The focus on Qatar for the World Cup underscores football’s transformed financial landscape in the 17 years of the Glazer family’s ownership of Manchester United.
It’s been a period of decline at Old Trafford, while state-owned clubs have been on the ascendancy – with owners with the financial firepower to splurge cash to sign the superstars and amass silverware.
They have exposed a business model at Old Trafford that sees the growth in commercial revenue necessary to service a debt that didn’t exist until the Glazers’ leveraged takeover and still stands at over £500m.
It has taken more than £1bn to service that debt since 2005. Even though as much has still been spent on net transfers at the same time, the need for investment across the club’s infrastructure was exposed by Cristiano Ronaldo before his abrupt departure.
Protests against the Glazers faded mostly after 2005 while Sir Alex Ferguson delivered title after title, but the Premier League hasn’t been won since his retirement in 2013.
And United are without any trophy since 2017 – a drought that has reignited dissent against the American owners.
Meanwhile, the clubs with sovereign wealth cash to speed freely – within football financial regulations – are proving hard to keep up with.
Manchester City – in United’s shadow until being bought by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour in 2008 – have won the league in six of the last 12 seasons.
Newcastle are already resurgent and challenging for Champions League qualification – sitting two spots above United in third place in the league – after a year under Saudi ownership.
And Paris Saint-Germain – owned by Qatar since 2011 – have won the French title eight times since then.
Catching them on the pitch would require a new owner with the investment to not only upgrade the squad, but also the stadium and training facilities.
Finding state ownership is not simple. Especially investors not linked to those already running a club due to football regulations.
And fans could be placed in a moral bind – if it means swapping the aggressively capitalist model of the Glazers for owners backed by a country with a questionable human rights record.