Despite the recent purchase of Newcastle United as an instrument of soft power for the state, Saudi Arabia would be highly supportive of further investment in the Premier League now that Liverpool and Manchester United are on the market.
That’s the message this week from Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s minister of sports, who suggested private sector bids for the two would be backed by the state—with any private sector entities within the kingdom with the finances to do so having deep ties to the state.
“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,” Abdulaziz told the BBC. “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?”
Hints of a further push into European club football by Saudi Arabia come at the same time as local state rivals Qatar are hosting the World Cup in an effort to further their own soft power goals—and appear to be getting far more bad press than they might have expected for their investment.
There, for every story about Liverpool’s Alisson leading Brazil to a shutout victory or Darwin Nuñez misfiring in a Uruguayan draw there is one about the country’s human rights record, persecution of minorities, and reliance on an abused migrant labour underclass.
Club-level sportswashing by nations and their representatives, though, as at Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, appears to have been a somewhat more positive experience for the countries of the region, and it seems Saudi Arabia’s experience at Newcastle has only reinforced that idea.