Big-dreaming Qatar may have eyes for Man United

A purchase of Manchester United by Qatar is just rumour at present, but it would be no surprise if the nation that got the 2022 FIFA World Cup wants to own that storied team.

Manchester United may be the next target for acquisition by a Gulf fund after the purchase of Manchester City.
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A purchase of Manchester United by Qatar is just rumour at present, but it would be no surprise if the nation that got the 2022 FIFA World Cup wants to own that storied team
As recently as five years ago, only a dreamer would have suggested that a derby match involving Manchester United and Manchester City might be contested as much as a trial of sporting strength between Gulf states as a contest to establish footballing ascendancy in northwestern England.
But who, back then, would have given Qatar a chance of mounting a successful bid to stage the FIFA World Cup?
Who, indeed, would have thought that Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, a senior member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family, would buy the less successful of those Manchester clubs with the aim of turning it into a world-beater?
With the region wielding significant influence in all matters of business, including the business of sport, it is hardly surprising - amid broad acknowledgement that the Glazer family will at some point sell Manchester United - that Qatar should be tipped as a possible buyer.
When any business reveals itself to have an acquisitive nature, it expects to be linked with a stream of possible investments and takeovers. When that business also happens to be a small but prosperous country with a clear mission to build a powerful international portfolio of interests, the speculation inevitably intensifies.
Qatar Holding, which would be involved in any Manchester United deal as the acquisitions arm of the sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority, prefers to keep a low profile on proposed investments until they become reality.
The corporation's UK publicists, Pelham Bell Pottinger, could offer no guidance as football pundits and financial analysts talked up the prospect of a takeover bid.
But a glance at what is already known of Qatar's asset-building adventures reveals an impressive list of holdings that extends from car manufacture and supermarkets to financial institutions and upmarket shopping.
It is impossible to escape the thought that an investment authority that already owns London's most famous store, Harrods, would be a logical contender in any sale of the country's most famous football club.
When Qatar Holding bought a 9.1 per cent stake in the German construction group Hochtief, Pelham Bell Pottinger described its client as a "world-class investment corporation", established as partner of choice for investors, financiers and other stakeholders. Further additions, it went on, were envisaged to a portfolio of investments that had grown to include the Agricultural Bank of China, Barclays, Canary Wharf Group, Credit Suisse, Harrods Group, Hassad Food Co, J Sainsbury, London Stock Exchange, Lagardere, Porsche, Qatar Exchange, Qatar Telecom, Qatar National Bank, Banco Santander and Volkswagen.
An executive of Pelham Bell Pottinger gave a rare display of passion when saying the Qataris were "very thrilled" with the purchase of a stake in the Brazilian bank Santander, a division of the major Spanish lender Santander, of only 5 per cent as this represented a first move into the continent's financial life.
Dr Hussain Ali al Abdulla, the vice chairman of Qatar Holding, observed that the acquisition accomplished this year's objective of increasing exposure to fast-growing emerging markets after earlier investment in China. "This will further diversify our portfolio's geographical coverage, this time to Latin America," he said. If geographical reach can diversify, so can Qatar's engagement in top-class sport.
An unidentified Middle East financial observer has been quoted in the British media as saying of the rumours of a bid for Manchester United: "Now they have landed the 2022 World Cup, the country wants to expand its influence in the game across the globe."
But the gas-rich state has clearly devoted boundless energy to identifying new investment opportunities in whatever field of human endeavour they occur. Qatar would raise no eyebrows now if it used its financial muscle to exploit the Glazers' reportedly weakening attachment to a club whose fans have never warmed to their presence.