PSG no closer to joining European elite despite $1 billion investment by Qatar

Paris Saint-Germain's players react after losing the Champions League round of 16 second-leg tie with Real Madrid. (AFP)
Updated 07 March 2018
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PSG no closer to joining European elite despite $1 billion investment by Qatar

DOHA: Paris Saint-Germain’s latest bruising exit from the European football Champions League may have been particularly painful for two men watching among the almost 50,000-strong crowd at Parc des Princes.
High in the stands in the Paris stadium were Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani and the former ruler, his father Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who together have helped bankroll the French team’s obsession with landing club football’s biggest prize: The European Cup.
Tuesday’s limp defeat, even if by Real Madrid, seems scant return for the more than €1 billion ($1.2 billion) poured into PSG since Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) bought the French club in 2011.
This was meant to be the year the club — having signed Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for a combined €402 million — joined European football’s elite.
Instead, PSG has failed to realize its ambitions, crucially at a time when Qatar is at the center of a bitter political conflict with neighboring former allies in the Gulf.
Even more galling for Qatar and PSG is that one of the favorites this year is Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City.
Those involved with PSG say there is no chance of Qatar turning its back on the club.
“The project is not stopping,” said a source close to the club.
“The investment has been huge and is continuing.”
Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who simultaneously serves as chairman of QSI and president of PSG — in addition to being a tennis buddy of the current emir — spoke immediately after the humbling defeat about taking time to reflect, despite being “upset.”
“Short-term, the club’s Neymar-powered, Gulf feud-busting tactics would appear to be at an end,” said Simon Chadwick, a professor of Sports Enterprise at Britain’s Salford University and a member of a Qatari government sport think tank.
“Longer term, however, one senses it will be a case of keep calm and carry on.”
Success “requires sustained investment in talent acquisition and development,” he adds, not just the occasional big name signing.
Patience, though, is not a highly regarded virtue in modern-day football, even though the experience of “nouveau-riche” clubs such as England’s Chelsea and Manchester City demonstrate it takes time for a team to establish itself among Europe’s traditional elite.
For those directly involved with the day-to-day running of PSG, reflection on the Real defeat is likely to take the form of what to do with coach Unai Emery and Neymar.
Paris-based French football specialist Jonathan Johnson says the latest failure will see “heads roll” and even speculates that Khelaifi may be for “the chopping block.”
For Qatar, what to do next with PSG seems to be a matter of broader considerations, including international politics, diplomacy and finance.
The emirate has exploited sport to pursue a soft power approach to improving its global image.
This effort has reached its height in football, through PSG and the country’s winning bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
“Overall, there’s no doubt that Qatar’s six-year involvement with PSG has been a soft power success,” says Christopher Davidson, a professor in Middle East politics at Durham University.
Financing the PSG European dream though is key.
One billion euros may sound a lot but is equal only to a fortnight’s spending on World Cup preparations for Qatar.
And despite its vast gas riches, the boycott by its regional rivals has hit Doha’s economy.
“The economic blockade drags on and no real end is in sight,” Davidson said.
“Cutting through the extensive propaganda produced by both sides, there’s no doubt that the Qatari economy is feeling the squeeze.”


Saudi Arabia out to make up for wasted opportunities against Egypt in World Cup dead rubber

Updated 26 min ago
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Saudi Arabia out to make up for wasted opportunities against Egypt in World Cup dead rubber

  • Green Falcons to face Egypt in final game of Group A
  • Both side already out of the World Cup after defeats to Russia and Uruguay

VOLGOGRAD: Fahad Al-Muwallad has promised to make up for wasted opportunities when he and his Saudi Arabia teammates face Middle East neighbors Egypt in their final match of the World Cup on Monday.
Al-Muwallad, the pacy forward heralded as the Green Falcons’ most dangerous goal-threat, was left on the bench for much of his team’s embarrassing opening day defeat to Russia. By the time he was introduced in the 64th minute, Saudi Arabia were already 2-0 down and would go on to concede three more without response. In their second match, the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay, the diminutive winger was recalled to the starting line-up and employed as a center forward, but struggled against a dominant defense that included the twin towers of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez. 
“The first match was very difficult,” said Al-Muwallad, who spent the past six months on loan at Levante from Al-Ittihad.
“We were surprised, taken aback and confused. We wanted to win. Our match against Uruguay then became a decisive match because we needed to get the three points, but were unable to do so. Against Egypt, we have another difficult match and hope to get the three points.”
The poor results prompted much scrutiny at the highest levels of Saudi Arabian football with Turki Al-Alsheikh, the head of the country’s General Sports Authority, simultaneously taking responsibility and blaming the players.
Al-Muwallad, when asked if the administrative issues had affected their preparations for their final Group A match, instead focused on his team’s chance to make amends.
“Everyone has done their best,” he said.
“The managers of the team gave us a great deal of support, Saudi Arabia supported us. Perhaps we wasted a few opportunities, but we have a chance to make up for what happened since the beginning. We have a bright future ahead of us as players. We want to win the three points and we want to make the Saudi fans happy and hope that we will be able to do so.”
While the Green Falcons are without a World Cup win for 12 consecutive games, a streak running back to 1994, Egypt have never won at the tournament. Yet it is the Pharaohs that have the better record against their neighbors from across the Red Sea. After six FIFA-recognized meetings, Egypt lead the head-to-head series with four wins and a draw. With English Premier League top goalscorer Mohamed Salah in their ranks, Hector Cuper’s side will enter the match at Volgograd Arena as favorites. 
“Of course our match against Egypt will be a very difficult match,” Al-Muwallad said. “Every squad and team dreams of winning a World Cup game. We want those three points, regardless of the opponent and while we respect them, I think they recognize that the Saudi team a is a team to be reckoned with. We will enjoy the match.”
Juan Antonio Pizzi, the Saudi Arabia coach, said he has no specific plan to combat the threat of Salah, much like he employed no particular man-marking plan against Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. His Green Falcons, however, are well aware of the Liverpool forward’s threat.
“When you face an opposition that has high individual qualities, you have to show this to your players and prepare them so they know what to do to stave them off,” said Pizzi. “Salah has huge qualities and it is no coincidence that he has had such a wonderful career — especially this past year in England — so we will take precautions and try to contain him — although not only him — and stave off any sort of attacking play that they might try to develop.”
With midfielder Taiseer Al-Jassem pulling his hamstring against Uruguay and Omar Hawsawi and Mohammed Al-Burayk also struggling to be fit, Pizzi will likely need to shuffle his pack. Yet while the Argentine conceded he is already thinking about next January’s Asian Cup, he said he does not intend to use the dead rubber as a chance to give younger players experience. 
“We will field the best team possible,” Pizzi said. “Of course, we have 23 players in the squad, but we will choose the team that will provide us our very best opportunity in a match that is very important for us. We will give our very best and play our best possible line-up. 
“Regarding strategies and tactics, we know how Egypt play. I have a very good relationship with Hector Cuper and have known him for a very long time. So we will try to impose our way of playing and try to prevail with a win.”