World Soccer: You came to prominence through your dealings with Manchester City. Were you pushed out of the club?
Sulaiman Al-Fahim: No. My role was to find a good football club [for Sheikh Mansour], to buy it, to negotiate, to close the deal and to announce the purchase. That was my total involvement and I have done that. I was happy I chose the right club. I negotiated well and closed well, and you can see the result today. Every club fears Manchester City and they can beat any club.
Which other clubs did you look at?
I can’t say, but in that November I got an offer to buy Portsmouth. I was looking at clubs from different rankings in the Premier League.
Why were you at Fratton Park for only 42 days?
I believe Peter Storrie [Portsmouth chief executive officer] from day one wanted the consortium of [Saudi property investor] Ali Al Faraj [because] he brought them in. With me there would be no overpayment, everything would be at the right time, with the right investment. Mine was £5million investment as equity. But they wanted £10m in two weeks. So I sold the club. But look how much the [Al Faraj] consortium has invested. It’s only £1.8m. So where is the money they were asking me for? I was getting 100 emails a day. Why don’t they care now the consortium hasn’t paid this?
Do you believe Peter Storrie forced you out?
In the beginning he supported me so I don’t know why he thought I wasn’t the right guy. He was pushing me out, using the media and the club website.
What will your Portsmouth legacy be?
I am so happy with it [he retains a 10 per cent stake and is the club’s chairman]. Who would have thought that by investing £5m you would get 10 per cent of a [Premier League] club? It’s a good investment for me. There were only two choices for me: kick out the board and bring in my own people – which you can’t do with Portsmouth at the moment – or sell the club. I let the management have the owner they liked. Many people saw this as a failure, but people will understand it is a good deal. Mid to long term, they will realise it was a success.
Has the experience put you off your involvement in football?
No. I get phone calls from the US, from Asia, saying: “Mr Sulaiman, help us to buy a club.” Real businessmen don’t ever look at my stake as a failure. Anybody, when they see the deal I have done, would be happy. People call me to buy and find opportunities in the Premier League. They also call me to open new football clubs in their own countries. My [new] company understands the football business,
so I’m becoming more involved in it.
For someone looking to buy into a football club, which three represent the best value for money?
Looking at football clubs now, with £100m, it would be Portsmouth, Portsmouth and Portsmouth! They would be first. Second would be West Ham United, third Leeds United. Newcastle United are good for investors looking for history, image, but it is a long, long-term investment. In the Italian league there are one or two very good opportunities, such as Bologna. In the Spanish league, Levante. Opening a new club in India or a professional club in the US would be perfect.
There’s a debate in the UK about merits of foreign ownership. Does a touch of xenophobia surround it?
People should not criticise foreign owners. Whether I am the owner or the owner is Chinese or from Hong Kong or Saudi Arabia, the reality is we are not the owners. It is owned by the supporters and the community. You invest in the service and if there’s money to be made, then it’s to be made. But in England, where there is so much passion, I don’t like the word owner.
Don’t foreign owners widen the gap between the fans and the club?
When a foreign owner buys the club he doesn’t really know much about its management. We get advice from people who manage it. Take Portsmouth: Peter Storrie was there for seven years and has seen Milan [Mandaric], [Alexandre] Gaydamak, me for six weeks and Ali Al Faraj.
None of the owners are involved in the day-to-day management of the club. It is the owners’ jobs to secure finance, to expand the brand and help with cash flow, but not more than that.
This won’t be the last we hear of you?
I’ve always said that I’ll retire at 35. I am 32 now. My other project is a film that I’m investing in [The Road to Darfur]. I play myself, a philanthropist. I want people to see the real me, not what people have written about me. And not what people saw in my reality TV show, Hydra Executives. You know, my only problem was the first season wasn’t me. It showed someone with ego, ignorant, selfish. I want this [film] to show my real, honest lifestyle.