“When I want a peerage,” sniffed Alfred Harmsworth (later Lord Northcliffe), “I shall buy one like an honest man.” So yes: I want to begin with an apology for a ridiculous statement in my most recent column, which held that David Beckham’s mega-lucrative Qatar promotional deal meant he has been “wearing the face of a man who knows he is never going to get his knighthood now”. This was obviously wrong. Having been paid a reported £150m for his work shilling for the Qatari regime, David is in fact even better placed to buy a knighthood than he was before, and could easily run to a peerage.
But could David also be involved in the purchase of something else? Namely, Manchester United football club, which you’ll have noted is back on the market after the adored Glazer family have finally decided to cash out of the club they bought with some debt back in 2005. Can you cash out of something you never put cash into? Amazingly, yes. High finance is magic, and I’ve got a huge amount of time for it.
According to the Financial Times, Beckham is “open to holding talks with potential bidders for Manchester United”, aware his backing “could lend credibility”.
Could it? Certainly, his unappealing antics over the past few weeks have catapulted him closer in the public affections to the reviled sports-owner category, though of course his personal wealth is nothing like what you’d need to be meaningfully financially involved in a bid, with current estimates of United’s worth ricocheting cheerily between just under £5bn to upwards of £7bn.
But Beckham’s sense that he would make a worthy figurehead or heritage fan appeaser for someone else’s bid is intriguing. On one level it’s hard to know how much appeasing would even be necessary. There is no more elegant pivot in world sport than spending years moaning about the World Cup being in Qatar to begging a Gulf state to come and buy your club, and I feel sure we’ll be seeing some stunning examples of this executed as the sale hots up.
As for who Beckham would lend his image to, that’s the big question. Though he is not formally a spokesmodel for Just For Men Beard and Moustache dye, Beckham’s alarmingly coloured beard now looks so odd he could almost be the continuity Glazer candidate, at least on the weird facial-hair front. (You’ll remember the particular beard sported by the late paterfamilias Malcolm Glazer. In my taxonomy of beard types, I always think of that one as “the pervert special”, though of course there is absolutely no suggestion that Malcolm’s kinks were anything other than financial. Tonsorially, Glazer owed much to the Amish. And financially, he owed much to a number of funds and institutions.)
Anyway: runners and riders for a bid for the club. Openly keen is the Ineos tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe, who is a lifelong United fan and already involved in sports ownership. Jim is Britain’s richest man – lives in Monaco, obviously – but something about the cut of his jib makes me feel he’d be the long prelude to your first sighting of a “GLAZERS IN” banner.
The Daily Star seems to think Apple is interested (no), while the Times mentions Amazon and Meta. The latter would suggest Mark Zuckerberg’s money-pit cravings are somehow insufficiently satisfied by the metaverse on which he has already dropped more than the US spent on the entire Manhattan project. Next up are the obligatory pair of Americans, in the form of Stephen Pagliuca and Larry Tanenbaum, disappointed shortlisters to buy Chelsea. Then there’s Jim O’Neill and his Red Knights, and the Zara magnate Amancio Ortega. Arguably the one to watch is Dubai International Capital, which would mean cuddly Sheikh Makhtoum could swap notes with Beckham on their iron-filings beards, like a pair of those magnetic Wooly Willy toys.
But, banter-wise, you do have to think a certain other little Gulf state could come in with a late surprise, as soon as Qatar realise there’s one bit of the UK they haven’t already bought. After all, even considering just luxury London hotels, Beckham’s friends in the Qatar regime own some or all of the Ritz, Claridge’s, the Connaught, the Berkeley and the InterContinental Park Lane. So they enjoy internal competition, and PSG could serve as a cute little feeder club or something.
That would certainly make for the sort of flashy launch event to which Beckham could be drawn. When the Qataris opened the Shard, the party featured Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Qatar and Prince Andrew. So that’s Boris Johnson, the prime minister of Qatar and Prince Andrew at the top of an extremely tall glass building. I know what you’re thinking – and believe me, so am I – but it’s impossible to print those things without someone writing some pained letter to the readers’ editor about you, and I haven’t got the time this weekend.
So let’s conclude this section by noting that Prince Andrew abseiled down part of the Shard for charity, scoffing that there was “a lot of psychobabble about this sort of thing”. Cool as a cucumber; no sweat. Having completed his descent, Andrew said: “All my family, who have been very supportive, probably want to know I have landed safely.” (But did they? Hopefully series whatever of The Crown will portray this incident as a failed assassination attempt by Prince Philip. Can’t win ’em all.)
Whichever way you slice it, then, there is everything to play for with our Golden Balls-for-hire. Let’s hope our manscaped figurehead finds a ship to lash himself to in very short order, allowing him to once again set sail on lucrative tides.
Marina Hyde’s World Cup Week will appear each Friday during the tournament