Jean-Baptiste Guigan, an essayist and expert on sports geopolitics, analyzes the role of Paris Saint-Germain in Qatari politics and the impact of Messi’s signature. Guégan thinks it’s an excellent example of soft power The (soft power) of a very rich but small and weak country in a hostile environment. However, he does not see his victory in the Champions League because, he says, he lacks cohesion and faces very strong opponents.
Barcelona and Catalonia
“Messi, politically, has never put himself down; he’s absolute neutrality, you don’t know what he’s thinking”
Is PSG more a geopolitical tool than a football club?
It is still a club, but with its purchase by Qatar Sports Investments, it has become an instrument in the service of Qatari politics, and an element of diplomacy through sport, which is what we call soft power Qatar’s ability to change its image and gain attractiveness for investment and tourism, and what it needs from highly qualified professionals.
The soft power was the culture and the economy. Has sport become of paramount importance?
Today the image counts roughly as much as the real power. Having a strong army and economy is great, but an attractive photo is priceless. For a country like Qatar, which has a population of three million and only 300,000 Qatari citizens, the image is essential. It is even more dangerous when you are in a hostile environment, with Iran in the lead and Saudi Arabia at the side. Remember what happened with the invasion of Kuwait. No Western democracy, such as the United States, France, Germany, or Spain, will support you if your international image is not good, because what decides in democracies are public opinions. To influence them, you have to speak not to their brains but to their emotions, as football does.
Has Messi turned from the bearer of the dreams of the Catalans to a mercenary in the service of the Emir of Qatar? Am I too harsh?
Ha ha, may be exaggerated. It is true that Messi embodied the Catalan reality for a long time, as he wore the colors of a club It’s more than just a club . Under Guardiola, Barcelona served the pro-Catalan and pro-independence rhetoric. Messi was an actor, although he never took a political position. Messi is absolutely impartial. It is not known what he thinks.
“By buying Mbappe, Florentino Perez put his business in the Gulf at risk”
But, symbolically, do his victories count?
exactly. Just wearing the shirt was enough.
How do you explain the purchase of Messi this summer?
For PSG, this is the business of the century. Economically ensuring increased income and international visibility. Paris Saint-Germain was the seventh club in the world. By purchasing Messi, he became among the top three, along with such historical figures as Real Madrid and Manchester United.
Then there’s the World Cup next year…
Yes, Messi became an ambassador like Neymar and Mbappe. Qatar knows that the World Cup will no longer be ruled out. They have the best Argentine player, the best Brazilian, the best French and the best Italian. They are players in the potential winning teams in 2022.
Do you think it is a guarantee for Qatar not to lose the World Cup? Are you still afraid?
Remember an article Watchman Thousands of dead in the stadium works. They may not lose the World Cup but they will come under more criticism. Another factor is, when Messi signed with PSG, the United States and the Taliban were negotiating in Doha.
Do you associate it with the signature?
It was linked to Qatar. I don’t think one thing was dependent on the other, but … It also happened when Neymar was signed in 2017, in the midst of the Gulf crisis, in the confrontation between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which accused Qatar of financing terrorism. Such an event changes the story before public opinion. Soccer allows you to wash up and take control of your international image. This is it soft power .
Was Real Madrid’s attempt to buy Mbappe doomed to fail?
You have to see if Real Madrid are really in a position to pay €180m for Mbappe. I think not. In addition, part of Florentino Perez’s personal business is in the Gulf. Building and doing public works. Buying Mbappe and forcing the Paris Saint-Germain team to make an enemy of Qatar. It wasn’t a good decision from a business point of view.
Do you think Paris Saint-Germain will win the Champions League?
I don’t believe in Mauricio Pochettino’s ability to build a team. Neymar’s lack of defensive effort, Mbappe’s lack of team effort, along with Messi, who has never defended, could not make up a winning team.
Doha welcomed the dialogue between the United States and the Taliban. Messi’s signature changed the story
Isn’t it embarrassing for France to see how the capital’s team belongs to Qatar?
Qatar came to Paris Saint-Germain during the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy. There was a very beneficial tax agreement for Qataris. France also supported his candidacy for the 2022 World Cup, and there is another factor: Prince Al-Thani’s French-speaking family.
Qatar buys Rafale fighters from France
yes haha. We allowed the Qataris to buy palaces and large hotels, and in return we would sell them weapons. Paris Saint-Germain fans are schizophrenic. They have a double feeling. They know the geopolitical context but they see the stars playing like never before in our history, like never before in the French league. Qatar’s image changed with the purchase of Paris Saint-Germain. In 2010 he looked aggressive, a country bought by France. The picture today looks more positive, although it remains a very conservative, authoritarian regime that supports the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Coming back to soft power, is a soccer star stronger than an aircraft carrier?
I like the comparison. We can say that with Mbappé you have an aircraft carrier. With Mbappe and Neymar, a fleet in the vicinity. If you add Macy’s, you have the world’s first armada.
Despite this, will PSG not win the Champions League?
Chances of losing are greater than chances of winning. We have very strong teams like Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Paris Saint-Germain plays with seven. The three in the foreground do not participate. And injuries are unavoidable, which is the history of Paris Saint-Germain. Neymar played only 51% of the matches. Messi is already 34 years old. It’s a great team on paper. But the reality appeared in the match against Brugge. There is a distance between dream and reality.