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UAE buyers help ex-England footballer hit property goals

Gary Neville
Gary Neville at the launch of his luxury property development in Manchester, where buyers from the UAE have pocketed one in five keys
  • 20% of investors in UAE
  • Manchester’s first branded residencies
  • Prices lower, yields higher than London

The former Manchester United and England footballer Gary Neville has revealed that one in five properties in his luxury residential development have been snapped up by UAE investors.

Neville, a Champions League-winning defender turned entrepreneur, visited the Emirates this week to gauge Middle Eastern interest in his £400 million ($501 million) hotel and apartment project in Manchester.

He told AGBI that in just 10 days, 60 percent of the properties had been sold to international investors. Between 30 and 40 of the apartments were purchased by buyers in Dubai.

“A lot of the international sales have been to people who’ve got a history of living in Manchester, being born in Manchester, gone to university in Manchester. So, they’ve got a good experience of the city and understand it,” Neville said.

His St Michael’s development is being sold by API Global in the UAE.

Average annual house price growth in Manchester stood at 4.9 percent in the first half of the year, according to property consultancy JLL. Prime house prices were up 1.6 percent.

The rental market recorded average growth of 19.6 percent. Prime rents increased by 25 percent.

Andy Thomson, head of real estate finance and private banking at Bank of London Middle East, said investors could achieve yields of 5 percent on properties in Manchester, against 4 percent in London.

“So, instead of buying one apartment in London, they can maybe buy two apartments in Manchester because the prices are a lot lower and also the yields are higher,” Thomson said.

Neville’s Relentless Developments company is working with developer Salboy on St Michael’s, which will include a five-star W Hotel and offices as well as 217 W Residences apartments – the first branded residences in the city.

The W Residences in Manchester, the city's first branded apartments
A view of the W Residences in Manchester, the city’s first branded apartments

“I’ve travelled to every major city in the world – America, Asia, Middle East, Europe – and stayed in amazing hotels. Manchester only had one five-star hotel and that wasn’t even really a five-star hotel,” Neville said. 

“I thought, why can my city not have these great hotels, but then also link it to residential living?”.

Manchester is the leading city outside London for foreign direct investment in the UK, according to consultancy EY.

Greater Manchester represents the largest city economy outside London, with a gross value added of £78.7 billion.

Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi owners have been granted planning permission for a $384 million project to expand and upgrade its stadium, which will include adding a 400-bed hotel and a 4,000 sq m co-working space for local businesses.

“If you look underneath the surface of Manchester, it’s built by local developers, built by local people, but using international and national partners from all around the world,” Neville said.

Neville will not coach in Saudi – ‘or anywhere for that matter’

The 48-year-old lifted the English Premier League trophy eight times at Manchester United and won 85 caps for England. His managerial career was less illustrious: a four-month spell in charge of the Spanish team Valencia in 2015.

“Valencia is my biggest learning, without a shadow of a doubt. That was the most stress that I felt in my whole life,” he told AGBI.

“I always say, I remember looking in the mirror one morning and it sounds like a sort of cliché, but I remember thinking: you’re going to make yourself ill.”

A week later he was shown the door – and returned to his former job as a Sky Sports pundit.

While Neville has welcomed investment from this part of the world, he has ruled out a coaching move to Saudi Arabia, following in the footsteps of his former England teammate Steven Gerrard or Italy’s Roberto Mancini.

Al Ettifaq coach Steven Gerrard gives instructions to his players during a match against Al Tai. Gary Neville has no plans to follow his former England teammate to the Saudi Pro LeagueReuters/Hamad I Mohammed
Al Ettifaq coach Steven Gerrard gives instructions to his players in a match against Al Tai. Gary Neville says he has no plans to follow his former England teammate to the Saudi Pro League

Gerrard’s two-year deal with Saudi Pro League side Al Ettifaq is worth a reported $19 million a year, while newspapers in Italy have suggested Mancini is being paid more than $27 million after tax each year to coach the kingdom’s national side.

Despite the sums on offer to European talent, Neville said: “I will not be going to Saudi to coach a football team – or anywhere to coach a football team for that matter.”

He has no objections to the Saudi authorities spending hundreds of millions to raise the profile of their league, however.

The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund has 75 percent stakes in four Pro League teams, Al Ittihad, Al Hilal, Al Nassr and Al Ahli. It is also majority shareholder in the English Premier League club Newcastle United.

In the summer 2023 transfer window, not long after the sovereign wealth fund bought its Pro League stakes, Saudi clubs spent almost $1 billion on players.

Neville said: “What I said about Saudi was not that they’re wrong to spend the money on football, not that they shouldn’t pay whatever they want for players to go and play in their league.

“I was only critical when I felt that potentially transfers were being organised between clubs that have Saudi ownership in England and Saudi.”

Neville himself was heavily criticised in the UK last year for working as a World Cup pundit for Qatari broadcaster Bein Sports.

He said: “I got a lot of criticism for it in respect to the Qatar World Cup. But the reality of it is, are we saying that we should never then have a World Cup in the Middle East? Is that what we’re saying? Is that what people are really comfortable with? I’m not comfortable with that.

“Football is owned by the world, not by England, and everyone loves football.”

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