Gulf states, flush with petrodollars from a five-fold increase in crude oil prices since 2002, are set to emulate Abu Dhabi who changed the face of the football industry this week by taking over English Premier League club Manchester City.
|Robinho was the first high-profile acquisition from City's new owners [GALLO/GETTY]
The Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment (ADUG), which is linked to the royal family, plans to turn Manchester City intfo the world's biggest club.
"We all love football and being an owner of a football club is a different image...football is a passion and it is about image," ADUG board member Sulaiman al-Fahim said.
Football, viewed as a high profile and glamourous industry, is now being targeted for investment by Gulf firms as Western investors are being forced to tighten their belts in a global slowdown.
England's Premier League, underwritten by domestic and global TV deals worth more than $1.78 billion, has become Europe's dominant league in the last decade with many of the world's top players earning huge salaries at the major clubs.
Its revenues exceeded $2.9 billion in 2006-07, according to Deloitte & Touche's Annual Review of Football Finance in May.
Matches are broadcast to more than 200 countries with audiences of three billion people.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), home to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, earned $63 billion in 2007 from oil.
From January to July this year it earned $61 billion.
"We are talking about government money...it's not cut and run to get the profits.
There is a lot of moral and political gain out of it," said Mustafa Alani, senior adviser at Dubai-based thinktank
"It is not short term, it's a long-term objective."
Manchester City have always languished in the shadow of its glamorous neighbours Manchester United, the current English and European club champions.
But although United's revenues grew to $378 million last year and their net profits doubled to $80.7 million the figures are modest by UAE standards.
The Gulf's commercial hub Dubai has also shown its interest in top flight English football with state investment firms holding talks to buy Liverpool Football Club over the last year.
Dubai's Emirates airline already sponsors Arsenal's stadium in one of soccer's most lucrative marketing deals.
"It's difficult to look in a crystal ball and say what will be the value of a club going forward," said Mohammed Ali al-Hashimi, executive chairman of Zabeel Investments, which was part of the Dubai consortium trying to buy Liverpool last year.
"Most of these clubs appreciate substantially, but it all goes down to performance on the field.
You can plough in as much money, but if you don't perform and don't make regularly the top four it will be tough."
Hashimi said the firm was no longer looking at football as valuations had risen.
Alani drew parallels with Dubai's interest in horse racing, which led to it hosting the world's richest horse race.
"They injected a lot of money in horse racing and everybody in the beginning said it was a business controlled by the West and they wouldn't get anywhere...now they dominate the whole field," he said.
|Emirates have enjoyed a very lucrative sponsorship partnership with Arsenal [GALLO/GETTY]
Arsenal's Emirates deal, which included naming rights for the club's new stadium, has raised the airline's profile in Britain at a time when Dubai is attempting to attract 15 million tourists by 2015 and become a global transportation hub.
"If you're looking at an opportunity for branding and getting yourself out there what better than the Premier League today," said Hashimi.
Fahim said the Manchester City deal complemented an existing agreement to set up an academy with Italian football giants Inter Milan aimed at grooming young players to appear in some of the biggest leagues.
Dubai is building a sports city with stadiums and academies, including one to be run by Manchester United.
"Ten years ago they would not have done this, but now with the surplus money to invest (the Gulf) definitely believes this ...has a big impact on their own sports activities," said Alani.