The Sunday Mirror today reports that Qatar Holdings “an investment vehicle for the Qatari Royal Family” is prepared to make a £1.5 billion bid for Manchester United. The story, not far removed from the realms of speculation, suggests that the family will add United to its portfolio of investments, including Harrods and Chelsea Barracks.
However, it is clear that Qatar is using football to establish credibility and a global profile for the country that has grown rich on natural gas exports over the past decade. Qatar ‘won’ the rights to the FIFA 2022 World Cup recently and established a £125 million five-year sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona.
But even if the takeover happens there are serious questions to be answered. Despite the vast wealth that the Qatar Royal Family could bring to United, including wiping out all debt and handing Sir Alex Ferguson a large transfer budget according to the Mirror, the country has a patchy record on human rights. According to human rights reports forced labour and the death penalty are common in an absolute monarchy with effectively no democracy. Homosexuality is also illegal.
To date the Glazer family has shown no indication that it is likely to sell United. However, speculation that the Qatari’s have already effectively invested in United by paying down the Payment-in-Kind (PIK) loans has grown recently. The Glazers paid off the £243 million loans last month but have not confirmed how they raised the money. However, the Premier League has not been notified of any change of ownership at the club and no confirmation of this speculation has been established.