Sheffield United’s Prince Abdullah defends Bin Ladens over club links | Football
Eyebrows were raised at Bramall Lane when Sheffield United’s new owner, Prince Abdullah bin Musaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said he would be happy for the Bin Laden family to invest in the club.
“I get offended when the Bin Laden family is given a bad name,” said Prince Abdullah. “Every family may have one bad person, one black sheep but they are very respectable.”
Although Bin Laden Construction is an internationally respected construction company and the influential Saudi family behind it disowned their extremist relative Osama Bin Laden in 1994, that resonant surname remains inextricably linked with the late al‑Qaida terrorist who ordered the 11 September attacks on New York’s Twin Towers in 2001.
Prince Abdullah, though, seemed frustrated by the name’s enduring association with Islamic extremism and revealed that the Bin Laden family had previously shown interest in buying shares in Sheffield United from the former co-owner Kevin McCabe.
“I have not done business with them in the past but I will be very happy to do business with them,” Prince Abdullah said. “The Bin Laden family’s not a disgraced name or something I should hide. They were going to buy Kevin McCabe’s shares. They did due diligence but decided not to buy. I don’t see it is as a big deal. When I see the Bin Laden family as a dirty name I get really offended.”
It was all part of a 45-minute introduction to the start of a new era at one of the world’s oldest football clubs as Prince Abdullah and his son-in-law Prince Musaad bin Khalid bin Musaad Al Saud flanked the team’s manager, Chris Wilder, in the Bramall Lane media room.
After winning an acrimonious high court battle to wrest full control from McCabe – previously the holder of a 50% stake – Prince Abdullah has installed the 26-year-old Prince Musaad as his new chairman. Moreover the new outright owner stressed that he had no intention of selling the club on to circling American investors and offered Wilder, who seemed unusually tentative, his absolute support.
“If it was about money, I would sell the club right now,” Prince Abdullah said. “My main focus is to bring in sponsors from Saudi right now.”
He acknowledged Wilder’s achievement in lifting United from League One to the Premier League in three seasons. “We are blessed to have him. The results and the way we play our beautiful football speaks for itself. I have good harmony with Chris.”
For his part, Wilder said he was “100% positive about the future” and had been in regular contact with Prince Abdullah during his partnership with McCabe. “There’s only been a couple of times I’ve expressed my frustrations towards Prince Abdullah and Kevin,” he said. “In the majority of times they’ve allowed me to get on with my job.”
Wilder appeared a little more diffident about the introduction of the new Belgian technical director, Jan Van Winckel. “Anything done to improve club, I’m open to,” he said. “But I’m a hands on manager; my style is I have the big decisions to make. I’m full of confidence it will work with Jan.”
Prince Abdullah – formerly general president of youth welfare in Riyadh, having accrued his wealth in paper production – had previously rarely been spotted at Bramall Lane but was adamant he watched every match on television, routinely muting the sound so as not to be upset by critical commentators. Prince Musaad, though, will now at the club on a near daily basis.
“We will work hard to make the fans proud,” said Prince Abdullah. “I hope in five years’ time everything will be much better and we will be with Chris Wilder, taking us to a bigger and better place.”
The owner maintained his was a “private investment” unrelated to his country’s current attempts to extend influence and present a modernised face to the world by increased involvement in major sporting events.
Under the terms of the high court ruling Prince Abdullah will have to buy Sheffield United’s property assets – a £40m portfolio including the stadium, adjacent hotel and training ground – by next July. Although he was vague on how he intended to fund such purchases he said finding the finance would “not be a problem”.