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Burmese junta strongman considered buying Manchester United

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The leader of the Burmese military junta seriously considered a $1bn bid for Manchester United in January 2009.

The Asian republic was coping with the aftermath of cyclone Nargis (which killed around 140,000) at the time, but Than Shwe, commander of the armed forces in the south-east Asian state, was urged by his grandson to mount a takeover bid for the football club they both supported.

The bizarre putative takeover bid - an apparent attempt to divert attention from the country's growing economic and military problems - was recorded thanks to a cable from the US embassy in Rangoon, and leaked via Wikileaks.

Than Shwe balked at the Man Utd bid which might "look bad" in favour of the creation of a national football league.

"One well-connected source reports that the grandson wanted Than Shwe to offer $1bn for Manchester United," the June 2009 cable to Washington said, The Guardian reports. "The senior general thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma a league of its own."

The general then set about bullying eight leading businessmen into spending huge sums on buying imported players and building new stadiums in return for favourable treatment in government contracts. The general's grandson was to be offered a place in the squad in one of the teams, as part of the fantastically corrupt scheme that has never amounted to much.

The frequent intersection between football and politics is itemised at some length in the Guardian's story. Our personal favourite is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly hired spies to keep tabs on key football players, and personally fired national team coach coach Ali Daei after a defeat to Saudi Arabia - a move that reportedly went down badly with fans who protested at a later game.

Perhaps in a move to win back the dressing room, Ahmadinejad let the team fly to an away fixture in North Korea using his private jet.

The timing of all this isn't specified but it sounds very much like the 2010 World Cup qualifying competition, which eventually saw North Korea travel to South Africa as one of the region four representatives. South Korea qualified from the same group, which also featured Iran and Saudi Arabia. ®

Bootnotes

Former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra bought Manchester City in June 2007 prior to a sale of the club to Abu Dhabi United Group in September the following year, pocketing a healthy profit of an estimated £200 million in the process. He was welcomed by fans at the club at first, but relationship soon soured. The purchase is regarded by critics as a failed attempt by the controversial businessman turned politician to divert attention from his political problems.

After personally witnessing Michael Knighton, dressed in full Man Utd kit, playing keep-up in front of the Stretford End to publicise a failed takeover bid back in 1989, we'd believe almost anyone could take over the club - except Osama bin Laden (who famously supports Arsenal), obviously.

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