The new Abu Dhabi-based owners of English Premier League club Manchester City have told the manager Mark Hughes that he will have £40 million (Dh264m) available for the purchase of new players in an attempt to establish the team among Europe's elite. News of yesterday's takeover, the first time that a Gulf based business group have assumed full control of an English Premier League club, set off a furious round of transfer speculation with City being linked with some of the world's leading players.
One of those names, Tottenham's Ditmar Berbatov, appeared to be on the brink of signing after Spurs accepted a club record bid by City for £30m. However, their near neighbours and main rivals Manchester United had not given up hope of signing the player themselves. Other players linked with the new Abu Dhabi-owned club included Newcastle striker Michael Owen, Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Valencia forward David Villa.
Dr Sulaiman al Fahim, who will sit on the Manchester City board on behalf of new owners, the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG) is to meet with Hughes in London to discuss future transfer targets following the takeover, said to be "considerably more" than the £81.6m paid by Thaksin Shinawatra just over a year ago. Fahim said that ADUG, a private investment company with extensive financial interests in Abu Dhabi, had targeted at least three to four high-profile footballers.
He refused to name figures involved in the company and insisted that he was just their public face. Fahim, who is the chief executive of Hydra Properties, said: "We want to have the best players at the club and we are already talking to some high-profile footballers about coming. We want at least one worldwide name and other leading names. I will be talking to the manager about making City one of the leading teams in Europe."
The new owners revealed that they have set a target of a top-four finish in the Premier League for Manchester City this season with ambitions to take part in the European Champions League the following year. Ironically for City, whose anthem is the song Blue Moon, their first match under the new Abu Dhabi based owners is next Saturday against Chelsea, one of whose sponsors are Etihad Airways. It is already being dubbed "the Abu Dhabi derby".
Dr Fahim revealed he had been successful in signing one player even before the takeover was announced yesterday. He added: "We managed to convince Shaun Wright-Phillips to sign from Chelsea, that was down to us." Wright-Phillips was in Abu Dhabi in June on a promotional visit when it is believed he held secret talks with Dr Fahim and was told of the proposed takeover by ADUG. He signed for Manchester City last week for £9 million.
Fahim added: "We want what is best for Manchester City and are already talking to other clubs about signing top players. "The takeover has just been completed but I am already drawing up a plan. We are looking at developing new players, sponsors and related business and increasing the profile of City not just within the Gulf but throughout the world." ADUG officials are hoping that the newly formed ties with Manchester City will also provide a major boost for football in the UAE.
It is widely anticipated that Abu Dhabi based clubs in particular will be able to tap into the expertise of Manchester City and coaches from the club will work with young Emirati players. There will also be regular tours of Manchester City youth teams to the capital to help improve the playing performances of local footballers. Fahim said: "Our idea is to support the youth in the UAE, and to help the talented players to play in the UK and Europe." firstname.lastname@example.org