City to test United with £135m bid for Ronaldo in January

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The Independent Online

Robinho will be propelled to the top of British football's pay league with a £160,000-a-week salary at Manchester City and, in a development which will not help those fans who feel the last 48 hours have been a dream, prospective owner Dr Sulaiman al-Fahim has now declared himself ready to test Cristiano Ronaldo with similar riches by launching a £120m bid in the next transfer window.

City's new signing flew to meet the club's manager, Mark Hughes, at Heathrow yesterday, before leaving to join his Brazil team-mates for the World Cup qualifiers against Chile on Sunday and Bolivia next Wednesday. But Fahim, who revealed that he would have signed both Robinho and Dimitar Berbatov had City's £34m bid for the latter been successful on Monday, was casting his mind ahead to January. "Ronaldo has said he wants to play for the biggest club in the world, so we will see in January if he is serious," Fahim said. "Real Madrid were estimating his value at $160m [£90m] but for a player like that, to actually get him, will cost a lot more, I would think $240m [£135m]. But why not?"

Fahim, who represents Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, also said City would become "bigger than Manchester United", though he was later more diplomatic. "I can't say we're necessarily going to be bigger than United because every club has the right to grow and might do so," he said.

The events of the summer show that United will have something to say about Ronaldo, and Fahim will soon discover that prising away Liverpool's Fernando Torres and Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas – also on his wishlist, he said – is not that easy. But the fact that Robinho has sailed into a salary £20,000 a week higher than Frank Lampard – Britain's previous highest-paid player – shows the threat City now pose to United, Chelsea and any other club. Thierry Henry and the Brazilian Ronaldo are also names Fahim is conjuring with for January. "We're not just going to spend money on anyone, but if we can get the biggest players in the world, and of course if the manager wants them, then we will get them," he said. Estimates put the Nahyan family fortune – derived from the oil discovered in Abu Dhabi in 1958 – at £555bn, which puts Roman Abramovich's £11.7bn into perspective.

Despite his lack of knowledge about the Premier League, Fahim has given no indication that he intends to use "super agents" like Kia Joorabchian or Jerome Anderson, as City's previous owner Thaksin Shinawatra did, to guide his spending. "I can't say," he said. "But when I meet Mark on Friday I will be looking to find out from him how that side of things should be run. I don't want to prejudice those discussions with him."

City fans are wondering what the catch is. In Fahim's Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) they have certainly come across the riches of the wealthiest of the Gulf states and one which, unlike inward-looking neighbouring Dubai, is inclined to spend the proceeds of booming oil prices overseas. ADUG, who are ready to lay out £500m on players, on top of £210m spent in buying out Thaksin, also appear impervious to any economic chill which might affect their spending power. "If the economy dipped by 10 per cent elsewhere it would be a disaster but not here,"said Anil Bhoyrul of ArabianBusiness.com, who broke the story of Fahim's purchase on Sunday.

Though Hughes will find the American-educated Fahim a more clubbable proprietor than Thaksin, he will soon know that the inordinate wealth heading his way has a health warning attached. The Arabs' two aims in purchasing City appear to putting their own Gulf state on the map and being No 1 in short time. Fourth in the table is not a place where they have the slightest desire to be.

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