In the summer of 2008, City were bought by Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s Abu Dhabi based consortium, The Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG). A member of the Abu Dhabi Nahyan Royal Family, Mansour is inconceivably wealthy and his takeover transformed City from a club on the verge of financial collapse to the richest football club in the world in the blink of an eye. Four-and-a-half years later, City have ended their 35 year wait for a trophy, are Premier League Champions and have an enviable infrastructure with unlimited funds. City fans have craved success for years and have finally tasted it thanks to Mansour. That said, not everything is quite as wonderful as it seems which begs the question: what is wrong with Sheikh Mansour?
The Nayhan Royal Family has ruled Abu Dhabi since the 1700s and in the last 100 years has come to own 10% of the world’s known crude oil reserves. As a consequence, they literally have more money than they know what to do with. Of the 5 million population of Abu Dhabi, the Nayhan’s wealth equates to $50,000 per head but as the distribution of their vast wealth is fiercely unequal, only 440,000 of the population access it.
Abu Dhabi’s, and indeed the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE), wealth is best personified by the huge cities with enormous sky scrapers, like the capital of Abu Dhabi of the same name, that have seemingly sprung up out of nowhere. The construction of these mega cities is and was largely undertaken by migrant workers from South Asia and expatriates who account for 80% of the population and are paid relative pittance, if at all. Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi migrant workers are often coerced to sign contracts agreeing to be paid less than what they agreed before they arrived. Couple this with totalitarian control of religion, allegations of human trafficking, restricted women’s rights and the imprisonment of political protesters and the image is not pretty.
As far as the takeover of City is concerned, the portrayal of Abu Dhabi to City supporters, Great Britain and indeed the Western world is one of a generous, forward thinking and modern nation. Unsurprisingly, the aforementioned human rights issues slip under the radar. Mansour is acutely aware that the country’s wealth cannot be sustained on oil reserves that will eventually run out. It is in his interest to invest money in projects across the world, such as City, to ensure the financial security of Abu Dhabi long into the future.
At the front of it all is City Chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Mansour’s trusted confidant carrying out the wishes of his superior with a veneer of class and professionalism. Admittedly, it is hard not to be impressed by him. The 33-year-old, educated at the Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States, speaks with a calm assertiveness which commands respect and exudes knowledge. As well as his role at City, Al Mubarak is Chief Executive of the Mubadala Development Company, a government investment fund which has more than £6 billion assets in property, aerospace and other industrial sectors. He is also Chairman of the Executive Affairs Authority, a public body that advises the emirate’s Executive Council, effectively Abu Dhabi’s government, on the country’s long-term strategy and the image it presents to the world. More recently, he was a key figure in bringing the F1 Grand Prix to Abu Dhabi.
Now that City have a successful football team, an enviable overhauled world class infrastructure, and owners with an apparent keenness to understand and appreciate the values of Manchester City, it is little wonder fans are in awe of Sheikh Mansour and Abu Dhabi. From the outset, Al Mubarak fashioned a link between Abu Dhabi culture and City’s culture to tighten that bond. He said “There is an appreciation of the association the club have with Abu Dhabi that we hold very dearly. 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.” He went onto say: “This is showing the world the true essence of who Abu Dhabi is and what Abu Dhabi is about.” Indeed, the manner in which the takeover and subsequent investment have been handled is mightily impressive but it is hard to ignore the whole truth.
With Abu Dhabi’s human rights record in mind, I feel something of moral dilemma. After all, City’s previous owner, Thaksin Shinawatra, also had an atrocious human rights record but most supporters, including myself, were happy to cast aside their moral issues such was the desperation for success and it doesn’t seem to be much difference this time around. Of course, City have achieved true success under Mansour and he runs the club professionally whereas Shinawatra didn’t do either. But is that really enough? Ultimately, there is no choice in the matter. Mansour is there whether I like it or not.
Written by Robert Toole