Dubai business group buys Spanish club Getafe
A Dubai business group bought Spanish soccer club Getafe on Thursday for at least $100 million, becoming the latest Middle East investor to take over a European team.
The Royal Emirates Group of Companies wouldn't say exactly how much it paid for the topflight Spanish club. But Kaiser Rafiq, a partner and managing director of the business conglomerate, said the price ranged from $100 to $130 million.
Rafiq said ''70 to 75 percent has been paid up front'' in cash and that none of the funds are coming from the Dubai government. Of the remainder, he said, there are ''some legalities that have to be gone through'' but that Getafe was happy with the structure of the deal.
''This is strictly a private business deal,'' he said.
The Dubai government said through its media office that it was not involved in the deal, and that neither was its ruler, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The group, chaired by Sheik Butti bin Suhail Al Maktoum, said the club's name will remain unchanged but ''Team Dubai'' will be added to the team shirts, stadium and other merchandise. A logo presented at the news conference featured Getafe's name and blue colors above Team Dubai - though Team Dubai lettering was larger.
''We are really glad today to be witnessing this great moment,'' Sheik Butti said. ''We are really happy and glad to sign this contract with Spain's first division Getafe. We are also happy to include the name Team Dubai. I hope this will improve relations between the UAE and Spain.''
Getafe president Angel Torres, who flew to Dubai for the news conference along with team captain Manuel del Moral, dismissed fears that fans would be put off by the addition of Team Dubai on the logo.
''The sponsors or whomever is working behind the scenes is not important,'' he said. ''What is important is becoming competitive.''
Moral also said he doesn't expect any backlash over the new logo.
''We need to send a message of confidence to supporters,'' he said. ''We have examples where these kind of associations have pushed clubs to grow and we can be confident that this will happen to Getafe.''
Sheik Butti is the latest Middle East investor to buy a European club, after Abu Dhabi's Sheik Mansour took over English team Manchester City in 2008 and a Qatar sheik purchased Spanish club Malaga in June.
There have also been reports in recent months that the Qatari royal family was considering a bid for Manchester United, but the Glazer family owners say they don't want to sell the Premier League club.
Torres said Getafe - which has been in the first division for seven years - has entertained offers in the past but Dubai's was the ''most interesting and serious.''
''We want the club to become first class after Real Madrid and Barcelona,'' he said. ''For the investors group, it will be a good deal because they can show what they want in our country. The important part now is that both parties do what they said they would do.''
The acquisition comes at a difficult time for the club, which was founded in 1945 but has only been in Spain's top flight since being promoted for the 2004-2005 season. Since then, it has lost two Copa del Rey finals. Last season, Getafe finished sixth in the league.
This season the modest Madrid club has struggled, winning only one of its last 10 games and sitting four points above the relegation zone.
Both sides said the sale could breathe some new life into Getafe and allow it to buy several top players - just as Manchester City did after it was taken over.
''We have players in mind,'' Rafiq said. ''We might take them from this region as well as get some new blood from various parts of Europe. In the coming year, we are definitely going to secure position in the top six. Whatever it takes, we will do it.''
Rafiq said the investors wouldn't be changing the management for now and have instructed them to start looking for talent.
Rafiq said Sheik Butti is a member of Dubai's ruling Al Maktoum dynasty. He is not among the family's most prominent members or part of the ruler's inner circle, which runs Dubai's hereditary government.
Little is known about the Royal Emirates Group of Companies.
Its corporate website offers few details except that the conglomerate has interests in 64 companies and brands - though it doesn't list any of them. The company shares its phone number with a roommate referral service in the city-state, and has said its businesses include operations in the oil and gas and real estate sectors.
The sale comes as the sheikdom is grappling with immense government-linked debts and a prolonged slump in its once hot real estate market.
Rafiq said this week that adding Dubai to the team's logo and other merchandise was part of a bid to boost the flagging city and show that it ''was capable of doing anything.''
The strategy echoes Dubai's approach to sports over the years, including bringing in stars such as Roger Federer and Tiger Woods for tennis and golf tournaments as a way to woo tourists to its five-star hotels and glitzy shopping.
Associated Press writer Adam Schreck contributed to this report.