Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan during the UEFA Champions League final match at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul.

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Manchester City’s UEFA Champions League Final win over Inter Milan was historic for many reasons.

It was the club’s first European triumph as they secured the famous treble following success in winning the English Premier League title and FA Cup this season.

It was also the first time a state-backed club had won Europe’s top trophy, with the English football club owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, brother of Mohammed bin Zayed, the third president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi. .

Manchester City’s victory, heavily backed by UAE money, comes as Saudi Arabia and Qatar look to increase their investment in the sport. In recent years, the Gulf states have been trying to use sports as a tool for economic diversification while trying to improve their international image.

Sheikh Mansour of the United Arab Emirates bought the club in 2008 and since then has spent more on transfers than any other club in world football. Data from the German website Transfermarkt.comwhich specializes in soccer transfers, estimates the club’s net transfer spending since 2008 has come to an eye-watering $1.64 billion, beating arch-rivals Manchester United by around $200 million over the same period.

The scale of the investment has drawn criticism, with human rights group Amnesty International saying the UAE’s spending represents one of the “boldest attempts to ‘sport’ eradicate” the country’s deeply tarnished image. A spokesman for the UAE Foreign Ministry did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

“The success that Manchester City is having is not just vanity, it’s not just economic,” Simon Chadwick, professor of sports and geopolitical economics at Skema Business School, told CNBC’s “Street Signs Europe” on Friday.

“But in terms of soft power, image reputation, national brand, I think that’s also important.”

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is another Gulf state trying to put sports in the spotlight. The sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, acquired a a majority stake in English football club Newcastle United in 2021.

It also funded the much-hyped LIV Golf before the shock merger he announced last week between the breakaway circuit and the US-based PGA Tour.

In recent weeks, the PIF has acquired a 75% stake in four of its country’s clubs with the aim of acquiring some of Europe’s best footballers.

Karim Benzema acknowledges fans as they are presented to the crowd during Karim Benzema’s official reception at King Abdullah Sports City on June 8, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

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Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema has signed a contract worth one reported 100 million euros ($107.7 million) per season with Al-Ittihad, while several other high-profile international players are being hotly speculated to be courting him.

In an interview with CNBC last week, PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan cited the kingdom’s young demographic as he outlined the kingdom’s sports strategy.

“In the past, I think eight, maybe five years ago, we’ve created different numbers of federations for every sport you can think of. So we’re interested in all of those sports, it’s not just golf or football or basketball, but it’s there are many other sports .”


Statue of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton standing outside Old Trafford, home of Manchester United in Manchester, England.

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Little-known royal Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad al-Thani has bid for the club, facing INEOS founder Jim Ratcliffe.

Should Qatar succeed with his reported Manchester United’s bid of $6.3 billion would be a major coup for the Middle Eastern nation, especially given the club’s storied past, global fan base and marketing appeal.

What will be next?

Regardless of who acquires Manchester United, the recent surge in interest in football clubs from Middle Eastern countries is unlikely to end anytime soon, according to Chadwick.

“I think what we’re going to see, what we’ve already seen over the last 20 years, but what we’re going to see again over the next 20 years, is continued investment in sports by these nations,” Chadwick said.

That’s “because it will help them diversify, but as we know there are other benefits,” he added.

Correction: This story has been updated with a current comparison of net spending between Manchester City and Manchester United. It has also been updated to reflect that QIA is not affiliated with QSI.

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