily Mail, which quoted intermediaries between the two parties.
Legendary former Manchester United goal scorer and board member, Sir Robert ‘Bobby’ Charlton, appeared to express earlier this week opposition to a possible sale of the club to Qatar, suggesting that it would not help the Gulf state, which will host the 2022 World Cup, raise its soccer standards.
Charlton contrasted Arab efforts to fast track success on the back of their energy-backed financial muscle with Manchester United manger Sir Alexander Chapman "Alex" Ferguson’s strategy of nurturing players from a young age.
“You get a bit of an affiliation with a football club when this sort of thing is taking place, and not just piling loads and loads of money in.” Charlton said.
Arab critics of Middle Eastern failure to perform in last month’s Asian Cup in Qatar have focused on the failure of the region’s authoritarian regimes to develop soccer talent at a young age.
For many of these regimes, political control of soccer is key because it, alongside Islam, traditionally is often the only force capable of creating alternative public space for pent-up frustration and anger.
That control is likely to rise in significance as the Middle East is rocked by protests that in the past month have toppled Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
James M. Dorsey authors The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.