World Football: Investment from the Middle East is not all that bad
A few Fridays ago, the names of 8 clubs were curled up into miniature sphere-shaped structures, and entered into a glass bowl in Nyon, Switzerland. At the end of all that, the names of 8 clubs were called out.
This season of Champions League has been a celebration of European football. The tournament had taken a different route from a regional perspective as teams from a heavyweight nation did not feature in the final eight for the first time in more than a decade, while once fallen superpowers in the likes of Juventus, Paris Saint-German and Galatasaray continue on their resurgence.
One of these eight clubs will be crowned the champions of Europe. For football fans, each of us carries our own beliefs that celestial guidance will help establish who is more deserving of the title. But at the end of the last round, at the end of that Friday night, one thing was clear. The financial prowess of the various Middle Eastern countries involved indirectly in the tournament was quite evident, with Qatar basking in the limelight.
It is time to demystify their presence. Except for Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Galatasaray, all the teams have a connection to the Middle East – a region that is constantly bashed in the football community for its overzealous display of financial supremacy.
Malaga: Owner – Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani (Qatar)
Real Madrid: Sponsors – Fly Emirates (UAE) and STC Telecommunications (Saudi Arabia)
Barcelona: Sponsors – Qatar Foundation, Qatar Airways (Qatar) and Etisalat (UAE)
PSG: President – Nasser Al Khelaifi (Qatar). Sponsors: Fly Emirates (UAE), QNB (Qatar)
In an effort to promote themselves at a global stage, prominent organizations from Middle Eastern countries had begun the process by carefully selecting relevant strategic partners. It was UAE-based Fly Emirates who entered the global football market, based on their association with the EPL side Chelsea, worth £24m in 2001, splashing their logo across the players’ shirts. That was then. Today we see numerous sponsorship deals from Fly Emirates and various other firms along with ownership of an array of clubs all across the world.
More importantly and recently, Qatar has aggressively but strategically endorsed several clubs in an effort to promote itself prior to it hosting the World Cup in 2022. However, it has not been an easy ride for the natural gas-rich nation. Qatar, till date, is constantly bashed in the media for its so-called “corrupt” ways in which it had won the bid, which otherwise have not been proven yet.
The news of growing presence of the Middle East has added to the methodical quality of club selection. The region has faced the steady commotion of critics who have concentrated in altering the perception of the nation to that of a spoilt rich kid, with reports of rewarding nations excessively for their wholehearted support. And not to mention the latest doctored news of Qatar hosting a Super League.
The great predicament Qatar faces internally and externally is the perception that the people who have guided the bid are somehow not equipped to run the show compared to the rest of the then competing nations. That notion defies logic and history.
I cannot help but think that there are many people out there that positively see Middle Eastern investment as a generous gift from the heavens (excluding the failed case of Portsmouth and the arrogantly stated profit benefit on the sale of Leeds United by Bahrain-based GFH). They expect the investment to possess some magical power that had eluded them, which in most cases has fulfilled its role. Manchester City, as a club, is that perfect example.