Topflight Spanish club bought by Dubai group

Topflight Spanish club bought by Dubai group

Published Apr. 19, 2011 7:46 p.m. ET

A Dubai business group announced Tuesday that it had purchased an undisclosed topflight Spanish football club to try and help promote the financially stricken Gulf city.

Kaiser Rafiq, a partner and managing director of the Royal Emirates Group of Companies, declined to identify the club, saying only that it was debt free and cost about $90 million.

The group, which owns about 200 companies and is chaired by Sheikh Butti Bin Suhail Al Maktoum, will make a formal announcement Thursday on the purchase.

The team's name will remain unchanged but Team Dubai would be added to the jerseys, stadium and other merchandise, Rafiq said.


Dubai has long used sports as a publicity tool, with Tiger Woods and Roger Federer visiting the desert city to play in tournaments and the world's richest horse race luring tourists to its glitzy shopping malls and five-star hotels.

''We want to prove to the world that we are not only investing in the UAE but we are capable of making huge investments abroad,'' Rafiq told The Associated Press. ''We care about sports and we are hoping that this will send a very positive message that we are cable of doing anything.''

Al Maktoum is the latest Middle East investor to take over a European club, after Abu Dhabi's Sheik Mansour bought 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.

The Spanish club purchase comes as Dubai continues its recovery from the global economic crisis and deal with massive debts.

Hours before the announcement of the purchase, The AP reported that the Dubai Group was seeking to renegotiate the terms on its $10 billion debt - $4 billion of which is more than previously divulged.

The disclosure highlights the serious financial challenges and transparency problems still facing Dubai despite its success in renegotiating the terms on $25 billion of state-linked debt.

The group has not publicly commented on the higher debt tally, which was also reported on Tuesday by the Emirati government-owned daily The National among other publications.

Dubai and its many government-controlled companies still owe more than $100 billion, though the exact size of the debt has never been disclosed.