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James Corbett, Inside World Football


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Abu Dhabi Bids to Buy AS Roma


Abu Dhabi-based Aabar Investments PJSC, the highest bidder for three-time Italian soccer champion AS Roma, hopes to emerge victorious when Italian bank UniCredit SpA announces the team’s new proprietor on Friday.

Aabar’s €150 million bid is €20 million higher than its most significant competitor, a US consortium that includes Thomas DiBenedetto, whose investment firm Boston International Group Inc. owns the Boston Red Sox baseball club and English Premier League team Liverpool, as well as Julian Movsesian of Succession Capital Alliance.

The consortium’s bid constitutes “a rare attempt at American ownership in Italian football,” said Steve  Amoia, whose World Football Commentaries blog has repeatedly reported on the sale of AS Roma.

Giampaolo Angelucci, a Rome-based business magnate with interests in health-care, is also bidding for the club alongside two unidentified potential buyers.

An Abu Dhabi-listed company that is majority owned by the Abu Dhabi government-controlled International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), Aabar last year bought a 4.99% stake in UniCredit for €49.8 million.

The purchase explains why Abu Dhabi chose Aabar as its vehicle to bid for AS Roma, which has a market capitalization of €158m.

Sports is not a sector that Aabar focuses on, a fact that could work against the Abu Dhabi investor. “Italians like a hands-on owner who actually attends games, practices and knows the game,” Amoia said.

The Abu Dhabi bid reflects renewed Gulf interest in the acquisition of European soccer clubs. Qatar is reportedly negotiating to purchase Manchester United for £1.5 billion. In December, the winner of the bid to host the 2022 World Cup clinched a $200 million sponsorship deal with FC Barcelona. Qatar is also mulling the possibility of bidding for Newcastle United.

Last summer’s purchase of Spain’s FC Malaga for €10.5 million and the takeover of €36 million in Malaga debt by Qatari businessman Shaikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Thani, a member of the royal family, ended an approximate two-year dip in Gulf interest in European acquisitions.

The dip was a result of the global economic downturn as well as Gulf disappointment that earlier acquisitions had done little to boost the region’s soccer performance.

Although AS Roma has a net debt of only €9 million, the club is on the block because its majority shareholder, La Compagnia Italpetroli S.p.A, is being forced by UniCredit to clear €325 it owes the troubled bank, according to soccer business blog The Swiss Ramble.

UniCredit, which owns 49 per cent of Italpetroli, took control of AS Roma last year in an attempt to recover at least some of the monies owed.

James M. Dorsey authors The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog

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