Friday, December 3

the lights and shadows of the Arabian Nights club

Paris did not have a football team worthy of the capital of a great country in the first seventy years of the 20th century. After forty changes of national owners, scandals and disasters, not only financial, a Muslim power, suspected of financing Islamist small groups, accused of flirting with terrorism – Qatar -, offered the French capital the millionaire financial resources that allowed to convert the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club (PSG) a great star in the world sports firmament.

The first ancestor of PSG was and still is a modest football team, a member of a sports club created in 1904 in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, nineteen kilometers west of Paris. A very wealthy city, whose elite decided to create a sports club, where many sports were practiced, including football. The footballers, amateurs, in principle, before being able to aspire to very modest classifications, were grouped into a team called Saint-German stadium (Estadio de Saint-Germain, ESG).

For a long half century, ESG cohabited in the Paris region with other local teams, who never gave Paris a big one. At the end of the sixties of the last century, the French Football Federation (FFF) and numerous personalities from the world of finance, fashion and entertainment, came to a conclusion: to create a totally artificial team, which would be the matrix for the future great Parisian team.

Thus was born Paris Football Club (PFC), on August 1, 1969. Purely instrumental team: no players, no stadium, no foreseeable future … The ESG was still very modest, without great ambitions. The brand new PFC barely existed beyond administrative papers.

Messi has been the last great signing of PSG
Messi has been the last great signing of PSGAFP

Birth of a club

A year later, the good offices of the FFF had a happy ending: PSG was born in 1970 from the merger of the old ESG, with more than half a century of history, and the PFC, a phantom team that fulfilled a historic mission, to help create a great Parisian team, at last.

PSG was born on a date and circumstances that continue to confront the club’s leadership and its historians, contesting the day and time of the baptismal font, to settle definitively in the first division in the 1970-71 season. Began an epic strewn with thorns, scandals, economic catastrophes and the greatest triumphs in the history of French football. A single name embodies the great change, the great metamorphosis, the catastrophes and scandals that would come: Daniel Hechter, couturier, designer of ‘sportwear’, designer of the logo and original PSG t-shirts, son of Jewish immigrants, creator of a modest, in principle, chain of sportswear and ready-to-wear.

At the head of PSG, between 1973 and 1978, Hechter introduced the first modern methods into his management, with a lot of publicity. He got, at the same time, that Brigitte Bardot wore his sportswear, and enlisted influential personalities from show business, such as Jean-Paul Belmondo.

A man of many worlds and many women, official and unofficial, Hechter oscillated between the temptations of football greatness, business, and financial resources, finally more limited. When the international market began to grow rapidly, Hechter’s PSG found itself caught in a trap. The team began to get into debt and the players asked for bonuses. The PSG management had an original idea: to have two lockers … the official box office and a dark accounting box office, with which players were paid bonuses.

PSG was born in 1970 from the merger of the old ESG, with more than half a century of history, and the PFC, a phantom team that fulfilled a historic mission, to help create a great Parisian team

The accounting originality did not last long. And Hechter was forced to resign, accused of being the organizer of the two lockers, of dubious legality. His sporting heritage was decisive. PSG had started to win titles. At the head of the team management a friend and great manager was appointed, Francis Borelli, a canonical model of the new multicultural France: son of Tunisian immigrants, educated in the suburbs, raised in a raging passion for soccer. Between 1978 and 1991, Borelli was the man who gave PSG great titles of sporting glory, trying to escape the clutches of powerful companies that aspired to take over his club.

Borelli resisted the sirens of Matra, the great arms-building company. But he could not or could not avoid a debt which began to grow by tens of millions of euros, at a dangerous rate.

Troubled by the dizzying degradation of the finances of the capital’s great team, Jacques Chirac, mayor of Paris, future head of state, decided to intervene personally, encouraging the search for new investors. Chirac’s complicity with François Mitterrand, socialist president, in this area, favored the entry of Canal Plus into the capital of PSG, as the majority shareholder.

The golden years

Mitterrand had supported the creation of Canal Plus, as a pay television channel, favorable to his socialist presidency. The Spanish branch was born from that impulse, counting on the complicity of Jorge Semprún, writer and former Minister of Culture of Felipe González.

Canal Plus had two Sources of funding basic: paid porn and football. In return, he offered PSG a window of luxury … permanent publicity, interested coverage of the company’s business, which installed a great audiovisual journalist, Michel Denisot, a close friend of Gérard Depardieu, among other great stars, in the leadership of the team. .

