Manchester City losing to PSG in battle of the Sheikhs but don’t be surprised to see Lionel Messi rock up at Etihad


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THE ETIHAD has become the main battle ground for a new kind of Gulf War.

So far it is Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Sheikh Mansour and their troops from Abu Dhabi who are having to dig in and take cover.

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Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser Al-Khelaifi oversaw Neymar’s world-record switch

Sheikh Mansour right) and Khaldoon Al Mubarak are in competition with PSG

PA:Press Association

Sheikh Mansour, right, and Khaldoon Al Mubarak are in competition with PSG

That is why no one should be surprised were Lionel Messi to show up over the next 12 months.

For the fight is all about Arab pride and Arab power. And standing on either side of the trenches with untold financial might at their disposal are Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Or in other words Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, the clubs that are effectively owned by the respective governments.

And money is no object whatsoever. On the face of it PSG’s world record £198MILLION purchase of Neymar from Barcelona and the £166m deal for Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe is all about improving the French club’s team.

But their acquisitions are as much about face as football. For Qatar, currently cut off by the rest of the Gulf states over accusations of funding terrorism as well as having ties to extremist groups, is trying to show the world and  their immediate enemies that for them it is business and usual.

Part of that  is splashing money around like there is no tomorrow.

Manchester City have already had talks with Lionel Messi's dad Jorge

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Manchester City have already had talks with Lionel Messi’s dad Jorge

Except that tomorrow when this summer’s transfer window closes, Pep Guardiola will be without one of his main targets in Mbappe, 18.

The City boss has spent months anxiously hoping he could get the new young genius of world football.

He may have claimed  Benjamin Mendy from Monaco for  £49.3m as part of his £220m summer spend. Yet it was Mbappe he wanted above all —  only for Qatar government money to talk louder than that of the UAE. Just as it had done with Neymar.

For Qatar, despite being ostracised by their neighbours and Egypt, are in the middle of a campaign to gain global prominence through football as part of its 2030 Industrial Vision,

That is why it was so determined to  secure the 2022 World Cup finals.

And the corruption scandal that has followed — just like worrying about Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules — can in the Qatari view be handled or manipulated.

Those based in Doha, as they sit on the largest deposits of natural gas in the world, also appear to believe that City  can be handled, too.

Not only did PSG land Mbappe, they have also muddied the water for months over Alexis Sanchez — another one of Pep’s targets this summer.

Pep Guardiola was desperate to sign Kylian Mbappe but PSG won the race

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Pep Guardiola was desperate to sign Kylian Mbappe but PSG won the race

Cityu are desperate to reunite Guardiola and Messi

AP:Associated Press

City are desperate to reunite Guardiola and Messi
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Indeed the PSG owners — Oryx Qatar Sports Investments  — were quietly making it clear that they wanted Sanchez from Arsenal as well as Neymar from Barcelona.

Only when someone tapped Oryx president Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the arm to remind him of those FFP regulations did they back off  Sanchez.

And they have been forced to do a deal with Mbappe that means he arrives in Paris on loan with his giant fee to be paid next year to stay as close as they can within those cash laws.

Mind, when the time comes, the cheque will be written out to Monaco for cash.

Same as the one Barcelona got once Neymar’s buy-out clause had been activated and the Brazilian superstar had made clear he was in favour of a £30m-per-year move to the French capital.

Until this summer the football war between Qatar and UAE has been mainly about sniping across no man’s land.

For example, after Abu Dhabi United, who bought City in 2008, brought in the UAE’s government  airline Etihad, Qatar hit back.

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They paid Barca £150m to drop their age-old ban on corporate  sponsorship to have Qatar Airways emblazoned on their shirts in 2012.

Significantly that deal ended this summer with Japanese e-commerce giants Rakuten replacing them.

That then made it easier for PSG to go for Neymar.

Given half a chance, and with  saving face very much the battle cry, City will hit back by doing everything possible to reunite Messi with Guardiola. They have that chance, too, for Messi’s father Jorge is understood to have recently met with director of football Txiki Begiristain and the City man did not blink over the 30-year-old’s £263m buy-out clause.

The pair no doubt talked possible salary, too.

And while £1m-a-week might sound outrageous even in these day of mind-blowing spending, when it comes to the wealth of Sheikh Mansour — whose family are dollar trillionaires — it is barely a round of drinks to them.

Especially as Messi — unless he signs the new Barca contract that has been on the table for months — will be a free agent next summer.

Messi’s entrance would only partly be about the Beautiful Game. In reality it would really be the ultimate coup in the increasingly bitter and expensive battle for bragging rights that is being waged between Qatar and UAE.

With PSG and Manchester City being used as camouflage.

Keep up to date with all the latest news, gossip, rumours and done deals in SunSport’s live transfer blog

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