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Wenger the perfect PSG investment

Ironically, it was Arsene Wenger who perhaps best articulated the potential of Paris Saint-Germain.

"PSG is the only club in the world," he said in October 2010, "which is based in an area of 10 million inhabitants and doesn't have any competition. What needs to be done is to get a group of investors around the table and to provide the club with some financial muscle."

Wenger's timing was spookily perfect. Around a month later, then France president Nicolas Sarkozy hosted a lunch at the Elysee Palace that has since passed into legend.

In attendance were crown prince Tamin bin Hamad Al-Thani, Michel Platini and Sebastien Bazin, owner of PSG. At this meeting, it is claimed, the sale of PSG was agreed. As part of the deal, the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera broadcaster would be given the opportunity to buy the rights to televise Le Championnat.

Fruition

The following summer, both deals came to fruition. Since assuming control, PSG have embarked on the most extraordinary spending spree ever seen in French football: Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta, Jeremy Menez, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and more all arrived, with total outlay running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

They achieved what Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United could not in enticing David Beckham back to Europe. The French title this season is almost assured, with a Champions League title the medium-term target.

So what were everybody's motives? For Sarkozy, it was the latest in a series of initiatives designed to attract Qatari investment into a stuttering economy. There was a personal impulse, too; the television deal would be a punch in the nose to Canal Plus, a channel Sarkozy had long hated. For Bazin, it was a chance to get shot of a loss-making business that he had never been terribly interested in. But what did Qatar get out of it?

The short answer: a proxy.

It is no secret that one day Qatar, a tiny nation of just 1.8 million, will run out of oil. Thus far, this oil has been the key to its geopolitical value, safeguarding its security in the world's most volatile region. Now it has only a limited amount of time to build alliances and construct an alternative, secure economy. "The Qataris have a 360-degree modus operandi," Luc Dayan, Lens president and friend of the Al-Thani family, told 'France Football' magazine this year. "For them, commerce is peace."

For Qatar, investment is a form of soft power, buying itself esteem. Sport plays a fundamental role in all this: adding prestige, attracting tourism and investment, and opening up new markets. PSG are just one plank of a multi-tiered strategy also encompassing sponsorship deals with Barcelona and the Arc de Triomphe, ownership of what was once the Olympic Village in London, and a partnership with the Tour de France organisers, Amaury Sport Organisation, that is rumoured to culminate in the race beginning in Qatar sometime this decade.

At its heart will be the 2022 World Cup, which Qatar hopes, once the controversy over the bidding process blows over, will give it a financial and cultural clout that will repay its considerable cost many times over.

But as the country's bid for that tournament showed, selling an idea to the West is a good deal easier when it is Western faces doing the selling. For that bid, Qatar spent millions enlisting ambassadors like Pep Guardiola, Zinedine Zidane and Gabriel Batistuta to the cause.

PSG's transfer activity since the Qatari takeover would appear to fit in with this strategy, associating the emirate with respected high-profile stars like Beckham and Carlo Ancelotti.

They seem confident of persuading Wenger that a rebuilding job at Arsenal is less appealing than the prospect of managing Ibrahimovic, Pastore and Lavezzi at a rising club in his own capital city; a club who are bound to spend again this summer with the aim of becoming a major European power.

Quite apart from what he would offer the team, the attraction of a name like Wenger, whether as manager or in a more ceremonial figurehead role, is obvious. Venerated throughout the game, feted for his wisdom, Wenger has the cachet to make Qatar's vision of peace and prosperity sound seductively convincing. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent