They like their football in the Gulf. The mercury may have been nudging 40C yesterday, but on the beaches of Abu Dhabi the shrieks of youngsters, playing in Arsenal shirts bearing the logo of Emirates airlines, rose above the call to Friday prayers.
Such sponsorship used to be as close as Middle Eastern nations came to playing a part in the Premier League. But this week the game changed dramatically when the richest city-state in the world, Abu Dhabi, bought into the richest league in the world by taking over Manchester City.
The new boss of the Sky Blues, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, celebrated the £210m deal by dropping a further £34m on Brazilian striker Robinho. The half-brother of Abu Dhabi’s ruler, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, also promised to spend up to £140m each on top players, including Cristiano Ronaldo of arch-rival Manchester United, in a money-no-object bid to make the club “the biggest in the Premier League”.
On its own, the Man City deal might have been dismissed as merely the latest vanity purchase by the Gulf’s new breed of gazillionaire, eager to spend the pennies that are raining down from heaven, thanks to record oil prices. But within 24 hours, Abu Dhabi announced that it had also bought a chunk of Hollywood. The Abu Dhabi Media Company, an arm of the government, struck a £500m deal to make movies with Warner Brothers, the go-to studio for the likes of George Clooney and Will Smith.
The decision by Sheikh Khalifa to invest more than £1.5bn overnight in football and films has left fans and financiers asking one thing: what is Abu Dhabi up to? What do the men in white with the men in blue, or the world that produced Men In Black?