French en­voy stresses close ties with Qatar

Gulf Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Sa­han Bi­dappa Sports Re­porter

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.

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