Manchester United and Liverpool for sale: Saudi Arabia would ‘definitely support’ private sector bids – sports minister
Saudi Arabia’s sports minister says its government would “definitely support” private sector Saudi bids for Manchester United and Liverpool.
The owners of both Premier League clubs are exploring potential sales.
Newcastle United already has Saudi Arabian owners after a takeover backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund was completed in October 2021.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal said there was a lot of “interest and appetite” in United and Liverpool.
He told BBC Sport: “From the private sector, I can’t speak on their behalf, but there is a lot of interest and appetite and there’s a lot of passion about football.
“It’s the most-watched league in Saudi and the region and you have a lot of fans of the Premier League.
“We will definitely support it if any [Saudi] private sector comes in, because we know that’s going to reflect positively on sports within the kingdom.
“But if there’s an investor willing to do so and the numbers add up, why not?”
Little more than 12 months since their takeover, Newcastle are third in the Premier League table and unbeaten in all competitions since 31 August.
The Magpies have spent more than £200m on players since the takeover, breaking their transfer record to sign Swedish striker Alexander Isak in the summer.
“They’ve done an excellent job,” added Prince Abdulaziz.
“They still have a long way to go – they’ve brought the right people on board.
“I’m sure they have targets to win the league and the Champions League and so on because they strive for the best and always bring the best on board, so I think it’s going to be a bright future for Newcastle.”
Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia?
Prince Abdulaziz also said he would “love” to see Cristiano Ronaldo join a Saudi club following his departure from Manchester United.
The Portugal forward left the Old Trafford club with immediate effect on Tuesday following a controversial interview in which the 37-year-old criticised United and said he had “no respect” for manager Erik ten Hag.
In the interview with TalkTV, Ronaldo also said he turned down a £305m deal to join a Saudi Arabian club in the summer – a move that would have seen him become the highest-paid footballer in the world.
Spanish newspaper Marca reported that Al-Hilal had offered him a two-year deal.
“Anything is possible, I would love to see Ronaldo play in the Saudi league,” said Prince Abdulaziz.
“It would benefit the league, the sports eco-system in Saudi and it will inspire the youth for the future. He’s a role model to a lot of kids and has a big fanbase in Saudi.”
Ronaldo is currently playing at what is likely to be his last World Cup, a tournament Prince Abdulaziz would be keen to bring to Saudi Arabia.
The state is in the running to host the women’s and men’s Asian Cup in 2026 and 2027 respectively and, if the bids are successful, he believes it will “for sure” increase the chance of Saudi bidding for the World Cup.
“Why not? Who wouldn’t want to host the World Cup?” he added. “We host a lot of events in the region.
“Any country in the world would love to host the World Cup. It’s an amazing tournament and it’s good for every country to host such an event.
“We need to uplift some of our venues. We have a lot of stadiums that meet the requirement that we need, but hosting such an event is not just about the stadiums, it’s about the infrastructure, the people, about preparing everyone to such an event
“And making sure that when you’re ready to host this competition the whole nation is behind that.”
‘We will always be criticised’
Through its hosting of major sporting events, including Formula 1 races, world title boxing fights and golf tournaments, Saudi Arabia has been accused of sportswashing – the act of using sport to improve reputation and project a positive image of a country.
Like current World Cup hosts Qatar, campaigners say sport is being used as a soft power by the Saudi government to hide long-standing issues, including women’s rights abuses, the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and the restriction of free speech.
“We were criticised in Saudi before we hosted such events, that we don’t host these events, and now that we are now, we’re criticised for hosting them,” said Prince Abdulaziz.
“We look at the facts – the numbers don’t lie – when you look at participation in boxing, from six gyms in 2018 to 57 gyms today. A 300% participation increase, 60% are women, which was a shock for us.
“When you see appetite from the youth, men and women, they learned from it. So, at the end of the day if it’s making the country better and fixing a lot of the social issues we have in terms of participation then that’s a benefit for us and that’s what we look at.
“I think we will always be criticised but we have to look at what’s best for our country and our people, and what is actually developing our youth towards the future.”