August 5, 2021, 0:46

Khaldoon Al Mubarak exclusive: Full Q&A with City Football Group chairman

Khaldoon Al Mubarak exclusive: Full Q&A with City Football Group chairman

In an exclusive interview, City Football Group chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak talks the club’s value, the future of Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, “leader” Raheem Sterling, and more…

In his first UK broadcast interview since becoming City chairman in 2008, Al Mubarak discusses the recent release of a minority shareholding which values the City Football Group at just short of $5billion.

Mubarak also speaks of his pride in Sterling on and off the pitch, why Guardiola is a huge asset to the club, and what his plans are for the upcoming years…

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Khaldoon, thank you for speaking to Sky. I know this is your only broadcast interview following today’s news. And it’s big news. It’s a deal that catapults City Football Group’s valuation to almost $5bn. How big a validation is that of your strategy?

We’re very excited. Thank you so much for allowing me on the show. It’s been a wonderful journey over the last 10 or 11 years and I think this transaction is a testament to the journey that we’ve undertaken. When Sheikh Mansour bought the club back in 2008, he bought it with a view that this is going to be a profitable, sustainable business and I think we’ve done that. Over the last 10 years we’ve shown that this thesis is accurate and that it’s right and this transaction is a further testament to this thesis.

Tell me, have you had talks with other potential investors? What was it that led you to Silver Lake in particular and why are they the right fit?

So Silver Lake I think is a world-class investor. We’re delighted to have Silver Lake as part of the team here. Silver Lake is one of the global leaders in technology media, sports and entertainment investing. It’s a US firm and we’ve quickly, through the conversations we’ve had over the last couple of months, come to the conclusion that we’re a good fit for each other. I think they add a lot of value to the group, particularly as I look at the future and what we intend to do in the next 10 years. I think Silver Lake is the perfect fit and I think that with what they want and the type of investment they’re viewing, City Football Group has proven to be a very good fit for them, so I think it was a very nice marriage between these two organisations.

You’ve invested significantly over the past 10 years both in the squad and infrastructure here at the Etihad. Thanks to the investment from Silver Lake you’ve got another $500m. How are you going to spend it?

Well we’ve been focusing over the last 10 years with a clear business plan, a clear investment strategy, a clear global strategy in terms of how we built our group from one team, in Manchester City, to a group of clubs around the world. We are leaders today in the football business globally. All these businesses are sustainable, are profitable. I think Manchester City is now five years in profitability so I think this sustainable model we’ve been working on has proven to be a success and Silver Lake sees that. The investment, this is $500m that Silver Lake is putting into the group, and we’re not taking any money out. This investment money stays in the group and stays as part of our growth strategy for the future and we will continue down the route that we’ve started 10 years ago and as we look at the next chapter of this evolution which is the next 10 years, this investment will help fuel our growth.

Going back to when you first started, you were famously described as the “noisy neighbours” of your rivals across the city. How big a part does Silver Lake’s investment play in bridging the financial gap with Manchester United?

Manchester United is a very successful organisation and has been over the years. I’d rather not talk about other teams and other organisations. I’m really just focused about what we do. And what we’re doing is building a sustainable business that continues to grow and continues to be successful both on and off the pitch. And I look at what we’ve achieved over the last 10 years as a benchmark to build on for the next 10 years across the board in every single club that we’ve invested in.

As part of that building process over the last 10 years you’ve invested significantly. Does the ownership still have the desire to invest, to progress? And, if so, what is a realistic target for Manchester City over the next, say, 10 years?

I think this transaction is a testament to the appetite that this group has about the future. When we bring in another half a billion dollars of investment into the group and when we commit to keep that investment and not take out any of that, I think that in itself tells you how we see investing and how we see the future. We see this as a growing and attractive business to invest in. We’ve created the platform for that and I can certainly assure you we’re focusing on the future, on growth and building on the strength that we’ve built over the years.

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Of course, in all of this there is a backdrop of an ongoing UEFA investigation. The allegations against you have been widely publicised. They are namely that you’ve circumvented Financial Fair Play regulations. What do you say to those allegations? (City have previously vehemently denied the allegations).

I think our position on this is very clear. And we’ve made it explicit over the last couple of months. And given that there is a process underway it’s very important for me to respect that process. Therefore I think it’s not appropriate for me to comment other than we’re respecting the process and we’re going through the steps.

