THE PREMIER LEAGUE would be all but powerless to prevent Saudi Arabia investing in Manchester United.
Critics of the Saudi government, which is currently embroiled in the scandal of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi, are horrified at the idea of the oil-rich Gulf state buying into English football.
But the Premier League would ultimately have to follow the lead of the British government.
And despite the present situation, it is highly unlikely the authorities would block Saudi investment in football or, indeed, any other business sector.
English football has an owners and directors test which Premier League and Football League apply to their member clubs in addition to UK company law.
But blocking an individual or entity who would otherwise be permitted to invest in UK-based company would open up the leagues to legal action.
The Khashoggi case means any progress with the Saudi interest in United will have to be kept under wraps for the sake of appearances, but nothing more.
The biggest obstacle is the attitude of the Glazer family to selling all or some of their stake in United.
The club, as usual, denied it was for sale in the wake of SunSport’s story about Saudi interest led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
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But City sources indicate that, on more than one occasion in the recent past, bankers were made aware that the Glazers were prepared to consider welcoming co-investors.
If the Saudis want to take on Middle East rivals Qatar and the UAE on the football pitch, as sources claim, they will ultimately want control of United.
They might be willing to have a minority stake and commercial tie-ups initially, but not in the long term.
And the Glazers would need a very good reason to give up their cash cow completely.
Although the Premier League’s domestic media rights are no longer rising in value, overseas revenue is still going up and United’s huge commercial operation has room for more growth yet.
On the other hand, the capacity to increase United’s revenues from last season’s record £590m is not limitless and some Glazer family members are more interested in football – as opposed to pure money – than others.
The possibility of a windfall payment, which would clear the debt the Glazers put on the club to buy it in the first place and leave about £500m for each of the six Glazer children, could tempt one or more of them to sell.
The four major institutional investors in Manchester United plc, which is floated on the New York Stock Exchange, could also put pressure on the Glazers if they believed a buyer was ready to pounce.
Baron Capital Group Inc, Lindsell Train Limited, Lansdowne Partners Limited and Jupiter Asset Management Limited own more than 73 per cent of the publicly-available “A”shares between them.
In theory, they could ask the Glazers to listen to an offer from Saudi Arabia or elsewhere.
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If the family refused to play ball, their co-investors could threaten to sell large volumes of shares, driving down the price and therefore the overall value of the club.
But the six Glazer children own over 98 per cent of the “B”shares between them.
Each B share has 10 times the voting rights of an “A” share, so the family has a very firm grip on the world’s biggest and richest football club.
If the Glazers gave Saudi investment in United or a takeover the green light, the UK government and English football would probably be unwilling and unable to stop it.