ABUG's life for City fans

Premier League football clubs are becoming the accessory of choice for any self-respecting billionaire...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

An Abu Dhabi investment group has agreed to buy Premier League club Manchester City, in the latest example of wealthy foreign investors pouring their money into the world’s richest football league. City have actually been through this once already – they were acquired by former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra last year, but he’s now clearly decided to free up some cash after having £800m worth of assets frozen. Fans will be hoping for better luck this time around…

The Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment, or ABUG for short, certainly sounds like a less controversial option (although given the history of enmity between City and their more illustrious Manchester neighbours, it might want to keep its favoured moniker, Abu Dhabi United, a bit quiet). And with backers including the United Arab Emirates’ ruling family, ABUG clearly has very deep pockets. The bid is being fronted by Hydra Properties CEO Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, who’s apparently known as the ‘Donald Trump of Abu Dhabi’ – not just for his business success (or its hairstyle), but also for hanging out with film stars and starring in his own reality TV show.

As you’d expect from such a flamboyant character, he’s not short of ambition. ‘Our goal is very simple,’ he said today. ‘To make Manchester City the biggest club in the Premier League, and to begin with to finish in the top four this season.’ He said their plan was to invest heavily in the transfer market – and just to prove he meant business, he immediately broke the British transfer record, outbidding none other than Roman Abramovich's Chelsea to buy Brazilian star Robinho for £34m.

Naturally City fans will be delighted about this – not only because of the transfer funds, but also because they’re no longer reliant on Thaksin’s cash. But the question is: what will happen if City fail to meet these ambitious targets? After all, the team recently scraped past some Danish minnows to qualify for the UEFA Cup - even with the high-profile addition of Robinho, can the manager transform them into a top four team almost overnight?

Football may be big business these days, but the clubs are rarely run like businesses. And owners can’t really treat them as such – or they run the risk of making sworn enemies of several thousand very passionate football fans (as the Americans at Liverpool have discovered). Let’s hope City’s new owners are willing to stay the course...

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