Europe’s biggest soccer boss goes to war with FC Barcelona – POLITICO

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ISTANBUL — FC Barcelona’s financial gymnastics are facing a crackdown, according to European football’s most powerful executive.

In an exclusive interview with POLITICO, Qatari tycoon Nasser al-Khelaifi, who is the president of football club Paris Saint-Germain, said European sports governing body UEFA is set to investigate Barcelona, ​​following their controversial summer sale of business assets.

The debt-ridden Catalan club raked in hundreds of millions of euros this summer selling future TV rights and chunks of its digital content arm to investment funds and a crypto firm. The sale allowed Barcelona to spend big on the best new players, while adhering to the strict financial rules of Spanish football.

But critics – with al-Khelaifi leading the way – have accused Barcelona of recklessly selling his family’s money, possibly breaching European football financial regulations and setting a dangerous precedent.

“Is it fair? No, it’s not fair… Is it legal? I’m not sure,” al-Khelaifi said of the sale of Barcelona’s assets, suggesting regulators would investigate. ‘they allow them, others will do the same,” he said. “UEFA of course has its own [financial] regulations. Of course they will watch everything.

The remarks represent an escalation in the ongoing feud between PSG and the Spanish football establishment, whose domestic league is threatening to complain to the EU about the Qatari state-backed ownership of PSG, which is injecting are astronomical.

Al-Khelaifi has immense influence due to his multiple high profile roles – as PSG boss; President of the Association of European Clubs; chairman of influential Qatari broadcaster beIN Media Group; and member of the UEFA Executive Committee.

Speaking to European club bosses on Friday, al-Khelaifi had already indirectly criticized Barcelona, ​​saying: “The new financial sustainability rules are a positive development. But we have to be careful. Dangerous debt levels and magical stock trading are not a sustainable path.

The Qatari executive’s ire was notably sparked by Barcelona’s sale of 25% of its unprofitable digital content arm for €100m to a company run by the Mediapro founder, which sparked a year ago. two years a crisis in French football by not paying TV rights.

Barcelona declined to comment. UEFA said: “All clubs participating in UEFA club competitions are vetted in accordance with the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Viability Regulations. Compliance decisions are taken by the governing body. Independent Club Financial Controller (CFCB).

“Get off the beaten track”

Paris Saint-Germain football club president Nasser al-Khelaifi has said the sport’s European governing body UEFA is set to investigate Barcelona after its controversial summer sale of assets commercial | Sebastien Bozon/AFP via Getty Images

Al-Khelaifi made the comments in an interview at the opulent Çırağan Palace Kempinski hotel in Istanbul, where the ECA met last week for its general assembly. He expanded on a range of topics including the future of football in Europe, accusations that his multiple roles in the game represent a conflict of interest and the prospect of a Super League 2.0.

As part of an attempt to develop the sport of football, the ECA invited the CEO of Formula 1 to speak at the general meeting. Al-Khelaifi was excited by the prospect of football exploring new ideas from motor racing, a sport that has exploded in popularity thanks to its partnership with Netflix.

“We have the best and the biggest and most popular sport in the world and we have to think outside the box,” he said. For example, European football could leverage its most prestigious matches to create a “multi-day vacation destination where people would like to go”, with music and lectures as part of a wider entertainment product. .

Cities would have to pay for it, he added, “as they do in Formula 1 today”, generating a financial windfall for the clubs.

But “we also have to be careful what we change in football,” he warned, “because we have to respect our supporters”. It was the sport’s supporters who were the main opposition to the Super League’s controversial proposal for a club competition to rival the UEFA Champions League, which quickly collapsed.

Conflicting complaints

Like other senior ECA officials POLITICO spoke to, al-Khelaifi rejected the return of the Super League in a new form – whether or not it wins its case in the EU Court of Justice against UEFA alleging an illegal monopoly – due to the massive popular backlash the rebel league suffered when it launched in April 2021.

“I’m really convinced that no one will allow the Super League to take place,” al-Khelaifi said. “We have to think about everyone, not just ourselves. The Super League was just for themselves,” he said, adding that he would “never” join such a project.

Critics of al-Khelaifi accuse him of conflicting with his various high-profile roles, including his position as chairman of beIN Media Group, which spends millions on television rights to broadcast French soccer and football. UEFA competitions.

Pressed on this, al-Khelaifi fired back: “When there are problems, they need me, I am there to help them. No one sees a conflict. He insisted there was not a single instance in which he had “exploited or taken advantage” of his position.

Al-Khelaifi pointed out that in the marketing joint venture between ECA and UEFA, external agencies were appointed to control the sale of television rights around the world. “Nasser is not the one who goes to the market and sells the rights,” he said. “But we push them to raise the price. My interest is to secure the maximum for my club and our [ECA] clubs. On the contrary, it is harmful for beIN when the ECA drives up the costs of rights.

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