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Lionel Messi and Qatar’s soft power

Lionel Messi’s joining of Paris Saint-Germain may simply have been to fulfill his professional ambitions and financial goals. But for the PSG boss, the Qataris, the arrival of the Argentine superstar is a real visual boost.


On November 17, 2010, Argentina played a friendly match against Brazil at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar. That day, Lionel Messi scored the only goal to help Argentina win. Of course, Messi is on the Barcelona payroll under the guidance of Pep Guardiola.

That day, Mr. Sandro Rosell, the president of Barcelona club at that time, was also present. And it is no coincidence that in mid-December 2010, Barcelona signed a record contract with sponsor Qatar Foundation. Three years later, the sponsorship contract with the Qatar Foundation was replaced by Qatar Airways. But this is not the most notable problem.

In 2010, Argentina and Brazil played a friendly in Qatar. Photo: Getty Images

Not long after this friendly match, Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Observers realized that there were not random things in the happenings around that time. In France, on November 23, 2010, just 9 days before the final round of voting to select the two countries to host the World Cup 2018 and World Cup 2022, Mr. Michel Platini, then UEFA President, was invited to attend the event. attended a private meeting at the Elysee Palace with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Qatari Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

The Sarkozy administration has a very warm relationship with Qatar. Nine days after the meeting at the Elysee Palace, Platini gave his vote to Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, even though his choice was the US before. The Qataris were then paved the way to acquire Paris Saint-Germain.

Of course, the votes for Qatar are questioned. At that time, The Times accused Qatar of bribing the World Football Federation $ 400 million three weeks before the announcement of the final results. In 2015, the Swiss Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation into allegations that Qatar bribed Brazil and Argentina to vote in a friendly match in November 2010.

Specifically, through an intermediary organization, Argentina is said to receive $ 2 million and Brazil receives $ 1.5 million to play a friendly match with votes for Qatar from Mr. Julio Grondona and Ricardo Teixeira, president of the football federation. Argentinian and Brazilian stones.

And those are just a few of the ripples that Qatar, a country that has never attended a soccer World Cup, is hosting the world’s biggest football festival. Last year, The Guardian reported that more than 6,500 migrant workers have died here since the country won the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Several national teams such as Norway and Germany have also taken action. boycott World Cup 2022.


But the arrival of Messi at PSG will likely be one of the top cards for Qatar to change its reputation. Simon Chadwick, Professor of Eurasian Sports at France’s Emlyon Business School, told the Middle East Eye: “What people say about Qatar is not oil, gas, environment and imported labor. reside again. Now let’s talk about Messi.”

Although Messi’s joining of PSG was a surprise and perhaps was beyond the expectations of the team’s leadership as well as the most influential figure, the King of Qatar, Mr. Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. But using sport as a springboard to raise national status, especially with neighboring countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia or the UAE, has been a strategy of this country for a long time. And there’s nothing better than targeting European football, the world’s largest soccer market, and investing in national football.

Joining PSG for free, but Messi is still the blockbuster of the French team this summer. Photo: Getty Images

Professor Simon Chadwick added: “Sport, especially football, is an integral part of Qatar’s national development vision and plan. If PSG win the Champions League and Qatar successfully organizes the World Cup in the same year, it will be a victory for the Qatari government. It also makes a significant impact on the country’s political profile, image and reputation. They are determined to build a national brand and promote soft power.”

Mr. Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is a sports lover, once held the position of President of the Qatar Olympic Committee, and served on the executive board of the International Olympic Committee. Therefore, he understands that sport is an effective soft power.

Qatar has and will host many continental and world-class sporting events such as the 1998 and 2011 Asian Cups, 1995 U20 World Cup, 2006 Asian Games, 2014 World Swimming Championships, World Handball Championships, and more. World Boxing Championships and World Boxing Championships in 2015, World Gymnastics Championships and World Beach Sports Championships in 2019. One and a half years later, Qatar hosts 2022 and 2030 they continue to be the host of the Asian Games.

With football alone, Qatar has crept into its influence for more than a decade. In 2004, Aspire Academy was built with the vision of training players to help Qatar compete in the international arena. They actively invite big teams such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Barcelona to play friendly matches. And also in these friendly matches, they met Felix Sanchez, a young coach working at La Masia. Sanchez was invited to coach at Aspire before leading the Qatar youth teams and now the national team respectively. In 2019, Sanchez and his students were crowned at the Asian Cup.

In 2010 and 2013, Qatar Foundation and Qatar Airways signed sponsorship deals and appeared on Barcelona jerseys. In the same year, coach Pep Guardiola was selected as an ambassador for the 2022 World Cup campaign. In 2011, they bought PSG and built an empire in this team. In 2015, the legendary Xavi Hernandez went to Qatar’s Al Sadd club to play and after retiring, he continued to be the team’s head coach. Besides, he was also selected as the ambassador of the 2022 World Cup.

Paris Saint-Germain PSG and 10 years of building a Qatari empire
Mr. Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (centre), the owner of PSG, and Mr. Nasser Al-Khelaifi (left), the president of PSG. Photo: Getty Images

PSG, the team sponsored by the Royal Family of Qatar, has continuously made blockbuster deals over the past few years, especially in the context of this country’s diplomatic conflicts with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2017, which is notable. especially the recruitment of Neymar for 222 million euros.

Although in January this year, although Qatar was restored diplomatic relations by neighboring countries in the Arabian Peninsula, the fact that PSG got Messi’s signature in front of Manchester City, the team owned by the UAE Royal Family , is like a strong statement about the financial and sporting strength of Qatar with its powerful neighbors.

Last summer, Messi was said to have reached a personal agreement with Pep Guardiola about joining Man City before he decided to stay. Meanwhile, reports say that earlier this year, the Saudi Tourism Commission approached the Argentine superstar to invite him to be the face of their brand. With Messi almost certain to participate in the 2022 World Cup if Argentina qualify and he is not seriously injured, the Qatari will not pass up the opportunity to make him an unofficial ambassador of the tournament.

Meanwhile in Europe, Mr. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the president of PSG, is increasingly consolidating his position in the eyes of UEFA. After PSG refused to join the Super League and Andrea Agnelli resigned as president of the European Club Association (ECA), Al-Khelaifi was chosen to sit in this chair. So the power of the Qatari people in football is increasing day by day.

Obviously, the power of the Qataris in world sports and football is increasing day by day. Messi’s presence at PSG reinforces that.

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