French envoy stresses close ties with Qatar
The visit of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Paris, just a few months after his visit in July, which followed the visit of the French president to Doha last December, shows our common commitment to our partnership, which will soon be raised at the strategic level, French ambassador Franck Gellet has said. “In this regard, high-level visits of French officials to Qatar are foreseen in the coming year,” he said in a message released on the eve of the Paris Peace Forum. President Macron invited the Amir to the Paris Peace Forum “first in the name of the very close and friendly relationship that binds our two countries; secondly, because of Qatar’s dedication to international law, multilateralism, dialogue and mediation; and last but not least, given the active role of Qatar on the international scene in support of development. We are very honoured that the Amir responded positively to the invitation,” the ambassador added.
Qatar’s ownership of Paris SaintGermain (PSG) has transformed French football besides taking the historically significant ties between the two nations to an entirely new level.
While Paris was always one of the world’s top destinations for tourism, fashion and sports in general, there was a time when it couldn’t attract top footballers the way some other European football centres - such as London, Madrid, Barcelona and Milan - did.
However, when Qatar Sports Investments (QSi) bought PSG in 2011, Paris and French football experienced a transformation on a scale rarely seen in sporting history. The arrival of QSi and new club president Nasser al-Khelaifi meant PSG was set for a historic journey with an ambitious project to take the club to the summits of the European game.
“We have a very clear vision, to be honest,” alKhelaifi had said back then. “In five years, we want to be one of the best clubs in Europe and to win the Champions League and our brand to be worth €1bn. And we will be there.”
The Champions League title has eluded them, but the club is not far away from accomplishingthat as well. In the 2016-2017 season, PSG appeared to be on the brink of something special in Europe after they thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of the round of 16. But Barca won the tie after overturning the first-leg deficit.
However, it’s safe to say al-Khelaifi has met all other targets. Since QSi’s takeover in 2011, PSG has won 20 trophies, including five league titles. But what is significant is that Qatar’s investment put PSG and French football in the global spotlight like never before and made the club one of the best teams in the world.
Currently, they have the seventh-highest revenue in the footballing world with annual revenue of €486.2mn, and are the world’s 11th most valuable football club, worth €825mn. The capital club currently has active departments for youth football (PSG Academy) and women’s football.
Not just that, it has also brought fans back to the stadiums with PSG’s Parc des Princes stadium, with a capacity of 47,929 always packed to the gallery. The fan base for the French club has tripled over the last seven years as the top players lined up to sign for PSG.
The “revolution” began in June 2011 when PSG installed former Brazilian international and Milan and Internazionale manager Leonardo as its sport director in July, with a brief to overhaul the club.
Leonardo’s signing of Argentinian midfielder Javier Pastore from Palermo for €45mn, shattering French football’s record transfer fee, signalled PSG’s intent. Pastore was followed by the likes of Javier Pastore, Blaise Matuidi, Kevin Gameiro and Thiago Motta as they finished second behind Montpellier.
But it was the signing of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2012 from Inter Milan and David Beckham, then 37, six months later that made the football world sit up and take notice. They were joined by Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marco Verratti and the gamble paid off as PSG waltzed to the Ligue 1 title, the first under alKhelaifi.
The following year PSG bought Napoli star Edinson Cavani, making the Uruguayan the club’s record signing upon arriving in a deal worth €63mn. Defender Marquinhos was snapped up from Roma, while Lille were persuaded to part with 20-year-old Lucas Digne.
Even as the top talents were assembled in Paris, the other top football clubs called the spending spree as lackadaisical but al-Khelaifi knew what he was doing. The dominance in French football only increased, trophies got piled up and so did the image of PSG.
But the ambition bar was set much higher by QSibacked al-Khelaifi. They wanted the best player in their ranks to be the best in the world. And when Brazilian superstar Neymar arrived from Barcelona, the PSG president knew he had accomplished in part what he had aimed in 2011.
Neymar didn’t come in cheap though, as PSG had to shatter the world record transfer fee of €222mn to sign the forward from Barcelona. That Neymar was happy to join PSG and leave Barcelona was a huge statement of how far the Paris club had come since 2011.
Soon, French sensation Kylian Mbappe was to become the priciest teenager on the planet when he completed a €180mn permanent deal at the end of the current season. Those two transfers have helped PSG recover their place at the top of Ligue 1 as they look to dominate over the next decade.
Al-Khelaifi explained how the world record investments in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe will prove value for money and eventually be regarded as “a great deal”, and how the transfers are part of PSG’s aim to become “one of the best clubs in the world and one of the best sports brands”.
“We have been working very hard for the past six years to build the revenues of the club and they have increased through ticketing, sponsoring, merchandising, match day and TV rights from €90mn to approximately €500mn, with the last two seasons running profits,” al-Khelaifi told the Telegraph last year.
PSG have already seen a commercial uplift since Neymar was signed – shirt sales went up 10 times on the day he signed and 75% more visitors have been to their Paris stores in one month alone, selling 210,000 PSG products.
“Neymar is an international superstar,” al-Khelaifi says. “An international brand. Everybody is asking ‘what’s going on in France and in the French league? Neymar is playing for Paris Saint-Germain!’ Even people who are not interested in football are saying that. Neymar’s first match in Guingamp was broadcast to 183 countries. It was amazing for France and the French league. It is good also for the Champions League because you will have another club competing – I am not saying by any means we are there yet – but it’s important to have new clubs coming and clubs with ambition.”
The sky is the limit for al-Khelaifi and QSi, and it’s no doubt they have changed the fortunes of PSG and French football by steering them in the right direction with wise leadership and investment.
Nasser al-Khelaifi with Neymar.