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Premier League has no plans to block Saudi swoop for Liverpool and Manchester United

Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium. Photo: PA/Reuters© AP


The Premier League have no plans to include regulations in their owners and directors’ test (OADT) that would prevent a Saudi investor taking control of either Manchester United and Liverpool, the two clubs currently made available for sale by their American owners.

The clubs are yet to agree the terms of the latest OADT – the test which all prospective owners and directors must pass – and it is understood its current draft will not preclude individuals on the basis of the political or human rights record of their country of origin.

The Saudi sport minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal told the BBC this week that he would be encouraging private Saudi investors to enter the race to buy the two clubs, who traditionally have the biggest following in English football.

The Saudi Arabia state’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was finally given permission to lead a consortium takeover of Newcastle United in October last year following a long legal process.

Then the Premier League executive had sought assurances from PIF that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would not be the ultimate owner of Newcastle and was given “legally binding assurances” that was the case.

The same would be the case were a Saudi bidder be successful in a takeover bid for either Liverpool or United – with the onus on prospective owner proving the club in question would be independently-owned.

The British government has said that any independent regulator for the game would not be asked to make decisions that did not ally with government foreign policy, in its response to MP Tracey Crouch’s fan-led review into football governance.

At the time, the then-culture secretary Nadine Dorries said in a response to the review that a regulator backed by legislation would have its scope limited. “While it is important for the regulator to undertake enhanced due diligence, there is a danger that the regulator could be drawn into issues that are geopolitical,” she wrote. “We do not believe the regulator should get involved in issues of the government’s foreign policy.”

The Premier League chief executive Richard Masters acknowledged at the start of the season that the league has consulted with Amnesty International over a human rights element to the OADT.

​Yet there is little appetite for such a subjective test from among the clubs who want to keep all their options open when it comes to a sale.

Given Dorries’ recommendation on the scope of a putative independent regulator, it is even more unlikely that clubs would introduce OADT rules with a human rights dimension.

It is understood that reports linking the US technology giant Apple with an acquisition of United, thought to be valued by the Glazer family at around £6 billion (€6.9m), are wide of the mark.

While multiple Saudi club owners in the Premier League might face allegations of operating as a bloc, it is unlikely that a private investor from the kingdom would be blocked as long as similar assurance to those offered by the PIF could be made. US-owners of Premier League clubs have also been accused of working together privately, especially on Project Big Picture, the plan to rebuild the balance of power in the Premier League.

The current OADT in section F of the Premier League rules lays out a number of criteria that preclude a prospective owner taking control of a club. Many of them relate to financial history but include a ban on anyone who has committed a crime overseas that while permitted in that territory would be considered illegal under British law.

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