I understand you can’t get drawn on specifics, but are you confident that the club will be cleared?

My position has been consistent on this and on the record and clear.

OK, let’s get back to matters on the pitch. Raheem Sterling is often spoken about in the same breath as that elite band of footballers, namely Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He signed a new contract last year. What can you do to ensure that Raheem is part of Manchester City’s long-term future?

I’m very proud of what Raheem has done over the last couple of years. His evolution as a player, but more importantly as a person I think has been exceptional. He’s become a leader both on and off the pitch. He’s become a leader in this squad at Manchester City, he’s becoming a leader at England serving his country. And I think he’s been a leader in the community. I’m so happy for him because I think he’s a wonderful young man and I think his talent, listen, there’s one thing I’m sure of – Raheem is only going to improve and only going to grow as both a player and a leader so the future is incredibly bright for Raheem and it’s a pleasure to have him as a part of our team.

Let’s talk about that team for a minute. You look set to progress out of the group stages of the Champions League. You’re in another epic title race. Are you concerned there’s too much ground to make up on Liverpool? Have you spoken to the players and, if so, is there a belief they can retain their title again?

This team is a special team. I think what’s been accomplished, of the last two seasons to be specific, is special. 198 points over two seasons. Back-to-back Premier League titles. Four trophies last year. This is really what’s been accomplished so hats off to everyone involved in this organisation. And I think we’ve shown time and time again and this team has shown time and time again that you cannot write them off. This is a committed team, a disciplined team, a hardworking team with an exceptional manager.

I think in Pep we have a leader who has shown time and time again his ability to continuously evolve and continuously challenge and we’ve been in this position not once but many times before, and we’ve shown the character always consistently to come back. I think the Premier League is a very, very challenging league. That’s why we all love this league. Winning it for the last two seasons is one of the most challenging endeavours that any person in sport can do. No doubt the challenge is there. We’re up for it and there’s still a long way to go, still in November and we’ll see where we end up in May, but certainly we’re up for it.

It’s interesting, Khaldoon, hearing you speak about Pep, hearing everyone at the club speak about him and how central he is to everything here. He led Barcelona for four years, he was at Bayern for three years and he’s been here just short of three years. How confident are you in his longevity and have you had any guarantees that he’s going to be here for many years to come?

Pep has been an incredible asset to this organisation. We can speak about his managerial accomplishments for hours. But I think as a person, as an individual, as a friend, he’s been a core part of what we’ve accomplished here over the last three years. He’s very committed. We’re committed to him. You’ve seen his interview a couple of days ago. We have a great relationship. We have a great environment here. The people around him, the team we have in place today, the relationships I have with them, this is really an environment that’s conducive to success for both him and everyone involved in this organisation. So I’m very satisfied with his commitment and our commitment to him and I’m looking forward to the continuity of this for years to come.

Let’s bring it back if we can to today’s news. The valuation now of City Football Group is massive. How much is Pep Guardiola and his achievements at Manchester City a part of that valuation?

Pep’s achievements I think, no doubt, are integral. I think what we’ve accomplished over the last couple of years is remarkable. And that has had, I think, an overwhelming influence for the whole group. But I think Pep will be the first one to say this is a team effort. This is a wonderful organisation we have. A group all over the world. We have 1,500 players plus, all over the world, part of this group. Over 2,000 employees globally. We have our teams playing over 2,500 games every year. So this is a magnificent organisation with people all over the world working together. Successful clubs from Manchester to New York to Melbourne to Yokohama, Japan.

To India?

India obviously is another market that we’re looking at. This is a team effort and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of that we have truly an A team across the board and that’s been reflected in this valuation. And reflected in how a world-class US investor is putting $500m into this organisation at the valuation we’re talking about. That’s a testament to the strength and sustainability of this organisation.

And what’s next for this organisation? As we briefly touched on there’s been talk of a club in India. Is that close to happening?

When we look at growth we look at three major markets. The United States, China and India. And we’ve invested, obviously as you know, in New York, and that’s our US presence in MLS. We’ve invested in China and certainly India is the next big market that we’d like to have a position in. That’s been public. So I hope very soon we’ll be able to make our move into that market and continue our growth trajectory in the right markets globally.


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