2020欧洲杯体育投注开户

Special report: The complex relationship between Saudi Arabia and UAE that could soon shape the Premier League

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户 Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed share a surprising bond but Saudi owners might not be everything Newcastle fans dream of

Mansour bin Zayed attends closing ceremony of Mohamed bin Salman Camel Festival
Mansour bin Zayed attends closing ceremony of Mohamed bin Salman Camel Festival Credit:  Hassan Al Menhali for the Ministry of Presidential Affairs

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In spring 2015, as Manchester City were being pipped to the Premier League title by Chelsea, the club's Abu Dhabi ruling family fixed eyes on a new project closer to their home.

Crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the elder brother of City owner Sheikh Mansour, surprised diplomats by inviting Saudi Arabia's new minister of defence, Mohammed bin Salman, for a weekend hunting with falcons.

The wide-eyed Saudi, then aged just 29, was a B-list royal compared to 54-year-old bin Zayed, the Middle East's most influential power broker. Yet, as they camped under the stars on the UAE-Saudi border, the two men formed a useful bond. MBZ - described by one expert as "the ultimate Machiavellian" -  was sowing the seeds that would lead to Saudi dramatically aligning the oil-rich and ultraconservative nation with its smaller and more liberal neighbour.

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Five years on, these allies of the Arabic world might have been on opposing sides today in the unlikely setting of the FA Cup. Sources close to a potential Saudi takeover at Newcastle had earmarked the encounter against UAE-owned Man City as a potential first match of the new regime. However, deliberations at Premier League HQ continue, leaving impulsive young bin Salman waiting a few more days at least for a chance to emulate the man observers describe as his "mentor". 

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户"I would say MBZ had a very important role to play in the making of MBS, along with his father," says Andreas Krieg, political risk analyst and professor at King’s College London. "From then on there was this mentor relationship where MBS looks up to MBZ for guidance and has done so ever since."

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Prof Krieg said MBZ had received an intelligence report in 2014 that MBS was destined for the top. By June 2017, the charm offensive paid off: his protege became Saudi crown prince following King Salman's decision to depose Muhammad bin Nayef.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammad bin Salman Credit: PA

The camping trips with MBZ, his older brother figure, continued and at least one meeting took place on the Seychelles, both arriving at the luxury islands on their yachts. "MBZ has been cultivating MBS now for half a decade," says Ahmed Gatnash, co-founder of the Kawaakibi Foundation for greater liberties in Muslim communities. "They have very similar ways now. The same hawkish views, the same propensity for military conflict - this attitude that most problems can be solved by throwing large amounts of money at them. The UAE has been very successful in developing a global brand and MBS since coming to power thinks this is the path he needs to take."

The murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been disastrous for his efforts to earn new Western allies, but MBS has pressed ahead with dramatic reform in his attempts to modernise Saudi, and diverse his economy away from oil. He has stood with UAE on a number of domestic and foreign adventures, including regional conflicts such as the Yemen war and blockade on Qatar. Then came MBS's extraordinary ambition to build an equivalent of Dubai from scratch - the 10,230 square mile Neom development that will cost Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund at least £400 billion pounds.

Now, of course, comes his Keeping Up With The Joneses attempt to embark on Premier League football club ownership. A potential £300million takeover has already caused bitter division, with criticism from Amnesty over Saudi's human rights record and a damning World Trade Organisation report on the country's role in allowing the multi-billion piracy theft of Qatar-based broadcaster BeIN Sports.

However, many Newcastle fans appear willing to welcome the Saudi cash bonanza. Nobody can be worse than Mike Ashley, surely? Those monitoring MBS's movements are not so certain. Saudi's Public Investment Fund (PIF) is among the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, with total estimated assets of almost £300billion, but few are expecting resources to match the £1.3billion that MBZ's family have used to transform Man City into a European superpower.

Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed  Credit: Reuters

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户"A club like Newcastle needs root and branch renewal and that would come at a really bad time for Saudi," says Gatnash. "I don't think Newcastle will get what they hope for. The Saudis have been cutting salaries by 30 percent, including doctors. They don't have the money to go around at the moment. They are struggling and his track record shows MBS is brash."

Gatnash cites an International Monetary Fund report in February that the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf face a budget reckoning within 15 years as oil demand nears peak levels

"It was looking at long term trends and this happened before the oil crash and the pandemic so suddenly the forecast is looking very optimistic," Gatnash added. "MBS knows this because ever since he came to power he's been the one making these moves because he's been saying 'we have to diversify the economy - we have to get out of oil'. There have been attempts to privatise to generate cash elsewhere and that's what worries me about the Newcastle saga. He talks a big game but at the end of the day he just goes back to the same old way of doing things, which is excessive spending, polishing his own brand and showing off. It can go wrong."

Prof Krieg agrees, describing MBS as a "very young, impulsive character who doesn't really understand how to run a Government or a state" as he rushes through attempts to transform Saudi from a "very autocratic police state, second to only Iran or North Korea".

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Subject to pending Premier League approval in the coming days, Saudi’s Public Investment Fund would take an 80 per cent stake in the club, with Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi Public investment fund, in line to be nominated chairman of Newcastle. Middle East sources confirmed Al-Rumayyan is in the crown prince's "inner circle" and described the key advisor as a calmer, more experienced hand than MBS. "The Saudis are actually the most passionate about football in the Gulf," said Prof Krieg. Amanda Staveley’s PCP Capital Limited, meanwhile, will take 10 per cent with the final 10 per cent being acquired by one of Britain’s wealthiest families, the Reuben Brothers.

For UAE, meanwhile, and the owners of Man City, there is a strategic advantage to seeing Saudi attempt the same foreign adventures, but failing: it makes them look good. "There is real instability in Saudi whereas the UAE are very good financial planners," Gatnash added. "They built this over 40 years in the middle of the desert and they now have substantial non-oil-related incomes. Saudi doesn't, however, and yet they are entering this long-term project at Newcastle."

Bill Law, a Middle East analyst who is editor of the Arab Digest, said MBZ had repeatedly proven himself the "older and wiser head". "By and large, my view is that MBZ basically got what MBS was about," he said. "MBS craves the limelight. So MBZ said 'fine, you take the limelight'. And he is in the background. And I think that he has played MBS very very effectively. I think he encourages him on these grandiose projects. MBS is a sucker for these huge projects."

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Prog Kreig, of King's College, said he had spoken to senior Saudis who "say that they have been set up by the Emiratis because the Saudis get the majority of the criticism in the Western world, for the most part rightly so, while the Emirates have created this immaculate reputation, despite the fact they are involved in war in Lebanon, Libya and human rights abuses within Dubai with British citizens."

2020欧洲杯体育投注开户Law says the Premier League is now in a "difficult bind". "With the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, this guy has a very damaged reputation, and that’s not going to go away," he added.