Arrival of Al-Fahim offers City chance to bridge gulf in class

Middle Eastlands was the name Manchester City fans had coined for their ground last night. Dreamland might have been more appropriate.

The purchase of Shaun Wright-Phillips had provided some hint that financial salvation might be on its way, with £800m of Thaksin Shinawatra's cash frozen in Thailand, but when it was revealed early yesterday that Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim, an Abu Dhabi entrepreneur representing a member of that state's royal family, was to buy 90 per cent of Thaksin's shareholding for a sum just short of £210m, the club's landscape changed, perhaps irrevocably.

The appeal of the Premier League's riches to the Arab world meant that Abu Dhabi was not the only Gulf state to have been moving to take over from Thaksin in recent weeks. There had been a number of offers, including one from another state which was "quite far down the line", according to sources. But Al-Fahim appears to have been the key constituent in the deal. Thaksin, his chief of staff Pairoj Piempongsant and their advisers were particularly impressed by him so the deal was concluded with him. Thaksin might not be the most popular man in Manchester but the last choice he was empowered to make is one that the fans may come to thank him for, since Abu Dhabi's wealth dwarfs that of all other Gulf states.

Al-Fahim is certainly the man several Premier League clubs would dearly have liked to have had on board. He has been approached about possible 10 to 25 per cent stakes in Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle United but discussions never took place. "Those possibilities have never gone anywhere," he said. "The only team and offer that grabbed my mind was Manchester City." The irony will not be lost on supporters of Liverpool that City have been represented in the deal by London-based equity firm PCP and senior partner Amanda Staveley, who has worked relentlessly in the last six months to secure the hand-over of the club from Tom Hicks and George Gillett to Dubai International Capital, a similar investment company from the United Arab Emirates.

Though City's executive chairman Garry Cook clearly maintained two weeks ago that Thaksin was determined to maintain a majority shareholding in the club, it is now clear that he was resigned to a full sale.

The deal, which delivers "all management rights" to Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment, was concluded at the plush Abu Dhabi Emirates Place hotel where Thaksin met Al-Fahim on Sunday night. It removes Thaksin from any control at City, despite his continued status as board member and honorary chairman.

Al-Fahim insisted yesterday that he is not investing his own money but, to judge by the list of new players he has pursued, he appears to be the individual who will shape City's future while the royals – with their sovereign backed wealth, the safest form of debt guarantee available – remain in the background.

Al-Fahim, who expects to be in Manchester every other week and will meet Mark Hughes in London on Thursday, is certainly not one for the shadows himself . Aged 31, the new face of City is an individual with a penchant for the celebrity lifestyle, who was recently pictured in the company of Demi Moore, Charlie Sheen and others at a celebrity bash in Bel-Air. He was described by some in Abu Dhabi yesterday as a cross between Richard Branson and Donald Trump, but Branson and Alan Sugar seems more appropriate. He has enjoyed a starring role in his own Apprentice reality show which pitted two teams – one British, one American – against each other in property ventures for a $1m prize. A second series pitting Indians against Pakistanis airs in October.

Listed in Arabian Business Magazine's list of 100 most powerful Arabs a few years back, Al-Fahim started buying properties with his parents' money as a teenager and eventually founded the firm he leads, Hydra, which has built skyscrapers and golf complexes in the Gulf and has a five-star hotel on Mexico's Northern Pacific coast

Al-Fahim tried to make it as a footballer but fared better at chess, and was ranked at No 5 in the world at age nine. His football affinities have remained, though. He has taken his Hydra outfit into a joint venture with Internazionale which has seen the establishment of an Inter Football Academy in Abu Dhabi, with the aim of developing local talent. Al-Fahim has also ploughed money into the country's show jumping, chess and volleyball and he sponsored the UAE team at the Beijing Olympics. He and his backers appear to believe that the purchase of Manchester City will nurture a sporting culture in a nation which made one World Cup appearance, in 1990, and – at 104th in the world – is lurking around its lowest Fifa ranking .

There was something faintly touching about the investment company's attempts to demonstrate an affinity yesterday for a football club they clearly know little of. "It is noteworthy that the Manchester City Club was founded in 1880 under the name of St Marks, which was changed to Ardwick AFC in 1887," said its statement. "The Sixties and the Seventies might be the golden age ... with the team coached by Joe Mercer and with the assistance of Mr Malcolm Allison." But it is the riches of the Premier League which are the draw – the investors quoted its $3bn (£1.6bn) revenues – and though the recent history of foreign investment in the British game is littered with hollow promises there is at least some hope that the new owner will take a longer view than the last. "The culture out there is about family and generations," said one City source in London yesterday. "They think longer and that might make all the difference."

City's royal family: The Abu Dhabi interests behind £210m takeover

The Al-Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi are the key to Manchester City's new place in British football. A single member of the family has provided the finance, which has been channelled by their representative, Sulaiman Al-Fahim, into the £210m takeover.

The ruler of the Middle East state, Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, is said to be worth £13.3bn, some £2bn more than Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich.

Al-Fahim is clearly the figurehead and he alone will stage intitial discussions with City's manager, Mark Hughes, but the Al-Nahyans are expected to be a part of things at Eastlands as their ownership develops. They will not travel to Manchester during Ramadan, but are expected to do so soon afterwards.

The family are not entirely publicity-shy. One of their number has been reported to be dating the actress Pamela Anderson, though it is unclear which. (She allegedly calls him the "Milk-Sheik" or "Milk" for short).

The purchase of City is the latest attempt by Abu Dhabi to move into global business.

The government's investment vehicle, Mubadala, recently announced a joint venture with General Electric and has also bought a stake in Ferrari. Another company, part-owned by the Abu Dhabi operation recently bought a stake in the North Sea oilfields from Shell and Exxon Mobil.

Not all investments have been successful. There has been concern about the way that the UAE's Abu Dhabi Investment Authority has invested billions of dollars into banks stricken by the US subprime mortgage crisis. But it is anticipated that investment in Western companies will continue as Abu Dhabi continues to bask in the benefits of high oil prices as one of the world's largest crude oil exporters.

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past