Real’s foothold in Gulf,a $1bn resort

Barcelona have less than three years to find themselves a new motto,by which time arch nemesis Real Madrid too can lay claim on being “more than just a club”

Written by Daksh Panwar | Ras Al Khaimah | Published:April 2, 2012 12:17 am

Barcelona have less than three years to find themselves a new motto,by which time arch nemesis Real Madrid too can lay claim on being “more than just a club”. The nine-time European Champions have unveiled plans of setting up a resort island in the UAE by January 2015 in a bid to reach out to their “160 million fans” in Asia.

“This is a decisive and strategic step that will enhance the strength of this institution in the Middle East and Asia,a key region in which the passion for this club is very apparent and growing,” Real Madrid president Florentino Perez told a gathering of international journalists last week in the northern Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

It’s not the first time that the flamboyant Perez has undertaken an ambitious project. During his first stint at Real’s helm (2000-06),he put together a dream squad — Los Galacticos as they were known — while breaking a few transfer records. In his second stint (2009-),Perez has picked up from where he left off,bringing Cristiano Ronaldo,Kaka and manager Jose Mourinho for record sums.

Audacious project

But even by Perez’s standards,his latest project may seem staggeringly audacious. Staggering for its sheer scale: the island will be home to a 450-room hotel,a marina,a theme park and a crescent-shaped football stadium that opens into the sea on one side. And audacious because a similar project in the region,Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi,has failed to create any buzz. Moreover,the Real project will cost 1 billion dollars,a risk big enough to threaten the financial security of the club.

Nevertheless,Real believe their brand is big enough to attract both tourists and investors. Said Louis-Armand de Rouge,chief executive of the Real Madrid Resort Island: “ It won’t affect the financial stability of the club. The only problem we might face is selecting investors,not so much about whether we have the money to make it,but who will participate,because there are already heaps of people that want to buy most of it. We expect it to be profitable. In the first three years,we should be breaking even.”

(The writer was in Ras Al Khaimah on RAK Investment Authority’s invitation)

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