UAE’s Deputy Prime Minister to Invest in Korean Soccer League

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

Emirati billionaire Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, commonly known as Sheikh Mansour, is holding talks with a South Korean conglomerate in an effort to expand his investments in professional soccer to the Korean peninsula, according to South Korean daily Segye Ilbo.

Sheikh Mansour, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is often referred to as the richest man in world soccer. He currently owns Manchester City, the English Premier League team, and has overseen its tremendous transformation into one of the world’s wealthiest teams since he purchased the club in 2008.

Now, Sheikh Mansour has reportedly been discussing a possibility in claiming a stake in a team included in the K League, South Korea’s professional soccer league. According to the Segye Ilbo, the 44-year-old petroleum tycoon has sent officials from Manchester City to South Korea to meet with Kang Ho-chan, the president of Nexen Tire, with the hopes of owning a majority share of a K League team.

The details of Sheikh Mansour’s possible investment is still under wraps, but Segye Ilbo‘s report hints that the ongoing discussions entail a potential partnership between Manchester City and Nexen Tire that would then purchase a share of an existing K League team.

The K League team Sheikh Mansour plans to purchase could be be his fifth venture in professional soccer. Manchester City has won two Premier League titles ever since Sheikh Mansour’s acquired ownership of the once struggling English team seven years ago. After seeing his investment pay off, the deputy prime minister of the UAE has since purchased 80 percent of the New York City FC and Australia’s Melbourne City FC, respectively, as well as 20 percent of Japan’s Yokohama Mariners.

If Sheikh Mansour’s deal to acquire a K League team comes to fruition, it’s possible that he could invest millions of dollars in a league that is currently deprived of financial resources to keep its star players. Many of South Korea’s key players on its national team have been signed by the more glamorous European clubs over the last decade. In recent years, even wealthier teams in neighboring China and oil-rich Middle Eastern teams have poached K League’s premier talents.

Case in point, only six players from South Korea’s 23-man roster at last year’s World Cup was playing in the domestic K League. One of those six players, forward Lee Keun-ho, who notched one goal and one assist in three games at the World Cup, has signed a lucrative deal with El Jaish in Qatar after the tournament.

It is believed that the motivation behind Sheikh Mansour’s strategy to tackle the Korean market stems from the substantial economic and marketing benefits Manchester City’s rival Manchester United reaped between 2005 and 2012. During those years, Manchester United won four English titles and two European championships with South Korean midfielder Park Ji-sung playing an integral part of the team’s success, scoring 27 goals in more than 200 games. Off the field, Manchester United capitalized on Park’s marketability in Korea with television rights, merchandise sales and also by allowing him to host a tour game in 2009 in Seoul.

Sheikh Mansour is the half brother of UAE’s current president, Sheikh Khalifa, and is the minister of presidential affairs and the chairman of private equity firm Abu Dhabi United Group.