Leo Messi from Qatar and PSG’s club-state theory

In Paris’ 16th arrondissement, eleven minutes by metro from the Eiffel Tower, the Parc des Princes is the headquarters of the first post-modern club-state. A new concept of geopolitics that made Messi, Neymar and Mbappé’s PSG possible. Behind this football king, Midas, is an emirate as rich as it is diversified in investments across the planet: Qatar. With 11,571 square kilometers – almost half the area of ​​Tucumán – it has one of the highest per capita revenues in the world and the third largest gas reserve.

Its sovereign wealth fund, the QSI, puts in the money needed to practice the sports washing, a concept coined in 2015. It is the attempt to use sport as a facelift, something many nations have been doing in recent years. Russia hosted the FIFA World Cup and Israel hosted the Giro d’Italia which started in Jerusalem in 2018, Azerbaijan hosted the Europa League final in 2019 and Saudi Arabia has scheduled its Formula 1 Grand Prix in Jeddah for next December. What do these events have in common? They occur when certain governments receive criticism from international organizations for violating human rights. Qatar leads this rinsing policy. It has been the stage for world handball (2015), athletics (2019) and in 2022 will be the headquarters of world football.

realm of contrasts

The emirate has remarkable contrasts. When your neighbors – the other Persian Gulf monarchies– they accused him until recently of financing terrorism, maintained a US air base on its tiny territory 30 kilometers from Doha, its capital. In 2016, operations against the Islamic State were launched from there in Iraq and Syria. Al Udeid It’s not just any military installation. Contains the Joint Air Operations Center (CAOC(for its acronym in English) of the United States, vital to its intelligence operations in the region.

The ruling family of Qatar has already spent three centuries in power. When the regime of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani It was isolated by the blockade of the Saudi kingdom – lifted in January this year – and was supported by an alliance with Iran and Turkey. Nor did it renounce its explosive investment policy or its high profile as a global player. He even kept his news network Al Jazeera, whose neighbors demanded closure because they accused him of having fueled the Arab Spring that destroyed governments like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Qatar got away with it, did not comply with any of the thirteen demands of the Saudi monarchy, and the Saudi monarchy admitted its diplomatic defeat. In this network of apparently loose pieces, and far from the Persian Gulf, PSG ended up becoming its main cosmetic product. He used it as lipstick to write his story into the cultural heart – and now, thanks to Messi, the epicenter of European football.

From tennis player to tycoon

Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, NAK to his friends, is the president of Paris Saint Germain, a Qatari without titles of nobility, but a friend of Emir Al Thani. From a very discreet level as a professional tennis player – he reached 995th position in the ATP ranking in 2002 – he rose to manage the Qatar Sports Investments (QSI). Fund that will allow Messi to pay the contract worth 40 million euros a year, in bonds for two seasons with an option for a third.

“If we sign with Messi it’s because we have the capacity to do so,” replied NAK when asked the uncomfortable question he has been hearing since managing PSG. The entrepreneur is pursued by suspicions of lack of financial transparency. As much or more than the accusations received by the emirate for relentless exploitation against workers in the construction of the 2022 World Cup. There are those who denounce Messi’s hiring in French courts. The lawyer Juan White, Julian Assange’s defense and a Lyon supporters club – PSG’s rivals in the league – said: “The French League has decided to postpone sanctions for those who do not comply with these rules to 2023, that is, after the World Cup in Qatar. Until then, PSG can do whatever it wants, while Barça has to respect this regulation”.

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What the club-state spends on reinforcements for its squad could have been saved by Qatar in the construction of its stadiums for the World Cup. The charges against the emirate for slave labor arose when the Kalafa. This was the name of the legal regime that governed until 2015 and allowed construction companies to take in migrants for five or more years, albeit with one condition: employees had to ask for permission to change jobs or leave the country. Subject to the wishes of developers who, in many cases, retain the passport. Complaints for non-payment also abounded.

One of them left the city where Messi was born. O Argentina Foundation for International Democracy It is based in Rosario and arrived at Pope Francis with a report on Qatar in 2017. His accusations included that immigrants lived huddled together in miserable houses, surrounded by flies and cockroaches and in deplorable hygienic conditions. He also argued that there were no unions to defend them. “There I could see, stacked and crowded, hundreds of construction workers who come mainly from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, although they are also from Sri Lanka, the Philippines or Uganda. There are no women. There are only men, only manpower”, said the Argentine journalist Santiago Menicheli, one of the few who verified in situ what was happening in the emirate.

Last May 1st in Qatar, its Minister of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs, Yousef bin Mohamed al-Othman Fakhroo, boasted of “tireless efforts aimed at the promotion and protection of workers’ rights”. One of the measures taken by the emirate was to interrupt work activities if the temperature exceeds 32.1 degrees outdoors and imposed the obligation of annual medical examinations.

Nearly seven hours flying from Qatar, on the streets of Paris where more than a million Messi T-shirts with the number 30 have already been sold, Al-Khelaïfi is approaching a decade ahead of PSG. He became president of the QSI Fund in June 2011 and on October 7 of that year he joined the French club. During his tenure, he invested around 1.3 billion euros and his power grew until he became a member of the executive committee of UEFA (European Football Union).

According to Simon Chadwick, a professor of economic geopolitics for the sport, from Britain, “comments about Messi, the sale of shirts and deals with sponsors are necessary, as Qatar is a rentier state. However, this usually reflects the neoclassical notion of what football is all about. 21st century football is now a geopolitical economy in which the ROI (Return on Investment Index) is measured in more than financial terms”.


The universe of business and influence peddling promoted by Messi’s arrival at PSG is so vast that even a small African country boosted its tourism campaign alongside the colors of the French national team. Visit Rwanda, is written on the back of the shirt since 2019. Qatar is one of the biggest investors in that nation where the last genocide of the 20th century was committed. A while ago, your president Paul Kagame, assigned him the construction of the new airport in Kigali. Visits to the Volcanoes National Park, where there is a gorilla sanctuary, are the main attraction in the country. Neymar and other players had promoted him before Messi arrived. “This is Rwanda,” they told the camera in strained English for the commercial.

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