ABU DHABI // The team led by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed in the takeover of Manchester City is preparing to introduce new directors to the board of the English Premier League club as it moves towards finalising a deal worth more than Dh1.3 billion (US$350 million). After a week of excited claims about the star players the newly enriched club might now try to recruit, Sheikh Mansour's private equity holding, Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG), is concentrating on a calmer, more structured approach to developing a team capable of challenging for football's highest honours.
Further investment in City's respected youth academy, measures to capitalise on the club's "incredible" fan base and a commitment to give wholehearted backing to the manager, Mark Hughes, are seen as key elements in ADUG's immediate plans, a source close to the ownership team said yesterday. The "due diligence" process that began with the announcement of the takeover eight days ago is expected to be completed next week, after which directors installed under the previous owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, former prime minister of Thailand, would be replaced by individuals considered more suited to the longer-term interests of the club.
The man associated most prominently in early coverage of the deal, Dr Sulaiman al Fahim, chief executive officer of Hydra Properties and a high-profile figure in the UAE business and sporting worlds, will not be a member of the newly constituted board, despite earlier reports to the contrary. However, the ownership team disputes suggestions in the western press that Dr Fahim has been "sidelined". "That implies that it was ever the intention that he should have a continuing role," said the ownership team source. "His involvement was to broker the deal, and having accomplished one of the fastest and smoothest acquisitions in Premier League history, we now see the need to establish a board with individuals appropriate to identifying and addressing the future requirements of the club."
Sheikh Mansour, for whom the investment is a private venture unconnected to the Government, which he serves as Minister of Presidential Affairs, has been told by his advisers that in Hughes, Manchester City have a manager with "outstanding man-management and motivational qualities, an amazing eye for talent and the ability to build a team to compete with the best". The youth academy is considered especially impressive. City's under 18s team won the FA Youth Cup last season and several products of the club's youth policy played during the recent emphatic victory, on the eve of the takeover announcement, at Sunderland.
"The importance of building further on the success of this part of the club simply cannot be overstated," the source said. "Do not forget that the most successful period of Manchester United's recent history was based to a large extent on graduates of their academy." The role of the academy has assumed greater significance since the deal, under which ADUG takes 90 per cent of the club's ownership with Thaksin retaining the remaining 10 per cent, Some observers claimed the process of feeding home-grown talent to the first team would be undermined as a procession of expensive new signings made it impossible for young players to break through.
Interest in City has soared since details of the takeover disclosed. Many hundreds of extra season tickets have been sold and the club's shop has reported a massive boost in takings, especially in replica shirt sales inspired by the record British signing of Real Madrid's Brazilian forward Robinho from under the noses of Chelsea. "The fan base is incredible," said the source. "They have given City support that is second to none, and this is seen as vital to the development of the club."
In the days following news of ADUG's purchase of the club, the ownership team became uneasy with extravagant talk of City plotting audacious bids for some of the best players in the world. The Man Utd and Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo, Liverpool's Spanish striker Fernando Torres and Arsenal's Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas were among the names mentioned by Dr Fahim. While huge funds are certain to be made available for Hughes to strengthen his squad, the ownership team has carefully distanced itself from such speculation, and from reports confusing the private takeover the club with the Government.
"In Abu Dhabi, we prefer to go about business in an understated, pragmatic and patient manner," the source said. "Brashness is simply not our natural game." Sheikh Mansour is expected to become more publicly associated with the ownership of the club once due diligence has been concluded. On Saturday, City host Chelsea in what is being billed as "the Abu Dhabi Derby", given Chelsea's sponsorship by Etihad Airways, but he considers it would be inappropriate to attend Eastlands, City's stadium, before the deal is formalised.