Eyebrows were raised at Bramall Lane when Sheffield Unitedâs new owner, Prince Abdullah bin Musaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said he would be happy for the Bin Laden family to invest in the club.
âI get offended when the Bin Laden family is given a bad name,â said Prince Abdullah. âEvery family may have one bad person, one black sheep but they are very respectable.â
Although Bin Laden Construction is an internationally respected construction company and the influential Saudi family behind it disowned their extremist relative Osama Bin Laden in 1994, that resonant surname remains inextricably linked with the late alâQaida terrorist who ordered the 11 September attacks on New Yorkâs Twin Towers in 2001.
Prince Abdullah, though, seemed frustrated by the nameâs enduring association with Islamic extremism and revealed that the Bin Laden family had previously shown interest in buying shares in Sheffield United from the former co-owner Kevin McCabe.
âI have not done business with them in the past but I will be very happy to do business with them,â Prince Abdullah said. âThe Bin Laden familyâs not a disgraced name or something I should hide. They were going to buy Kevin McCabeâs shares. They did due diligence but decided not to buy. I donât see it is as a big deal. When I see the Bin Laden family as a dirty name I get really offended.â
It was all part of a 45-minute introduction to the start of a new era at one of the worldâs oldest football clubs as Prince Abdullah and his son-in-law Prince Musaad bin Khalid bin Musaad Al Saud flanked the teamâs manager, Chris Wilder, in the Bramall Lane media room.
After winning an acrimonious high court battle to wrest full control from McCabe â previously the holder of a 50% stake â Prince Abdullah has installed the 26-year-old Prince Musaad as his new chairman. Moreover the new outright owner stressed that he had no intention of selling the club on to circling American investors and offered Wilder, who seemed unusually tentative, his absolute support.
âIf it was about money, I would sell the club right now,â Prince Abdullah said. âMy main focus is to bring in sponsors from Saudi right now.â
He acknowledged Wilderâs achievement in lifting United from League One to the Premier League in three seasons. âWe are blessed to have him. The results and the way we play our beautiful football speaks for itself. I have good harmony with Chris.â
For his part, Wilder said he was â100% positive about the futureâ and had been in regular contact with Prince Abdullah during his partnership with McCabe. âThereâs only been a couple of times Iâve expressed my frustrations towards Prince Abdullah and Kevin,â he said. âIn the majority of times theyâve allowed me to get on with my job.â
Wilder appeared a little more diffident about the introduction of the new Belgian technical director, Jan Van Winckel. âAnything done to improve club, Iâm open to,â he said. âBut Iâm a hands on manager; my style is I have the big decisions to make. Iâm full of confidence it will work with Jan.â
Prince Abdullah â formerly general president of youth welfare in Riyadh, having accrued his wealth in paper production â had previously rarely been spotted at Bramall Lane but was adamant he watched every match on television, routinely muting the sound so as not to be upset by critical commentators. Prince Musaad, though, will now at the club on a near daily basis.
âWe will work hard to make the fans proud,â said Prince Abdullah. âI hope in five yearsâ time everything will be much better and we will be with Chris Wilder, taking us to a bigger and better place.â
The owner maintained his was a âprivate investmentâ unrelated to his countryâs current attempts to extend influence and present a modernised face to the world by increased involvement in major sporting events.
Under the terms of the high court ruling Prince Abdullah will have to buy Sheffield Unitedâs property assets â a Â£40m portfolio including the stadium, adjacent hotel and training ground â by next July. Although he was vague on how he intended to fund such purchases he said finding the finance would ânot be a problemâ.