Farewell sad France; Ligue 1 dies as Qatar takes over

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.

But that is only half the story.  Because elsewhere we have PSG for whom money is no object at all, and for whom it seems FFP is just a story that the bogey man tells children.  It has nothing to do with them.  This is because Paris Saint-Germain is owned by Qatar.
(However it should be added that the basis of the Qatari defence of PSG is that other clubs have had 30 years to build up squads and traditions, and they have only had 18 months.  So it is simply “not fair” for PSG to be stopped in its tracks.  As a defence it is quite cute, but doesn’t really have much of a legal basis).

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.

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8 Replies to “Farewell sad France; Ligue 1 dies as Qatar takes over”

  1. Hey Tony,

    Big fan of your articles and writing style n general. It is good that you brought up this topic that continues to receive disproportional coverage in comparison to its implication. I agree that Qatar is trying to diversifying political clout should it ever need and has brilliantly penetrated the footballing world. However, it is important to note that it was the ruling family of Abu Dhabi that purchased Man City. Looking forward to reading your next piece.

    A Gooner from Bahrain

  2. It is alarming the way the Middle East Emirates and minor sheikdoms and kingdoms are spreading the influence of their oil and gas monies around Europe in particular.
    Alarming, because these monies are being used for good AND evil in all sorts of ways, mainly in order to gain control or at least apply pressure.
    In Britain we already see this influence and France is now a recipient.
    It is difficult to know how this escalating bubble will eventually burst, as burst it surely will.
    Some form of legal protection will probably be the answer although the World’s reliance on Middle East fossil fuels will need to be first lessened to a great extent. I’m sure
    scientists are already working on substitute fuels.

  3. So what happens after 2022 does Qatar carrying on funding football or does it move on to the next big thing after its held the world cup. Emirates airlines I would assume would be the major airline into and out of Qatar for the world cup, the European TV market will be one of the main money incomes for the world cup.

    This is as I see it a huge marketing campaign to make Qatar the footballing hub up to the 2022 world cup finals but then what? What do they need with football once it’s had the finals, the stadiums built for the finals are apparently to be taken down and built in other countries so no real legacy within Qatar.

    FIFA have sold it’s soul to the huge money of Qatar, the so called legacy they hold so dear when awarding the world cup is just a bluff to cover the MONEY they will receive. Is it a coincidence that France have received so much investment from Qatar with a certain M.Platini working for UEFA and rumored to be in with a good chance of being the next leader of FIFA.

    Qatar now have huge representation in the PL with Manchester City, in France with PSG and in Spain with Barcelona. Is this a coincidence I think not

  4. Steve,
    Sorry to mess up your dot-connection, but Mahmood at 9:41 just above you, says that ManCity is owned by Abu Dhabi, not Qatar.

  5. Hi There.Im Aneeq from cape town.Just want to thank you for your articles.I personally really appreciate it.Amidst all the other sites regarding our beloved arsenal this is the no.1 site.I wish you could put out 2 articles or more a day,i know wishfull thinking but im just expressing my gratitude for your time and effort all the way from the southern tip of africa.Again thank you so much,and may you continue to provide us with articles for many more years to come god willing.COYG.

  6. Steve

    What bob said. And Emirates is a Dubai based airline. Not Qatari.

    Dubai did buy Getafe a few years ago. Nit sure what became of that and whether they are still involved.

  7. It was a Spanish royal decree that opened the door to the “Beckham law” with the backing of the then government, No longer (since 2010) are foreign nationals allowed to pay the lower tax rate, maybe because Real Madrid are not benefiting from it as hoped? So they shut the door.

    There are some organisations and individuals buying up media companies involved in football, some of those are very close to Arsenal.

    With regards to the migratory movements of footballers, Brazil still leads the way and France is not far behind. France have been exporting footballers for over a decade now, and are responsible for the drain on Africa’s footballing talent. You only have to look at those who have represented Arsenal. The problem goes much further than simply transferring a footballer from France to the UK, there are colonial links in the migratory movements of footballers, which are only referred to behind closed doors but are well documented.

    There are some serious issues facing the sport of football which will only be brushed under the carpet with monarchies involvements in the game. We see this in Spain and we see this in the middle east, whilst the oligarchs of Russia are buying up football related companies, positioning themselves for the world cup TV rights lottery. All this is really courtesy if FIFA and how it is set up. (mini rant over).

  8. Good points, but…

    1. Qatar has such a surplus of money from last years, they are looking for places to stuff their cash, this won’t stop with WC 2022 or lower gas prices.

    2. Malaga is owned by a Qatari individual, his actions have nothing to do with the government

    3. ManC = Abudhabi, Emirates = Dubai, both directly in competition with Qatar

    4. Aljazeerah also shows Champions League matches, probably better coverage than anywhere else

    5. Abudhabi sports shows EPL in middle east, and probably soon the UK and…

    Oil money rules for now!

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