Foreign owners make continental moves
Until recently potential buyers of football club looked at the Premier League in England or possibly at the Championship if they thought a promising bargain was available. Even Charlton went through a due diligence process with buyers from the Gulf.
However, purchasers are now targeting continental clubs. In the past five months, the capital cities of Italy, Spain and now France have seen clubs bought up by overseas organisations. Roma is now controlled by the US-based Di Benedetto Group at a price of £53m for 67 per cent of the club. Getafe has been taken over by the Royal Emirates Group of Dubai for a cost estimated at £62m to £80m.
Paris Saint-Germain (a club featured in our forthcoming book on European football) has had 70 per cent of its shares acquired by Qatar Sports Investments, headed by Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani at an estimated cost of £44m. It should be noted that the Parc des Princes stadium is ultimately controlled by the Paris city council. Up on Spain's north coast in the Basque country Racing Santander was a relative bargain for India's Ahsan Ali Syed at somewhere between £27m and £35m.
It is the Qataris, venue of the World Cup in 2022, who are the real movers and shakers. Luc Dayan, who has been on the board of four French clubs, has commented, 'Anybody who is interested in selling a club gets themselves to Doha, the Qatar capital, or sends their proposals there. The Qatari royals are constantly being courted.'
In many ways La Liga is more attractive than the Premiership because there is a broader middle ground of clubs who can realistically aspire to achieve Champions League qualification. The French league lags behind in terms of prestige and the ability to attract large numbers of truly word class players, but once again it is more fluid than the Premier League. It has had four different champions in four years and PSG can hope to obtain a Champions League place.
Malaga are now owned by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani from Qatar. He doesn't visit the club that much, but he has not been afraid to splash the cash. Threatened with relegation at one time, the club finished 11th after they outspent every other Spanish club in the first transfer window of 2011. Now they have their first superstar player in the shape of Ruud van Nistelroy. Work will start soon on a major academy development.
Abudllah Al-Thani had considered buying Liverpool when it was available. However when he bought Malaga he said, 'Liverpool is already a big club, and that made the project more complicated.' And more expensive.
In France Ligue 1 has signed a lucrative new television deal. It is with Al-Jazeera, the station based in Qatar. Their football coverage is on the up as they once asked me to come on air but I could not get to their London studio on time.