Saturday, 19 September 2009

David Conn on Abu Dhabi motivations

We are very lucky this week to have The Guardian's David Conn doing a big three part series on the Abu Dhabi takeover at City. Conn is an excellent journalist who writes very well about the internal operation of football clubs; it is no surprise that he has turned his attention to City.

I appreciate that I'm a few days with this - the first part was in Friday's paper - but I'm going to tackle them in the order they appeared. The first article focussed on Abu Dhabi itself, with a fascinating Khaldoon al-Mubarak interview, and the motivations behind the takeover. The common perception is that it was launched as a means to enhance the reputation and prestige of Abu Dhabi. And the association between the club and the emirate in the minds of many westerners is something that the chairman acknowledges:

"There is an appreciation of the association the club have with Abu Dhabi that we hold very dearly," Khaldoon, with calm, steady conviction, explained. "There is almost a personification of the club with the values we hold as Abu Dhabi, as Sheikh Mansour. These are loyalty, commitment, discipline, long-term thinking, respect, appreciation of history...

"We are acknowledging that how we are handling this project is telling a lot to the world about how we are," Khaldoon said. "The UAE is different from other Arab countries. People think the Arab world is one, but it is not. This is showing the world the true essence of who Abu Dhabi is and what Abu Dhabi is about. That is something new, something we didn't really plan for."

The interview gets more interesting later on, as Khaldoon suggests that this prestige by association dynamic was not in fact the driving force behind the takeover:

The reasons, he explained, were twofold. Mansour believes City will be an investment, worth even more than he will have spent on it, if built into a top European club. But primarily, Khaldoon said: "Sheikh Mansour is a huge football fan. There is an enjoyment, a pleasure, which comes from owning it."

This idea that after an initial burst of investment a club can be made profitable is one that is shared by Roman Abramovich. Insofar as there are precedents for what Abu Dhabi has done to City, Abramovich's Chelsea is the best one, and their attempts to become self-financing have seen the club's trophy acquisition slow down relative to the Mourinho years of the mid-2000s. But Sheikh Mansour is insistent that City can, in time, stop sucking in his money:

"Sheikh Mansour is an astute businessman, who believes you can create a value from football that has not yet been accomplished," Khaldoon explained. "There is a pure, football, emotional side to it, and a big business side, too. I think what attracted Sheikh Mansour was the great football journey, but also there is a business sense, that we can create a franchise, a business, over years, which will create value and reap a long term return."

Well, we'll see. Football clubs have a habit of resembling financial black holes, particularly those which are built up on large cash acquisitions of players. Even United and Arsenal, who have successful youth development programmes and managers committed to them still need to spend big money on players to succeed. I'm sure Sheikh Mansour and Khladoon have done the sums and everything, but I'd be surprised if we're returning much of that investment to Abu Dhabi for some time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its a thoughtfull well written article so far from a paper I laugh at for football coverage.
Its giving an insight into the owners motivation and background to the initial deal.
How typical that the muen do not have the will or news acuemen to have thought of it first a year or so after the takeover.
But whats new.........