Football’s own Middle Eastern revolution

Manchester City Owner Sheikh MansourForeign owners are common in the Premier League these days, whether its Roman Abramovich at Chelsea, the Glazers at Manchester United or Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, English teams have increasingly become the playthings of the rich and famous. The current trend suggests that there will be an influx of Middle Eastern owners, which could mark the end of American investment in the Premier League.

There was a time when it seemed as if most of the Premier League sides were destined to end up in the hands of wealthy American owners. The Glazer’s blazed a trail with their takeover of Manchester United, and many of their countrymen were quick to follow them to the English game. However, that trend seems to have slowed down of late, and all the talk-or rumours-of foreign takeovers seems to be coming from the Middle East.

The Glazer’s seem to be looking for a way out, and Manchester United are continually linked with a sale to the Qatari royal family. They have snubbed their offers in the past, but with market conditions looking extremely volatile, they could be tempted should a new deal be brought to the table. If the deal were to go ahead it could give United the same kind of spending money as Man City, and would raise questions about whether anyone else in the league could compete with this type of investment.

Cash from the Gulf has already begun to transform the look of the game, and has changed the fortunes of clubs across Europe from the likes of Malaga and PSG, to Anzhi Makhachkala and of course Manchester City. The flow of cash to clubs with little, or no history of previous success, is turning football upside down. The incredible investment in Manchester City by the Abu Dhabi group in 2008 has changed the footballing landscape forever.

Manchester City’s owners seem to have done a good job and appear to have solidified the partnership between the Premier League and the Middle East. They have managed to attract the biggest names, pay the biggest wages, secure massive transfer deals and made promises to invest in ensuring the regeneration of the local area and the future of the club. This has now become the blueprint for Premier League ownership and it seems that there is little that many outside the Middle East can do to compete. Whilst this is great if your club is taken over by Middle Eastern owners, we have to bear in mind the new Uefa Financial Fair Play rules which begin in 2013-14. It remains to be seen what sort of impact the regulations will have on this type of ownership, but they are supposed to cut the ability of clubs to rely on wealthy benefactors.

Whatever nation the owners of Premier League clubs come from, one problem they continue to add to is the  problems of debt within the Premier League, which continue to spiral out of control. The concern with foreign owners is that they will swan in and be quick to take their money out of the club as quickly as possible, negative examples like Hicks and Gillette and-despite the trophy haul-the Glazers do not help this image. So far Manchester City’s owners have acted honourably and professionally, but it remains to be seen if the Middle Eastern owners will be here to stay.

The Arab era of investment shouldn’t signal the end of American investment in the Premier League, the likes of Randy Lerner and Ellis Short have done well at their respective clubs and shown that most American’s do know how to run sports teams on this side of the pond. The Premier League allows clubs and therefore sponsors access to a global market, and it offers the owners a chance to acquire a well known, truly global, sports brand. If this globalisation of the Premier League continues then more clubs can expect to fall into foreign hands, and in the search to stay competitive it is more and more likely that these investors will be from the Middle East, as even the American’s begin to fall behind.

This season could be the breakthrough one for the Gulf owned clubs, and signal whether it is their intent to stay. The Premier League grew used to the influx of American owners at several of its top clubs, but the arrival of the Gulf has shepherded in a new era that even the American’s and Roman Abramovich don’t seem to be able to compete with.

Do you think Middle Eastern investment is likely to end American investment in the Premier League? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below or following me on Twitter @LaurenRutter for more comment and debate.

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