If Paris Saint-Germain beat Bayern Munich in today’s Champions League final in Lisbon, the pictures will probably be of Neymar’s tears of joy or wild scenes of celebration in the French capital, but basking in the glory of it all will be the emir of Qatar.
The club’s first appearance in the final of Europe’s elite club competition comes in the month that it celebrates its 50th birthday, yet the starting point for all this was June 30, 2011.
That was when Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) bought PSG, with its president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, promising to make the club “a great team and a strong brand on the international scene.”
There is no doubt that QSI has achieved that, even if Qatar’s detractors question the motivations of the tiny, gas-rich nation protruding from the Arabian desert.
PSG recently won their seventh Ligue 1 title in eight seasons and their fourth domestic treble in six years.
Now, after half a dozen seasons of underwhelming performances on the continental stage, they are through to the biggest and most prestigious club game of all.
“Since we arrived here, the Champions League has been our dream, and we are close to fulfilling our dream now,” al Khelaifi said after the team beat RB Leipzig in their semi-final.
PSG were big before QSI — under the ownership of French pay TV giant Canal Plus in the 1990s, with stars like George Weah, they won the league in 1994 and reached the Champions League semi-finals a year later. They lifted their only European trophy to date, the Cup Winners’ Cup, in 1996.
However, by 2011 this was a club in dire straits.
They had just finished fourth in Ligue 1, but a year earlier came 13th. Crowds at the Parc des Princes were down, with the club having stopped selling tickets to members of two rival supporters’ groups because of hooliganism problems.
Under al Khelaifi, PSG are effectively a different club.
It took them just two years to shoot up to fifth place in Deloitte’s Football Money League. Their revenue in 2012-2013 was just under 400 million euros (US$471 million), having quadrupled in the short time under QSI. Only Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern and Manchester United sat before them.
That season, PSG returned to the Champions League after eight years away and won their first Ligue 1 title of the Qatar era. They made the marquee signing of David Beckham. Huge commercial deals were signed with the Qatar Tourism Authority and Qatari mobile provider Ooredoo.
Deloitte’s most recent figures put them fifth again with revenue of 635.9 million euros.
PSG committed the two biggest transfer fees in history, signing Neymar from Barcelona for 222 million euros and Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for 180 million euros, in 2017.
The club has spent, in total, an estimated 1.3 billion euros on transfer fees alone in these nine years.
In soccer terms, it has all been about delivering on-field success, but QSI’s aims, and the motivations behind Qatar’s involvement, go far deeper.
QSI’s own rudimentary Web site talks of a vision “to be internationally recognized as the leading sport, leisure and entertainment investment company in Qatar and abroad.”
Choosing PSG, based in one of Europe’s biggest and most glamorous cities, was a way for Qatar to grow its brand following its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup.
“It is all about branding, about attaching yourself to important and prestigious tournaments on the one hand, and glamorous and successful clubs on the other,” said Nicholas McGeehan, director of Fair Square Projects, who is an investigator and leading advocate on the rights of migrant workers in the Gulf.
For McGeehan, PSG’s success will reflect positively on Qatar and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
“In terms of the prestige of the Emir, it is of enormous political benefit to him. His political capital will be soaring amongst the Qataris,” he said.
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