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Myanmar leader pondered buying Manchester United

By Tim Lister, CNN
The suggestion to buy United apparently came from the grandson of Than Shwe -- the top figure in Myanmar's junta.
The suggestion to buy United apparently came from the grandson of Than Shwe -- the top figure in Myanmar's junta.
  • General's grandson suggested he buy Manchester United, cable says
  • General, who is a soccer fan, thought $1 billion purchase would look bad
  • He created a soccer league in Myanmar

(CNN) -- It turns out that the military regime in Myanmar is soccer-crazy and even pondered buying world-famous club Manchester United, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian newspaper in Britain.

The suggestion to buy United apparently came from the grandson of Than Shwe -- the highest-ranking figure in Myanmar's junta. "One well-connected source reports that the grandson wanted Than Shwe to offer $1 billion for Manchester United" says the cable, which was written in June 2009. Turns out Than Shwe is a United fan.

Myanmar was at the time recovering from the effects of a devastating typhoon, and Than Shwe decided not to press the idea. The cost of buying the club would have been similar to U.N. estimates of the funds needed to recover from the typhoon.

"The Senior General thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma a league of its own," the cable said. (Myanmar is also known as Burma, especially in the West.)

WikiLeaks: Espionage or freedom?

And so was created the Myanmar National Football League. Owners were chosen for the eight professional teams and told to pay players' salaries and build stadia. The cable says one team spends $155,000 a month on players' wages and that several players from Africa and Argentina were recruited to the league.

The embassy's contact was asked why owners would spend so much money in building teams. "When the Senior General asks someone to do something, you do it with no complaints," he said, according to the cable. He added that several owners would receive incentives from the regime, such as construction contracts, new gem and jade mines, and import permits.

The same cable says it "has been a huge success, with high attendance and wide national TV and radio coverage." The embassy's contacts said the creation of the football league "may be a way for the regime to distract the people from ongoing political and economic problems."

As for Than Shwe's grandson, his dream of sitting in the directors' box at Old Trafford, the stadium where Manchester United plays, may have been dashed. But in an astute political move, a business tycoon named Zaw Zaw made an important signing for his club, Delta United.

"Contacts confirm that Zaw Zaw hired Senior General Than Shwe's grandson to play on the team," reads a separate cable.

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