Almost a year on from the sudden rise and fall of the European Super League, the fractures it created in European football are still felt.
Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, three of the 12 founders, have yet to denounce the project with a ruling expected in the European Court of Justice within the next year.
Paris St-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who says he rejected an invite to join the breakaway league, was made chairman of the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) in the wake of the debacle.
In an exclusive interview with BBC Sport in Vienna, 48-year-old Al-Khelaifi discusses the continuing threat of a European Super League (ESL), a recent meeting with Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, plus other pertinent issues in the game.
Can the European Super League still happen?
PSG’s defeat by Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League earlier this month saw Al-Khelaifi come face-to-face with the Spanish club’s president Perez.
Al-Khelaifi says the potential for a European Super League no longer exists, telling BBC Sport he was “really tough” with Perez when they spoke.
“With the ESL or non ESL – I hate to say Super League – you are talking about three clubs. They know there is no chance,” he said.
“People are dying in Ukraine and have nowhere to sleep – and we are fighting about Super League?
“The problem with ESL clubs is that they don’t have stability. They don’t have a long-term financial vision. They keep talking about their legal contract [with ESL].
“What they forget is football is a social contract, it’s not a legal contract – they’re waving around a piece of paper.
“Florentino Perez spoke to me at the Champions League game and said ‘we have to get a point where we can speak to you’. I was really tough with him.
“I said I was happy to talk but if he was going to do stuff behind my back, I am not interested.”
But aren’t TV fans more interested in ‘Super League’ style games?
PSG rejected the opportunity to join the breakaway league last year, but Al-Khelaifi says he understands the attraction of the big teams playing each other more regularly.
“I want to play those matches – the big matches, of course I do. I know what the audience wants.
“But we cannot say ‘you are a small club, you are out’. It has to be an open system, under the governing body, where there is respect for everybody.
“I could have taken the [ESL] cheque for €400m. They invited me. Then when I said no, they said they didn’t invite me – that sums them up.
“If I just thought about myself I could have done it. Especially during Covid. But what about the eco-system and the fans and the values you represent?”
Is PSG’s business model bad for football?
Al-Khelaifi is chairman of Qatar Sports Investments, which has bankrolled PSG since 2011 and has been accused of ‘sportswashing’.
Questions have been raised in England about club ownership, particularly since Newcastle was taken over by an investment group bankrolled by Saudi Arabia.
Al-Khelaifi says the investment provided by his group has benefitted football by filtering through the “eco-system”, while also questioning the business models of other clubs.
“Imagine there was no investment over the past few years. Football would have collapsed, I promise you,” he said.
“We are an investment fund. We bought the club for 70m euros. We have since received offers in the multi-billions.
“This is the brand we built as a real investment – across men’s and women’s teams. People criticise because it is sovereign wealth.
“What about other forms of ownership – is the private equity takeover of sport about social good? What about clubs leveraged to the sky by private individuals – is that good? Barcelona is a fan-owned club with €1.5bn debt – does that work?
“Our investment in PSG also doesn’t just help one club. Imagine PSG were not in the French League. Where would the league find an investment fund to invest €1.5bn, which goes to the small clubs to invest?
“When you look at the full picture of what we are doing, it has raised the level.”
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