- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sulaiman Al Fahim, an American University graduate, is the latest overseas businessman to buy into the English Premier League.

A native of the United Arab Emirates, Al Fahim became the sole owner of Portsmouth FC late last month in a deal worth $100 million. Nicknamed Pompey, Portsmouth FC was promoted to the prestigious Premier League in 2003 and came in 14th last season in the 20-team table.

Often referred to as the “Donald Trump of Abu Dhabi” for his real estate projects and “Apprentice”-style reality show, Al Fahim is eager to pump new life into his team.

“Portsmouth is a club that has potential to grow,” the soft-spoken Al Fahim said Wednesday. “The club has a great history, established in 1898, and during the 1940s and 1950s was one of the biggest teams. Last year the club won the FA Cup. For me it just sounded really attractive to invest in the game.”

The Premier League is a big attraction in the Middle East. Al Fahim said the television rights in the region for Premier League games cost $6 million in 1994; now, the rights sell for $350 million. A quarter of all the money in Europe generated through soccer comes from the Premier League, he said.

Al Fahim got involved in top-flight soccer a year ago. He was the key negotiator for the Abu Dhabi United Group, which purchased Manchester City in 2008 for $363 million. He left the group to buy his own team.

“With Manchester City I was part of a group, but Portsmouth is my personal work,” Al Fahim said. “I have a long-term vision. The fans want me to spend money, but we can’t match what Manchester City and Chelsea spend.”

Portsmouth saw a number of its top players, including Peter Crouch and Glen Johnson, leave the club this summer. The team hosts Bolton on Saturday and is looking for its first win after opening the season under new coach Paul Hart with four loses.

“I told Paul Hart that from now on he should look for players and give me the budget,” Al Fahim said. “I told him I don’t want to see my club going down. I don’t want my club to go below 14th.”

To increase revenue, Al Fahim plans to build a 40,000-seat “eco-friendly green stadium” by 2018. The club’s current venue holds 20,000.

“Portsmouth is the only Premier League team south of London and has a potential fan base of 8 million to draw from,” Al Fahim said.

The Dubai-based businessman said he has no plans to invest in Major League Soccer but he does have contacts in United States monitoring American players.

Now in his early 30s, Al Fahim came to live and study at AU when he was 21 after the death of his parents and younger brother in a traffic accident in Dubai; he went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration. He was back in the District to talk to congressional leaders about green housing.

Through the years, Al Fahim has promoted numerous sporting events in the United Arab Emirates, sometimes challenging prevailing traditions. He has funded horse-riding programs for women and said he wants to see more women play soccer in the Middle East. He even suggested taking the Portsmouth FC Ladies team on a tour of the region.

“We need to break concepts and perceptions,” he said. “Sports is the best way to do that and bring people together.”

Al Fahim also has invested resources to fight malnutrition and has funded a clinic in Kenya; he plans to open another in Haiti.

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