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Sun 7 Aug 2011 09:10 PM

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Qatar's era at France's PSG begins with home defeat

Most expensively assembled team in French football history loses its opening game of the season

Qatar's era at France's PSG begins with home defeat
PSG sporting director Leonardo, right, with president of the Paris Saint-Germain, Nasser Al-Khelaifi of majority shareholders Qatar Sports Investment. (Getty Images)

The most expensively assembled team in French soccer history lost its opening game of the season as Paris Saint-Germain was beaten 1-0 at home by FC Lorient.

The Qatari Investment Authority in May bought 70 percent of the French capital’s sole first division club for a reported  €30m to  €40m ($42.7m-$57m). PSG then spent  €80m on new players.

A sell-out crowd of 43,000, twice the number that attended last year’s opening match, booed the team off the field at the final whistle last night while the Lorient players saluted their visiting supporters.

The Qataris purchased their PSG stake from US private equity firm Colony Capital, which had bought the club in 2006 with plans to challenge for Europe’s Champions League, only to end up staving off relegation two seasons in a row.

“It’s become a classic scenario: a lot of media attention on the Paris team, and then we managed to make them doubt after the opening half hour,” Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff said. “They clearly were feeling the pressure more than us.”

The purchase of PSG is part of a wider Qatari move into French football. In June, Al-Jazeera television paid  €90m for the right to show two French league games a week live in the four seasons from 2012 to 2016.

In May, Al-Jazeera bought the international rights to the French league for six years for 200 million euros, elevating the Doha-based station to the No. 2 financial backer of French football behind its historic partner Canal+, a unit of Vivendi.

The Gulf emirate, holder of the world’s third-largest natural-gas reserves, has also been active in other European countries. The PSG deal followed the purchase of Spanish team Malaga last year, and a  €30m-a-year shirt sponsorship agreement with European champion Barcelona.

Qatar has been linked in media reports with a possible offer for English Premier League champion Manchester United. On the international scene, it’s preparing to host the World Cup in 2022 after being awarded the staging rights last December.

Lorient’s goal last night came from Julien Quercia, who slotted home at the far post in the 27th minute when the PSG defense failed to cut out Yann Jouffre’s free kick. Quercia had missed an open goal in the 11th minute.

Lorient’s Arnold Mvuemba hit the bar with a free kick in the 68th minute, before PSG had its best chances, first Siaka Tiene shooting just wide and then Milan Bisevac’s shot being punched away by Fabien Audard. In the 85th minute, Audard tipped a curling shot from Nene over.

“It was a huge disappointment: we were tense in defense and took no risks in attack,” PSG coach Antoine Kombouare said. “We totally blew the first 30 minutes. I liked our second half, we pushed, but Lorient did well to hold on.”

PSG broke the French transfer record with the  €42m purchase of Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore from Palermo. He didn’t play against Lorient, having just arrived in France last week after playing for his country in last month’s Copa America.

“We have many players who arrived late, and it takes time to create a team,” Kombouare said. “I do remind you that there are 37 games left.”

Kombouare said Pastore is unlikely to play next weekend away to Rennes, another Brittany team. “He’s not ready,” he said.

French-born Mali midfielder Mohamed Sissoko, who joined from Juventus for 7 million euros, didn’t play either because of an injury.

Among new signings who did play last night were French international midfielder Jeremy Menez, who came from AS Roma for €8m; French striker Kevin Gameiro, who joined from Lorient for  €11m; Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu, who came from Palermo; and French midfielder Blaise Matuidi, a  €10m signing from St. Etienne.

PSG also hired Inter Milan coach Leonardo as sporting director. He won the World Cup as a player with Brazil in 1994 and later represented PSG.

Lorient’s annual budget is  €35m. It finished 11th of 20 teams in last year’s championship.

Colony, Butler Capital Partners, and Morgan Stanley paid  €41m (then $50m) to buy PSG in 2006. Instead of the Champions League success they were planning on, PSG escaped relegation in the final days of both the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Colony later bought the others out and retains 30 percent.

The team finished fourth last season, its best showing since finishing as runner-up in 2004.

PSG was founded in 1970, with the backing of Paris city hall, as a merger of Paris FC and Stade Saint-Germain to create a Paris team capable of staying in the first division.

The team was promoted to the top league in 1974 where it has remained and won championships in 1986 and 1994. Canal+ bought shares in 1991, and took control in 1997 before selling to Colony.

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