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Qatar eyes Manchester United acquisition

With the FIFA World Cup secured Qatar has shifted its footballing ambitions, with Manchester United thought to be the next target.

According to reports, Qatar Holding – the sovereign wealth fund of the Middle Eastern state - has set aside some £2.5 billion for the deal.

Current owners, the US-based Glazer family, are saddled with massive debts following their takeover of the club in 2005 – prompting speculation they could be willing to sell.

An offer of £1.5 billion would double the original investment made and could leave the club debt-free.

However, Qatar faces a tough battle, with the Glazer family seemingly unwilling to sell.

Manchester United communications director Phil Townsend has moved to rubbish the claims.

“There has been no approach and it would be irrelevant anyway because they do not want to sell,” he told the Manchester Evening News.

Football Credentials

Qatar was successful earlier this month in its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The bid was endorsed by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who visited Doha prior to FIFA’s announcement to back the country’s efforts.

Qatar’s 2022 World Cup bid chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani – here seen with FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani (left to right) – was instrumental in securing the tournament

Following its success in the bidding process Qatar appears keen to bolster its football credentials.

Last week the Qatar Foundation, the charity wing of the ruling family, caused a stir when it agreed a £25 million a season deal to sponsor Barcelona’s shirts.

Barcelona are regarded as among the best teams in Europe and the Qatar agreement is the first time the Catalan club has agreed a shirt deal.

Qatar will also host the Asian Cup in January 2011.

The competition will kick off on January 7th, when the hosts take on Uzbekistan in the Khalifa Stadium.

Away from the football field, Qatar also proved itself a capable host, welcoming over 13,000 athletes to the 15th Asian Games in 2006.

Qatar hosted the Asian Games in 2006

Qatar Holdings

Any potential bid for United would be a drop in the ocean for Qatar Holdings whose assets are estimated at a whopping £40 billion.

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Qatar Investment Authority, the group holds investments in Barclays, Canary Wharf Group, Credit Suisse, London Stock Exchange, Porsche, Banco Santander and Volkswagen among others.

The organisation made headlines earlier in the year when it purchased Harrods from Mohamed Al-Fayed for £1.5 billion.

Harrods first opened in Knightsbridge in 1849 and sells labels from Christian Dior to Mark Jacobs, offers lobster and caviar in its food hall and last year started selling gold bars for the first time.

Qatar is also on the shortlist of companies drawn up by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) invited to submit financial proposals for the purchase and long-term management of the London 2012 Olympic Village.

The Qatar Investment Authority purchased Harrords for £1.5 billion earlier this year

Football in the Middle East

Qatari interest in Manchester United is just the latest stage in the development of football in the Middle East.

In 2008 Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment – the United Arab Emirates private equity company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan – purchased Premier League club Manchester City.

Subsequent investment has seen a number of star players arrive at the club, with ambitions of European domination now firmly on the agenda.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has taken an active role in the running of Manchester City since the acquisition

Airline Etihad – itself based in Abu Dhabi – had also established a strong relationship with the club, sponsoring the club’s shirts.

In London, Emirates – the national carrier of Dubai – has forged a similar relationship with Arsenal football club, with their newly built stadium named in the airline’s honour.

Football is becoming increasingly important to the Middle East

World Mobi

Also in the Middle East today, World Mobi launched its new city guide to Doha. 

World Mobi offers the most comprehensive mobile travel guides available, with over 800 cities in 200 countries listed. Each is developed by the World Mobi team to combine into a single global travel directory.

However, each city retains its own mobile identity via a dedicated domain. Already on offer are Brussels.Mobi, London.Mobi, Sanfrancisco.Mobi and Sydney.Mobi.

Doha.Mobi is the latest in this illustrious line up, offering click to call functionality – which means no scribbling down telephone numbers.

Most entries are also linked to websites where users can quickly access more detailed information if needed.

Other key features include information on accommodation, restaurants, attractions, entertainment, nightlife, shopping, and transport.

World.Mobi guides include user reviews and traveller utilities such as a translation guide, currency converter, news and local weather guide.