The Arab “spherical coup” goes deeper than just a large bag of petrodollars

The Arab “spherical coup” goes deeper than just a large bag of petrodollars

It was a great world map watching the Gulf region Gulf countries newsletter Last week, full of points from Bolivia to Manchester, to India and Japan. Only Africa turns out to be devoid of football clubs with an owner from Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the emirate of Abu Dhabi.

The recent “spherical coup” of the Gulf states became clear at a glance. Nor do they invest their money in soccer clubs, or in winning world championships in almost every sport. Saudi Arabia is now taking the lead by buying many of the top players from Europe. There are concerns about this persistence, but what explains their success?

state affairs

By the way, not everyone talks about success. Skeptics point to the (so far) unsuccessful investment boom of American entrepreneurs as an example. But Arab acquisitions are of a different nature. Behind them are huge funds from the royal families (the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the Qatar Investment Authority of Qatar, and the United Abu Dhabi Group). This makes investments less dependent on the fickle individual.

Sport also underpins the three Gulf countries’ main policy plan: “Vision 2030”. They want to make their economies more future-proof by reducing dependence on gas and oil exports. The most diversified economy, with sports as an important part, 2030 will be the year of completion. This guarantees years of investment.

And the more sports, the less fossil footprint of the Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia is one of the largest polluters in the world. Fossil companies from the Bay Area will continue to be featured prominently in the world of sports.

Reason and inclusiveness

Americans are also generally less involved in clubs. Chelsea owner Todd Boyle sometimes plays video games in the stands. This winter he haphazardly allocated half a billion euros to buy a cart of top players, resulting in unbalanced selection and sporting malaise. Americans also want to make money fast (too). Manchester United owners Joel and Avram Glazer are collecting millions in dividends to anger fans, while United are saddled with debt. They now want to sell the club. Qatari Sheikh Jassim Al Thani wants to pay 6 billion euros.

Gulf countries invest with vision. Saudi PIF bought Newcastle United and put tactician Eddie Howe in front of the group, as an Englishman also good for bonds. Newcastle got their first ticket to the Champions League in twenty years. Catapulting Paris Saint-Germain from the mid-range to the global top, Qatar also developed Paris Saint-Germain in trendy Paris as a valuable fashion brand by collaborating with Dior and Michael Jordan. Sheikh Mansour from Abu Dhabi brought the successful coach Pep Guardiola to Manchester City and gave him one and a half billion euros to find players with his style of play. Since then they have won five national titles, and this year became the first Gulf club to win the UEFA Champions League.

Mansour also created job opportunities with all investments. The neighborhoods around the stadium have been renovated with Arab funds. Season ticket costs have remained low at City and Newcastle, despite the investments. In this way, Arab money not only expands the top of European football, but also strengthens the local community. This comprehensive approach has won praise from fans.

The entry gate

But you can’t eat compliments. So what are the tangible benefits of all these investments for the Gulf countries? Yasir Al-Rumayyan, director of the Saudi Public Investment Fund and right-hand man of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, did not see him at first either.

Bin Salman told his financial man not to see sports as a money machine, but as a gateway. Those who invest in sports become known to hundreds of millions of viewers. Stadiums are now places for establishing economic or diplomatic relations. And the more connections and attachments to something positive like sports, the more interest foreign investors have.

It was not in vain that bin Salman placed four major clubs in the Saudi League under the control of the Public Investment Fund. By bringing in the best players from Europe, the latest being Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kante, he wants to resell the increasingly valuable clubs to foreign parties. The number of spectators in Saudi clubs is now five to twenty times higher than it was ten years ago. This is a smart and win-win strategy as is the potential bounce. If the new owners make a mess, the Saudis will suffer image damage.

Moreover, the ultimate goal, to challenge the European Championships, seems unrealistic. Right now, only players in pre-retirement take the bait. Younger, more ambitious players are hard to impress, even with astronomical salaries. In this way, the footballers themselves can (partially) stop progress. Stars like Sergio Ramos, Luka Modric and Lionel Messi have already given thanks, although the Saudis have appointed the latter as their tourism ambassador.

Sports wash

Sport gives Saudi pride a huge boost. Thus, the 34-year-old bin Salman enhances his popularity among Saudi youth. Both have an ear more for modernity than for primitive Islamic conservatism. It is no coincidence that the source of inspiration for bin Salman is the Italian philosopher Machiavelli. He stated that a successful king wins over the citizens, but also oppresses them.

This repression worries critics. Gulf countries “sports washing”. They ignore their poor human rights record in sport. Experts say this is not the primary target, but a visible bycatch. The Newcastle fans’ joy outnumbered the critical supporters. Some dressed as sheikhs. On the Internet, fans of Arab-owned clubs regularly downplay the abuse. The mayor of Manchester said he could not judge the human rights record, but “how well the owners are running Manchester City and what they are doing for the city”.

Abu Dhabi is always quiet. After criticism of the gross violations surrounding the construction of World Cup stadiums, proud Qatar chose to launch attacks against Western “moral knights” and “Islamophobia”. This caused great damage to the image of Qatar and football in the World Cup.

They outdid each other

This is where the opportunity lies for Saudi Arabia. It is known that bin Salman cherishes relations with the West, takes his criticisms with him and does not surround himself with men. Yes, take Al-Rumayyan. The advantage of their ambition, the World Cup in 2030 or 2034, is that Saudi Arabia has seen in Qatar what not to do. And let the Gulf states, as competitors, eager to outdo each other. This is possible with a flawless World Cup in Saudi Arabia.

By the way, the investment card is deceiving. The Saudis have a different strategy for Africa than buying clubs: concluding development treaties with the African Football Associations and investing 200 million euros there annually. Their favor is decisive. With a quarter of the votes, the Confederation of African Football has a major say in the World Cup allocations.

Players from Europe to Saudi Arabia:

• Cristiano Ronaldo (38, Portugal) – Manchester United to victory
• David Ospina (34, Colombia) – From Napoli to victory
• Karim Benzema (France 35) – from Real Madrid to Al-Ittihad
• N’Golo Kante (32, France) – from Chelsea to Al-Ittihad
• Kalidou Koulibaly (32, Senegal) – from Chelsea to Al Hilal
• Ruben Neves (26, Portugal) – from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Al-Hilal
• Vurnon Anita (34, The Netherlands) – from RKC Waalwijk to Al Orouba

Players with offers from Saudi Arabia

• Hakim Ziyech (30, Morocco) – from Chelsea to Al Nassr
• Bernardo Silva (28, Portugal) – from Manchester City to Al Hilal
• Roberto Firmino (31, Brazil) – from Liverpool to Al-Ahly
• Neymar (31, Brazil) – from Paris Saint-Germain to Al-Hilal
• Riyad Mahrez (32, Algeria) – from Manchester City to Al-Ahly
• Edouard Mendy (31, Senegal) – from Chelsea to Al-Ahly
• Wilfried Zaha (30 years old, England) – From Crystal Palace to victory
• Marcelo Brozovic (30, Croatia) – from Internazionale to Al Nassr
• Saul (28, Spain) – From Atletico Madrid to victory

Players rejected by Saudi Arabia

• Lionel Messi (Argentina 36) – from Paris Saint-Germain to Al-Hilal
• Romelu Lukaku (30, Belgium) – from Chelsea to Al Hilal
• Heung-min Son (30 years old, South Korea) – from Tottenham Hotspur to Al-Ittihad
• Luka Modric (Croatia 37) – from Real Madrid to Al Hilal

Read also:
Column Pippin Cable: The Saudi sports coup is a terrible success

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