Saudi Arabia’s sports minister has said his government will “definitely support” Saudi private sector bids for Manchester United and Liverpool.
The owners of both Premier League clubs are exploring potential sales.
Newcastle United already have Saudi Arabian owners, having completed a takeover backed by the Saudi Public Investment Fund in October 2021.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal said there was a lot of “interest and appetite” at United and Liverpool.
He told BBC Sport: “From the private sector I can’t speak on their behalf but there is a lot of interest and appetite and a lot of passion for football.
“It’s the most watched league in Saudi Arabia and the region and you have a lot of Premier League fans.
“We will definitely support it, if at all [Saudi] Private sector comes into play because we know it will have a positive impact on sport in the UK.
“But if there’s an investor who’s willing to do it, and the numbers are right, why not?”
Just over 12 months after taking over, Newcastle are third in the Premier League and unbeaten in all competitions as of 31 August.
The Magpies have spent more than £200m on players since the takeover, breaking their transfer record The Swedish striker Alexander Isak in summer.
“You have done an excellent job,” added Prince Abdulaziz.
“They still have a long way to go – they’ve got the right people on board.
“I’m sure they have goals of winning the league and the Champions League and so on because they strive for the best and always bring the best on board so I think it’s going to be a bright future for Newcastle .”
Ronaldo to Saudi Arabia?
Prince Abdulaziz also said he would “love” to see Cristiano Ronaldo join a Saudi club following his departure from Manchester United.
The Portuguese striker left the Old Trafford club with immediate effect on Tuesday after a controversial interview in which the 37-year-old criticized United and said he had “no respect” for manager Erik ten Hag.
In an interview with TalkTV, Ronaldo said so too turned down a £305m deal move to a Saudi Arabian club in the summer – a move that would have made him the highest-paid footballer in the world.
Spanish newspaper Marca reported that Al-Hilal had offered him a two-year deal.
“Anything is possible, I would love to see Ronaldo play in the Saudi league,” said Prince Abdulaziz.
“It would benefit the league and the sports ecosystem in Saudi Arabia and inspire youth for the future. He is a role model for many children and has a large following in Saudi Arabia.”
Ronaldo is currently playing what will probably be his last World Cup, a tournament Prince Abdulaziz would like to bring to Saudi Arabia.
The state is in the running to host the women’s and men’s Asian Cup in 2026 and 2027 respectively, and if the bids are successful it says it will “certainly” increase the chance of a Saudi bid for the World Cup.
“Why not? Who wouldn’t want to host the World Cup?” he added. “We hold many events in the region.
“Every country in the world would love to host the World Cup. It’s a fantastic tournament and it’s good for any country to host an event like this.
“We need to improve some of our venues. We have many stadiums that meet the requirements that we need, but hosting an event like this is not just about the stadiums, it’s about the infrastructure, the people and preparing everyone for an event like this
“And make sure the whole nation is behind you when you’re ready to host this competition.”
“We are always criticized”
By hosting major sporting events, including Formula 1 races, world title boxing matches and golf tournaments, Saudi Arabia has been accused of sports laundering – the act of using sport to improve a country’s reputation and project a positive image.
Like current World Cup hosts Qatar, activists say sport is being used as a soft power by the Saudi government to cover up long-standing problems, including violating women’s rights, treating the LGBTQ+ community and restricting freedom of expression.
“We were criticized in Saudi Arabia before we hosted such events for not hosting these events and now that we are we are being criticized for hosting them,” Prince Abdulaziz said.
“We’re looking at the facts – the numbers don’t lie – when you look at boxing attendance, from six gyms in 2018 to 57 gyms today. A 300% increase in attendance, 60% are women, which came as a shock to us.
“When you see the appetites of youth, men and women, they have learned from it. So at the end of the day, if it makes the country better and solves a lot of the social issues that we have in terms of participation, then that’s an advantage for us and we look to that.
“I think we will always be criticized, but we have to look at what is best for our country and our people and what our youth are actually developing towards the future.”