Sheffield United: History helped clinch investment deal

Sheffield United manager David Weir is a well-respected figure � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY
Sheffield United manager David Weir is a well-respected figure � BLADES SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abulaziz Al Saud’s principal advisor has explained why the Saudi Arabian chose to invest in Sheffield United, writes James Shield.

James D Phipps, who helped broker the historic agreement with the South Yorkshire club’s plc chairman Kevin McCabe, cited geography, support and tradition as factors behind the prince’s decision.

“We know that investing in English football is not for the thin-skinned or faint-hearted,” Phipps told The Star. “We intend to honour Sheffield United’s heritage and are very excited, proud and honoured to become a part of it.

“Certain parameters were set when we were looking for an opportunity and it was imperative that they were met. We have been offered other clubs and have declined to take those forward.

“If you are going to buy into an English club then you want to buy a church. A club that people have a real feeling and affinity for which is certainly the case here.”

Phipps, from California, watched United beat Notts County on the opening weekend of the new League One campaign and could also join Prince Abdullah, a former president of seven time Asian champions Al Hilal, in the crowd when David Weir’s side visit Rotherham on Saturday.

“Al Hilal are the most followed team in Saudi Arabia,” Phipps continued. “The still holds an honorary role there and became well-known for taking an intellectual approach to sport.

“But despite being a dyed-in-the-wool sports fan, he doesn’t come here with any sense that he knows better. He wants to help and learn about everything that he can.

“We are very excited by David Weir, (head of football) John Stephenson and (chief executive) Julian Winter and the qualities they bring to the table.”

Prince Abdullah, Phipps explained, researched United’s cultural background as well as its balance sheet before opting to accept McCabe’s invitation to join Bramall Lane’s board of directors.

“It was also absolutely imperative for the prince that the club he invested in has played before in the top tier of English football.

“Likewise that it was a club with real family values. Because, in that respect, there are clubs and clubs.

“Also, he is very proud to be associated with Sheffield because of its footballing heritage. It is the home of football, where its laws were drawn-up and we are very proud of that.”

Despite having access to a portion of Prince Abdullah’s vast wealth - his business, the Saudi Paper Manufacturing Company, was reportedly worth a nine figure sum after its flotation on the country’s stock exchange - Phipps insisted the 47-year-old’s presence does not mean United will begin spending “ridiculous” amounts in the transfer market.

“Think Liverpool rather than Manchester City,” he said. “The prince, like Mr McCabe, has built a successful business from scratch and there are certain principles that he always adheres too.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1