What’s worse than being friends and business colleagues with people who will happily crucify people, behead them, execute journalists and lock up people without fair trial? Being the people who will happily crucify people, behead them, execute journalists and lock up people without fair trial.
That appears to be the choice on offer to Manchester United fans at the moment, after one of the Glazer family turned up at a Saudi conference to talk up Manchester United’s culture of success (what?), and lend legitimacy to the country as some kind of modern and prosperous business.
Let’s be realistic. The Saudi business approach seems to be to artificially keep the price of oil high enough to keep their public bought off and happy enough to go along with any repression, or at least scared enough, and to make sure those in charge have the cash to live however they please. On the next rung, they are flinging billions at venture capital when the returns are in doubt in many aspects, but the cultural and social power is not.
Manchester United offers more of the latter, with much less risky returns. The company makes a profit, but more importantly it has hundreds of millions of people willing to defend the indefensible, such as Luke Shaw. Would they go so far as to defend rampant antisemitism? You only have to see some of the fringe elements of Momentum, or most of Manchester City’s Twitter presence, to realise that most people will do it without even being asked.
The Glazer family need to earn their corn somehow, and the are two and a half options open to them at the moment. The first option is that they sell out entirely to the Saudis, for around £4bn, which represents a huge profit on the initial outlay, and gives the Glazers enough money to go and repeat the process on wherever is cheap enough to do again, while sinking the remaining cash elsewhere. The second option is to do nothing, collect the dividends, and console themselves with simply being paper billionaires. The second option is to sell a little, and continue to leech a little.
The Glazers might not be selling out yet, but they are not fools. They know that oil-rich families of one bent or another need to maintain their facade in the West (not that the West is not equally horrific in some respects, and complicit in the abuse we are arguing against here), and that an offer will eventually surface.
Whether it is the secret reason for the recent visit, or merely on the cards in the next year or two, it doesn’t really matter. The owners United have now are entirely happy to co-exist with people who behead, crucify and lock up without trial. Even if they don’t sell to the Saudis, and find someone else willing to wang cash at them, they already have partnerships with official bodies in the country, and are already happy to give a nice business-like veneer to their real ambitions. Happy Friday!