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Who Owns Manchester City? Meet Sheikh Mansour

If Roman Abramovich's 2003 purchase of Chelsea FC introduced English football to a new

generation of billionaires, the 2008 purchase of Manchester City by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed

al Nahyan introduced the game to its first family

of trillionaires.

The purchase by Mansour's Abu Dhabi United Group, from previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra,

was – to be charitable – something of a circus.

Thaksin, who had just had his assets frozen after

being removed from power in Thailand by a military coup, was desperate to sell.

And there was one man willing to buy and quickly.

Although there was initially some confusion as to who that was.

The face of the deal was Sulaiman al Fahim, a brash, young Emirati real estate

developer who played the Donald Trump character on a

local version of The Apprentice.

His catch phrase wasn't “you're fired” but “impress me”.

Many assumed he was the new owner and few were, indeed, very impressed.

He boasted that City would sign the best players in the world, including Cristiano Ronaldo

and said: “I always feel like I'm a kind of bulldozer,

a fully insured bulldozer.

If nobody likes it, it starts moving – even if there are cars in its way,

it has to crush the cars and move.

I can't stop.

If I have an idea, I have to do it."

It was quickly made clear he was merely a broker for the deal, and was removed shortly

after the purchase.

He was replaced by the bookish Emirati Khaldoon al Mubarak, who is, today, the

chairman.

Al Fahim would later emerge as one of a slew of new owners at Portsmouth that would eventually

bring the club close to extinction.

His 42 day long tenure of Pompey was described by the Guardian

as “not only the shortest but surely the most ill-fated tenure in Premier League history.”

But at Manchester City in 2008 an orgy of transfer spending had begun.

Within hours of completing the take over Brazilian international Robinho

was signed for £32 million, hours before the transfer

deadline was to shut.

More was, of course, to follow.

Well over £1 billion was spent on transfers before this summer's transfer window.

In 2011, and with UEFA beginning to implement its Financial

Fair Play rules – instigated in part because of the spend

happy regimes of Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour – City made the largest single season loss

in the history of English football, £197 million

But little was known about Sheikh Mansour, other than he was a senior royal from the

United Arab Emirates.

He has never given an interview in the UK and has only attended one Manchester City

home game in 9 years.

Even less was known about his motives.

In the statement he released when buying the club he said: “In cold business

terms, Premiership football is one of the best

entertainment products in the world and we see this as a sound business investment."

But that made little sense given the relatively small figures involved in the football business.

After all, according to the FT, he made a £1.46

billion profit – through the International Petroleum

Investment Company – in a matter of months after investing £2 billion to help bail out

Barclays Bank during the 2008 financial crisis.

What we do know is that Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan is one of the most powerful

and influential figures of the ruling Abu Dhabi

royal family, if not the whole Middle East.

Abu Dhabi is the largest and richest emirate of the United

Arab Emirates, a federation of seven royal families

which was formed in 1971 by Mansour's father Sheikh Zayed.

Abu Dhabi holds most of the oil, and therefore most of the power.

According to OPEC, the UAE oil reserve stands at close to a billion

barrels.

Well over 90 per cent is found in Abu Dhabi.

Mansour is one of the “Bani Fatima”, the six sons that Sheikh Zayed fathered with his

favourite wife.

The six hold an elevated position in Emirati society.

His brother is Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the UAE crown prince who controls the

military and the internal security apparatus.

Little is known of his early life, but a 2006 US State department cable, released by Wikileaks,

gave some biographical information when he came

on to their radar after being promoted to the UAE

cabinet.

“ He is Deputy Chairman of the Sheikh Zayed Charitable Foundation, and Chairman of the

International Petroleum Investment Corporation.

Mansour was an English student at Santa Barbara Community College in 1989.

He speaks English well, but his academic record was poor.”

He was appointed to key positions of state in his early 30s.

In 2004 he was appointed Minister of Presidential Affairs of the United Arab Emirates,

an important position that, as the US intelligence community noted at the time, effectively made

him the “gatekeeper” to the then ailing President

Sheikh Zayed.

In 2009 he was appointed a deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

He also held strategically important roles in the business world, and was appointed chairman

of the IPPC, one of the largest sovereign wealth

funds in the UAE.

Back then, the UAE presented itself as an open minded, liberal, reformist presence in

a troubled region; a safe place to do business and holiday.

But the truth was and is very different.

The UAE has virtually zero democracy, repressive freedom

of speech laws and uses the kafala system of sponsorship for its migrant population.

90% of the UAE's population are migrants, the vast majority poorly paid construction

workers, drivers and maids for India, Pakistan and

Bangladesh who are paid a pittance and live in miserable

conditions.

Whilst Qatar and the 2022 World Cup has drawn a lone overdue focus on the treatment of migrant

workers in the Middle East, few realise that for many activists and human rights organisations

the problem is bigger, and worse, in the UAE.

“Workers are effectively working in conditions of forced

labour,” Human Rights Watch wrote in an early report on the treatment of migrant workers.

Today, Sheikh Mansour's initial purchase has morphed into something bigger.

City Football Club now owns or holds significant stakes in clubs

across the world: New York City FC, Melbourne City

FC, Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay, 20% of Yokohama F Marinos in Japan and just under

half of Spanish side Girona, which they own alongside

Pep Guardiola's brother.

Mansour also owns Al Jazira in the UAE, although this isn't part

of CFG.

In 2015, CFG sold a 13 per cent stake to China Media Capital.

A few months earlier, Chinese Premier Xi Jingping had visited Manchester

City's training complex and had a selfie taken with

Sergio Aguero and then prime minister David Cameron.

For the likes of Human Rights Watch, the purchase of Manchester City as well as CFG's stable

of ​ clubs, is little more than “reputation laundering.”

“ Buying a club buys you cheap advertising space to promote your brands ‒ from airlines,

to tourism, to construction companies ‒ it

also buys you leverage with the press, who need access to

your players and your stadium, and it allows you to talk breezily about Abu Dhabi values

and draw people ’s attention away from the fact that

your record on human rights is grim and worsening,” said Human Rights Watch's Nicholas McGeehan.

It is true that hundreds of millions of pounds have have been spent on the club's academy

and rebuilding parts of East Manchester.

And some changes have been made to UAE law on the issue of

migrant workers – even though few have seen any meaningful change on the ground.

But the question remains: can the actions of a state really be separated from one of

the politicians responsible for them, even if they are a billionaire

who brings glory to your club?

For Iyad el Baghdadi, an entrepreneur and activist who was born and raised in, and later

deported from, the UAE for translating videos relating

to the Arab Spring, it is impossible to separate the

two.

“ The majority of these figures could not have become independently rich if it wasn’t

for them being royals in an oil-rich absolute monarchy ... So

no, the wealth of the ruling family definitely cannot

be described as “private” wealth.”

The results on the pitch and around the Etihad stadium in Manchester have been stunning.

Since Sheikh Mansour's takeover Manchester City

have won two Premier League titles and are now

regulars in the UEFA Champions League.

Reputation laundering, profit, ego; whatever the real reason for Sheikh Mansour to purchase

Manchester City there's no denying that he has transformed the club into one of the world's

biggest.

But at what cost?