“…and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.” – Dylan Thomas
That famous throwaway line from A Child’s Christmas in Wales comes to mind when reading the various interviews in the papers today with Nasser al-Khelaifi, president of newly-megarich Paris Saint-Germain. While not short on specific details, mostly supplied by the interviewers and not Khelaifi himself, the interviews skirt over the question that screams to be asked of the new football oligarchs:
David Hytner’s piece in the Guardian elicits some telling responses from “Mr. Big.” First, that his ambition at PSG mirrors that of Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City:
[Khelaifi's] is a “complete project”. He intends to market the club as an international brand and promote “new media” opportunities. There are plans to expand the Parc des Princes and build a training ground that will be “one of the best in the world”. He stresses that revenues have increased under QSI, partly because of better sponsorship deals and more executive seating at the stadium. Attendances have risen.
“I respect all other clubs,” Khelaifi says. “I just ask them to focus on themselves and their problems and we focus on our club and our problems. I am very confident that we will reach our goals and we will comply with financial fair play.”
Which is of course ridiculous, because owners with unlimited financial resources artificially inflates wages for all teams in Europe, from the top to the bottom.
In any case however, there are signs this isn’t a mere vanity project. These are, big, cigar-chewing plans involving state-of-the-art facilities and “new media” integration. JUST LIKE CITY.
But one wonders…why?
You can certainly piece together a coherent business strategy in light of Al Jazeera’s purchase of Ligue 1′s domestic rights—Khelaifi is the station’s general manager. In order for the league to compete with the best in Europe for international demand, it needs a sexy, all-star team to lead the way. Think AC Milan in the late 1980s, or Manchester United’s rise to dominance in the mid 1990s. Montpellier and Lille winning the league just won’t do. And there is potentially big money in being a major player in the TV rights game as interest in football grows overseas.
Hytner at least wonders at the other possibility: that Qatar could be investing in football as a means to promote Qatari business interests at large, for example, to offer companies a sponsorship deal to push their brand. This is a form of political ambition Khelaifi denies. He instead talks about the nation’s pride in hosting the 2022 World Cup.
If it is only for the money, club football provides mere chump change compared to the other opportunities venture capitalism can afford these oil and gas oligarchs. Which is why I wanted someone to ask Khelaifi: what is it about football that interests you, enough to pour millions of Euros down a giant hole in Paris? Is it really just the love of sport? Boredom? National pride? Belief in the future growth of the sport? Is there really no larger national strategy? And why now?