Denisot and the rest of the Canal Plus team gave PSG a definitely cosmopolitan ‘look’, with increasing financial dimensions. They followed fifteen years of great triumphs, great transfers, apotheosis arrivals and departures of great players and great coaches. Triumphs, defeats and tribulations of PSG were definitively installed in the starry sky of the greatest of European and world football.

The PSG fans could not bear the decline of their team and staged altercations between 2006 and 2008. Their supporters (in the photograph, during a match against Angers) are enjoying a time of success today
The PSG fans could not bear the decline of their team and staged altercations between 2006 and 2008. Their supporters (in the photograph, during a match against Angers) are enjoying a time of success todayEFE

Canal Plus was forced to continue investing tens, hundreds of millions. Not always successful. The comings and goings of George Weah, Reinaldo, Rai, Ginola, Anelka, Arteta, Heinze, Cristóbal, Valdo, Ogbeche, Boskovic, Rozehnal, Fernández, Kalou, Ronaldinho, quoted at random, among an endless saga, would give days of glory and anger. PSG continued losing money and getting into debt. Each signing, each victory or defeat was transformed into an epic battle between shareholders, managers and supporters of the club. The first management team ended up being deposed, at the loading pace. The replacement of Denisot, the old iconic man, did not solve much. Canal Plus ended up selling PSG to a North American investment group, Colony Capital, whose management aggravated all the underlying problems.

After Hechter’s days of sporting glory, after the audiovisual ‘glamor’ of Canal Plus, PSG fell into the hands of some seemingly catastrophic managers. A famous journalist, Charles Villeneuve, was appointed CEO. It did not last long. It ended up filtering corporate mismanagement, with devastating consequences. The debts, failures and millionaire contracts ended up setting fire to the stands of the Parque de los Príncipes.

Fall and resurrection

Between 2006 and 2008, the relative collapse of PSG fueled fierce anger from its supporters, which even provoked fires and clashes physical as violent as disturbing. The emerging legend was clouded by the flames in the stands of the stadium where PSG had glory days.

Colony Capital ended up getting tired of its broken toy. And he sold PSG to Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), one of the financial funds of a Muslim country, Qatar, suspected for many years of financing Islamist religious activities, often associated with activities close to Islamic terrorism. The emirate has an exceptional presence in the new world diplomatic geography: in its capital, Doha, the Trump administration and the former Afghan government signed the agreement that freed 5,000 of the imprisoned Taliban who today rule the new Afghanistan.

The new strong man of PSG entered the scene, Nasser al-Khelaïfi, Qatari by birth, former tennis player or tennis teacher, born into a very modest family (according to his official biography), businessman and politician, minister without portfolio in the government of his country. He was the great supporter of the final agreement that allowed Qatar to become the owner of the first team in France, the one that has won the most titles in the history of national football, owned, today, by a Muslim country, very respectful of Muslim theology, where women and immigrants often enjoy freedoms subject to the strictest religious discipline.

Qatar is a very rich Muslim country and suspected of financing Islamists, often linked to terrorist groups

Six years ago, Nasser al-Khelaïfi was considered the seventh personality most influential of world football. Last year she became the most influential, president of numerous investment groups, member of the Organizing Committee of the next World Cup, which put at the service of PSG a checking account with which checks worth hundreds of millions of dollars can be paid. euros.

Qatari Nasser al-Khelaïfi is the president of PSG and one of the most influential men in football
Qatari Nasser al-Khelaïfi is the president of PSG and one of the most influential men in footballReuters

The transfers and negotiations of Mbappé and Messi, among many others, yesterday and tomorrow, predictably, are his thing. Fabulous financial and diplomatic operations. Messi’s debut at PSG was an exceptional triumph, of public, at least, followed by millions of spectators. The case of Mbappé recalls the financial importance in the management of the business of a club like PSG, whose purely sports history today has economic, business, political, even diplomatic dimensions, which go far beyond the borders of a field of soccer.

The personality of Nasser al-Khelaïfi, as a manager, in Paris, and as a politician, in Qatar, his homeland, gives his soccer maneuvers some proportions hardly comparable with those of no other great manager of a current soccer team.

This or that club leader may have large financial and business interests. The boxes in a stadium can be an excellent office for discreet commercial traders. In the case of Nasser al-Khelaïfi, these maneuvers have unique diplomatic and religious proportions, inseparable from the position of Qatar on the world diplomatic scene, with their own influential ideas, sensibilities and aspirations, in Washington, Paris and the rest of the great capitals of various worlds not always well aligned, as Afghanistan remembers at every moment.

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