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Page last updated at 16:51 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 17:51 UK

Arabian might at Eastlands

By Simon Austin

Playing down expectations is clearly not part of the master plan for Manchester City's new Middle East owners.

As news of the deal was being digested, Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) was promising to make City "bigger than both Real Madrid and Manchester United" and planning January transfer moves for Cesc Fabregas and Cristiano Ronaldo.

So who exactly are City's new owners and can they turn their lofty ambitions into reality?


You have probably already seen the bearded face of Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim and heard his bold statements of intent about City.

Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim and Pairoj Piempongsant
Abu Dhabi United Group signed a deal to buy the club on Sunday
The US-educated Dr Sulaiman is the public face of ADUG and negotiated their deal with City's Thai owners.

Dr Sulaiman runs a successful property development company called Hydra Properties and is often described as the "Donald Trump of Abu Dhabi".

This description is due as much to his love of the limelight as his business acumen.

He has been photographed with Hollywood stars such as Demi Moore and Leonardo di Caprio and is even the star of the Adu Dhabi reality TV show "Hydra Executives", in which he plays the Simon Cowell role in judging a host of budding property developers.

Amanda Staveley, who brokered the deal on behalf of current City owner Thaksin Shinawatra, is full of praise for Dr Sulaiman.

"He led negotiations and showed great determination and vision," she told BBC Sport. "He has pushed extremely hard to make sure this happened."

But although Dr Sulaiman is hugely independently wealthy, he is not the main man behind the extraordinary purchase of City.


One of Thaksin's key aides, who was involved in negotiations with ADUG, told BBC Sport: "Although Dr Sulaiman is the face of the new owners, Sheikh Mansour is the main player."

Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is a member of the royal family of Abu Dhabi, and his 19 brothers include the president and crown prince of the emirate.

He is married to Sheikha Manal bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, daughter of Dubai's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

The estimated wealth of the Al Nahyan family is an almost unimaginable $1 trillion (a thousand billion dollars) or more than 560bn.

Sheikh Mansour, a member of the federal cabinet in the United Arab Emirates and Minister of Presidential Affairs, is also politically influential.

And his love of sport has already led him to become chairman of Al Jazeera Football Club and the Emirates Horse Racing Authority.

Sheikh Mansour is essentially Dr Sulaiman's employer, providing the capital for Hydra Properties.


The Abu Dhabi royal family's wealth comes from oil, which was discovered in the emirate in 1958.

Sheikh Mansour is chairman of First Gulf Bank and of the International Petroleum Investment Company.

With the oil price surging recently, his family's wealth has been increasing massively by the day. Every time the price of a barrel of oil rises by $1, it is estimated Abu Dhabi gains as much as $500m (280m) a day.


Staveley says the purchase price for the Premier League club is "around if not above" 200m.

She confirmed this would buy the Abu Dhabi Group a 90% stake in City, with Thaksin retaining 10%.

Anil Bhoyrul, who broke the story about the purchase for, told BBC Sport: "200m is nothing for ADUG. Two days ago they announced a $60bn (34bn) building project in Dubai."


The senior City source said: "Sheikh Mansour wants to use City to help develop Abu Dhabi into the sporting capital of the Middle East."

There is intense rivalry to become the sports centre of the region, with Dubai, a smaller neighbour to Abu Dhabi, ahead in the race.

The International Cricket Council is based in Dubai, Tiger Woods' first golf course will be built there and its huge snow dome could host World Cup races.

Although Abu Dhabi is a stop for European Tour golf (like Dubai) and will be on Formula One's calendar next year, the ruling family is desperate to attract even more top-level sport.

This is part of a wider project to diversify the economy of the emirate and prepare it for the day when its oil reserves run out.

Cash is already siphoned off into sovereign wealth funds - government-controlled investment funds - to buy foreign assets. Recent purchases have included the Chrysler Building in New York and a 12% stake in Ferrari.

When the Arab investors decided they wanted to purchase a Premier League football club, Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool were also in their thoughts before they settled on City.

The Manchester club was the choice because Arsenal's major shareholders have collectively agreed not to sell to anybody in the near future, Newcastle were quoted at 400m and Liverpool were deemed poor value because of the need for a new stadium.


In July, Thaksin recruited Staveley, who runs a financial advisory company called PCP Capital Partners, to find fresh investors for the club.

Staveley said: "About three weeks ago an approach was made to Dr Thaksin (by ADUG).

"He had been receiving various approaches from other Gulf states and individuals who were keen to either acquire the club or go into partnership with him. His view was always to bring stability to the club and bring the best possible deal for the fans.

"Abu Dhabi have the right reputation in sport and a great track record of commercial sponsorship. He did not have to sell this club and he doesn't see it as selling out."


So far, there is no legally-binding agreement between Thaksin and ADUG.

A memorandum of understanding - basically a gentlemen's agreement - that a deal would take place was signed on Sunday. The deal will now be subject to about 10 days of due diligence, when ADUG will look at the City books.

Dr Sulaiman is already promising that City will become one of the major forces in European football.

We are going to be the biggest club in the world, bigger than both Real Madrid and Manchester United

Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim
"Our goal is to make this football club one of the best not just in England but also in the world," he told BBC Sport.

They have already beaten Chelsea to the signature of Brazilian star Robinho, by paying a British-record 32.5m transfer fee to Real Madrid.

The deal was brokered by Thaksin's right-hand man, Pairoj Piempongsant, from Abu Dhabi, and came as something of a surprise to Mark Hughes. City's boss played golf until 1800 BST on Monday before attending a charity dinner.

The prospective owners are promising to make even more of an impact in the January transfer window.

Speaking to, Dr Sulaiman revealed he had set his sights on Manchester United superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, Arsenal maestro Cesc Fabregas and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres.

"Ronaldo has said he wants to play for the biggest club in the world, so we will see in January if he is serious," said Dr Sulaiman.

"Real Madrid were estimating his value at $160m (90m) but for a player like that, to actually get him, will cost a lot more, I would think $240m (134m).

"But why not? We are going to be the biggest club in the world, bigger than both Real Madrid and Manchester United."

see also
Man City set sights on trophies
02 Sep 08 |  Man City
Man City beat Chelsea to Robinho
01 Sep 08 |  Man City
Arab group agrees Man City deal
01 Sep 08 |  Man City

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