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Sheffield United: Could Saudi Arabia use Bramall Lane as a vehicle to promote itself on the world stage?

HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
HRH Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud''� BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, an ambitious plan aimed at diversifying the Kingdom’s economy, could shed light on HRH Prince Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s plans for Sheffield United if he gains sole control of the Championship club.

The GSA has been charged with implementing many of the footballing reforms required by the 2030 blueprint, including the privatisation of Saudi Premier League (SPL) clubs such as Al-Hilal where Prince Abdullah was chairman between 2002 and 2004. Other measures include protecting intellectual property rights across the SPL and identifying lost revenue streams. Sela Sports, a marketing company based in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, last year met with Al-Hilal’s board of directors to discuss ways of developing their business opportunities after agreeing a deal to oversee the SPL giant’s commercial rights.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammad bin Salman is greeted by Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammad bin Salman is greeted by Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Intriguingly, Prince Abdullah’s attempt to purchase McCabe’s 50 per cent shareholding in United comes at a time when Saudi Arabia is attempting to become a key player in world football. This, in turn, has prompted some observers to speculate whether Bramall Lane could eventually become an instrument to further their ambitions if Prince Abdullah is successful. One Middle Eastern analyst has suggested it is only a matter of time before the Kingdom acquires a stake, possibly through its Public Investment Fund, in a team overseas.

Although reports the next Serie A Super Coppa, between Juventus and Milan, would be staged in Saudi Arabia proved to be false, investors from Riyadh are backing a proposed $25b revamp of the Club World Cup while Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of Vision 2030, is expected to attend the World Cup opening ceremony in Russia next week. Saudi Arabia face the host nation at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, on Thursday.

Prince Abdullah launched his bid to takeover United in January; nearly five years after paying a nominal sum for half of their parent company Blades Leisure Limited (BLL) in return for various financial guarantees. The official statement United published to reveal talks were taking place stated this had come “in response” to “a process commenced” by one of McCabe’s companies.

It also confirmed the agreement governing the two men’s partnership included a provision requiring the transfer of United property interests “in certain circumstances.” These include the leaseholds of the Steelphalt Academy training complex, Copthorne Hotel and youth development centre at Crookes, together with the freehold of their home stadium. Four months later, and with discussions between Prince Abdullah and McCabe still on-going, it remains unclear if the valuation of these assets is a potential sticking point.

Sheffield United director Yusuf Giansiracusa: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Sheffield United director Yusuf Giansiracusa: Simon Bellis/Sportimage

Prince Abdullah was reappointed to BLL’s board, alongside his personal lawyer Yusuf Giansiracusa, in August last year. Two advisors, Saad Al-Lazeez and Abdullah Alghamdi, have also immersed themselves in United’s day-to-day operations.

Sheffield United co-owner Kevin McCabe

Sheffield United co-owner Kevin McCabe