Myanmar's military junta considered making a billion-dollar bid to buy Manchester United, it has emerged.
A cable sent from the US embassy in Yangon, made public by WikiLeaks, said Than Shwe, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, was urged to mount a takeover by his grandson shortly after the UN criticised the junta for its "unacceptably slow" response to cyclone Nargis.
The cable detailed how football could be used to distract its population from ongoing political and economic problems.
Than Shwe is said to have decided that mounting the bid might "look bad", and so he instead ordered the creation of a multimillion-dollar football league.
According to Forbes magazine's valuation of the English Premiership club at the time, $1 billion would have been enough to acquire a 56 percent controlling stake.
"One well-connected source reports that the grandson wanted Than Shwe to offer $1 billion for Manchester United," said the June 2009 cable to Washington.
"The senior general thought that sort of expenditure could look bad, so he opted to create for Burma (Myanmar) a league of its own."
Eight leading businessmen were persuaded to establish teams and ordered them to spend large sums on imported players and new stadiums.
According to the cable, they were told "that Than Shwe had 'chosen' them to be the owners of the new professional soccer teams".
The source, the cable went on, "said the owners are responsible for paying all costs, including team salaries, housing and transportation, uniform costs, and advertising for the new league".
"In addition, owners must build new stadiums in their respective regions by 2011, at an estimated cost of $1 million dollars per stadium."
"When asked why the owners would participate in such an expensive endeavour, (an executive with one company sponsor) observed that they had little choice," the embassy reported.
"'When the senior general asks someone to do something, you do it with no complaints,' he stated."