Write it down: The Qatar Investment Authority will win the French Ligue 1 this year. To be precise, Paris Saint-Germain football club will win the title, but the QIA has recently acquired a controlling stake (70%) in PSG, which means that a SWF will be atop the French Division 1 podium.
I’ve got two main reasons for this bold prediction:
- Les Parisiens finished fourth last year (which is the best they’ve done since 2004). So they’ve already got some talent on board to work with.
- The QIA will spend an inordinate sum acquiring even more talent. (For example, the club already has a famous new coach and is — rumored — to have earmarked $100 million for transfers this summer.)
In short, PSG will be to football what the Yankees are to baseball. (And, why not, the Yankees have done pretty well over the past century, right?) In short, the QIA will see PSG’s success as a matter of Qatari prestige. And Qatar no doubt wants to sharpen up its football cred in advance of its World Cup. This is why it’s relatively easy to make this prediction; capital won’t be the constraining factor.
I made a similar prediction last year with the Tour de France. I said a SWF would win, and, subsequently, a SWF won; Kazakhstan’s Samruk-Kazyna literally rode to victory on the back of Alberto Contador. For Kazakhstan, victory was also a matter of national prestige, which is why the team went out and bought a ridiculously talented lineup (e.g., 10 TDF titles on one team; that’s about as crazy as it gets.)
Coming back to the QIA and PSG for a second, I actually think this is a good commercial investment for the Qatari SWF (i.e., all the money spent on talent may not be wasted). While I never really understood the business case for the Kazakh SWF to own a cycling team (marketing?), the QIA has some big financial upside on this deal. After all, PSG is the only professional football club in Paris (a city with roughly 12 million urban inhabitants). And, for a variety of reasons, it hasn’t been able to really tap into this potential support. In part, that’s a function of the quality of play (the team hasn’t been all that good lately). And troubles with hooligans have kept some of the more family-oriented spectators away.
I actually count myself in that last group. When I moved to the neighborhood — I lived less than a mile from Parc des Princes for two years — I was initially quite enthusiastic to start following PSG and become a fan. At night, with the window open, my wife and I could hear the crowd singing songs and cheering. It was fantastic. But the armies of riot police that would invade my neighborhood before and after every match quickly killed my interest in the club. It took on a sinister vibe that didn’t make it feel “fun” anymore.
So, if the club can get some real talent and sort out the hooligans, no doubt the 12 million Parisiens could really get behind PSG. And that is probably what the QIA is banking on.