By Tony Attwood
When Mr Wenger first came to our club and started bringing in French players like Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde I detected a certain pride among some followers of football in France that their players were getting extra recognition.
I am sure some fans were annoyed that these players were continuing or starting to play outside France, but there was also a feeling expressed in L’Equipe and elsewhere that, over time, Arsenal was becoming a French club playing in the English league.
Now however everything has changed. Whereas Gilles Grimandi used to turn up at third division matches as the only scout, now he has to do battle with scouts from teams across Europe. When Mr Wenger had to fly out to chat to the parents of Gaël Clichy and stay there until they were convinced that the player would be a member of the first team squad, now the parents of up and coming players ask, “Are you working with Qatar?”
And as a result, the French league is not quite what it was.
Partly this is due to the changes in the tax situation. The revolutionary idea that footballers should pay proper tax rates started in Spain where there was a plan announced in 2012 for footballers to pay tax at 56%, rather than the ludicrously low rate previously established under the Beckham Law, as it was called. But I think I am right in saying that this has not been implemented – or at least in full.
What has changed in Spain is that the Spanish tax offices revealed that Spain’s football clubs had paid more than €300m to them in one year – a record. The total debt to them however is still €700m. €55.3m of the amount clawed back had come through seizing property or rights from clubs, with a total of 278 actions of embargo carried out in a 12 month period.
Now France is having a go as François Hollande has announced that he will impose a 75% tax on footballers’ salaries. It was suggested that many players would leave, and then TV income and attendances would fall. Hollande retreated somewhat but players are still leaving Ligue 1 faster than before.
The problem for France is not only is there the talk of high rates of tax, but there is a growing number of places for French players to choose from. It is no longer all about Arsenal (as witness our recent propensity for players from Spain). Russia has has a number of billionaire clubs (as shown in our series on The Billionaire Owners – link below). Turkey has the money but is also mired in corruption scandals, and there are tempting offers from the Middle East, China and Brazil where the economy is growing at an unprecedented rate.
We saw in the transfer window how it plays out. As the very top players go to PSG or out of the country, so the middling players also move – but not within France. QPR and Newcastle are now touted as destinations, which is where one starts to feel that things are not going well for the French League.
Loic Rémy and Stéphane Mbia went to QPR and Guillaume Hoarau went to Dalian Aerbin in China. Perhaps even more tellingly Nene of Brazil went from PSG to Al-Gharafa in Qatar.
And that last move tells you everything you need to know about what is going on. Think odd transfers and you think 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The PR exercise in buying up football started the moment Qatar knew they were winning the World Cup, and continues to 2022. After that, who knows.
So just how is Qatar changing football – and how much further will it go?
Al Jazeera Sports (a Qatari company) owns the exclusive broadcasting rights in the Middle East for La Liga, Ligue 1, Serie A and others. In 2011 it bought the rights to French football league games on French TV and and the full marketing rights for the French league outside France. It also has the rights in France for UEFA Champions League 2012-15. It has launched in America and covers the American football league and international matches.
The main concern of the country is security. It doesn’t want a revolution but it wants to play with the big boys. 70 percent of its income comes from gas exports – it has the third biggest gas reserves in the world. Between 1998 and 2008, world gas prices tripled and so Qatar became rich. But what goes up can fall back down, as the American gas situation has shown. Prices for gas in the US have fallen so much that they can’t export it, all because they now have so much gas… from shale.
So if gas prices fall there could be a problem – hence diversity. Qatar built the Shard in London. In Paris, they are investing in the outskirts of towns (the banlieux) which often have high African Muslim populations. The idea is that if the ruling dynasty is ever threatened by public uprising, there ought to be a few friends around the world ready to help them.
The UK gets half its gas from Qatar, so its involvement in Britain is easy to understand. This is indeed why Qatar bought Manchester City via Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani.
The influence is everywhere. The shirts of Barcelona FC, which were supposedly “sacred” now carry the logo of Qatar Foundation, an organisation headed by the emir’s wife. The Foundation owns top US universities, and has a major role in University College London.
But not everything runs smoothly, as is shown by Málaga CF from whom we have bought two players this season: Cazorla and Monreal. At the end of 2012 Uefa said that due to unpaid debts, Malaga would not compete in any European competitions for potentially up to four years, after the money dried up. Although the backer of the club is a member of the Qatari elite, it seems he is not always keeping his eye on the ball.
Thus Qatar plays with the world, buying clubs, buying TV rights, putting up buildings and if the occasional league such as France’s first division gets a bit mucked up on the way, well, that’s unfortunate. But, things happen.
The Billionaire Files:
- How governments are taking over football
- If trophies were on offer, where would you draw the line?
- Arsenal to play in blue and white at home next season
- How football is being taken over, and the dangers that are emerging
- As the billionaires take over football clubs, Fifa urges “direct action”
- Usmanov and Kronke – what a deal would mean for each of them
- The billionaire clubs – their owners and their success
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC: crowd behaviour at the early matches
- Referee Decisions – just what are the refs up to this season?
- Parent News – what is going on in schools these days?
- The weight loss programme: The only guaranteed way to stay fit