Somebody is trying to buy my beloved Tottenham Hotspur. That might not seem big news for the UAE, where if the football is not related to Manchester City or that other club that begins with A, it rarely gets a look-in.
But last Saturday at the Radisson Blu hotel in Dubai’s Media City – the home of the official UAE Tottenham Hotspur supporters’ club – watching Spurs throw away two points in a draw with Sunderland, it was the only topic of conversation.
Would the takeover bid, suggested to be worth as much £1 billion (Dh5.94bn) succeed? Would the new owners be better than the regime of the Bahamas-based billionaire Joe Lewis and his sidekick Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman?
This dynamic duo has had 13 years to get it right at Spurs, and apart from one scintillating season in European Champions League a few years back, we still seem to be plodding along behind the EPL thoroughbreds, especially the team that begins with A.
The consensus from the gathering, I think, was that we’d had enough of the two Ls, and if the new owners were prepared to put some serious investment in the club – in players and a new ground – we’d welcome them in at White Hart Lane.
Those are two big ifs, of course.
But there are good reasons why non-Spurs fans in the UAE should be taking an interest in the progress of the “bid”, which by UK takeover law has until October 10 to materialise, or must disappear.
The bidder is a newly formed company called Cain (no relation) Hoy. You won’t have heard of that, but Abu Dhabians in particular will have heard of the illustrious organisation which is behind it.
The Guggenheim organisation, no less, is a minority but significant investor in Cain Hoy. Guggenheim, is of course, building the magnificent museum on Saadiyat Island – even though the link between the Guggenheim Foundation and Guggenheim Capital (the CH backer) is now in the dim and distant past.
The other reason AD folk will want to keep an eye on the Tottenham bid is that Guggenheim Capital – which has a staggering $210bn under management – recently formed a strategic joint venture with KBBO, the well-connected investment firm run by Khalifa Butti bin Omeir, a leading light in the Abu Dhabi investment scene.
It’s by no means impossible, but also by no means a certainty, that some of the funds raised by that joint venture could end up in the bid for Tottenham. Intriguing.
I seriously doubt that Abu Dhabi would want any kind of high-profile, active role in a Spurs takeover, given the massive and successful investment in City. But the Tottenham bid is as much a property as a sports deal, and UAE investors know a lot about property.
Moreover, I can reveal that the idea of a UAE involvement in Tottenham is certainly something that has been discussed before.
I recently had a conversation with a member of a senior Dubai business family (it was off the record, so no names) who had done some business with the UK businessman and TV personality Lord Sugar. Before he was ennobled, plain Alan Sugar was owner and chairman of Tottenham for … too long.
The Dubai man told me: “As we shook hands on a big property deal, Lord Sugar asked me if I was interested in buying a football club as well. I just laughed, and assumed he was joking.”
Maybe so, maybe not. The football club is no longer his to sell, but perhaps he was doing a bit of advance marketing for Mr Lewis and Mr Levy.
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