By Jonathan Hawkins and Becky Anderson, CNN
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson, the Qatari businessman, who is also chairman of global sports and entertainment broadcaster, beIN Media Group, pushed back on comments by former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who described the Qatar event as “a mistake.”
Media now ‘In love with Qatar’
“I feel honestly [it is] unfair to hear this every time from people because every single person, honestly, fans, media, partner, right holders, you see the best World Cup ever. We have everything,” Al-Khelaifi said.
The PSG chaiman also told Anderson that he believes media criticism of the country was down to the fact that many had not visited Qatar.
“One of the biggest media [has] asked me to do an interview for years,” he said. “And I say, ‘I’m not going to do any interview until you come to Qatar.’
“‘You visit anything, wherever you want and then I will do the interview.’ And they were negative before, trust me. And then they came here … They’re in love with Qatar.”
‘Open’ to selling up to 15% of PSG
Al-Khelaifi also told Anderson that PSG is open to selling a stake of up to 15% in the club.
Qatari sovereign wealth fund QSI, which Al-Khelaifi also chairs, recently valued the French soccer giant, home to star players including Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, and Neymar Jr. at over $4 billion.
“We are open to sell minority shares, strategic shares,” he said.
“I think it’s great for the club and it’s proved also that we are doing fantastic job in the club. I mean, we bought it for around 70 million … So is it [a] good investment?”
The right bidder
QSI took control of PSG in 2011. In the intervening 11 years, the men’s team has won a total of 28 trophies, including eight Ligue 1 titles. However, the club has yet to win the Champions League, though PSG did reach the 2020 final before losing to Bayern.
The 49-year-old told Anderson that PSG would want any potential bidder to share a long-term commitment to the club.
“It depends [on] the owner, to be honest,” he said. “Some owners, they have a strategic, long-term project like us, others just want to cash out, [a] short-term investment fund, develop the brand, restructure the club, and then resell it.
“We love football, but it’s also investment projects.”
European Super League a ‘ridiculous idea’
Al-Khelaifi was among the most prominent opponents of the recent attempt to form a new European Super League by some of the continent’s wealthiest clubs.
The 49-year-old told Anderson that he remains opposed to the idea, but is not against other changes.
“I think that’s not fair for the small and medium clubs. You need to leave the hope open for everybody, fans, clubs, owners. You know what I mean? This is ridiculous … the idea of [a] Super League,” he explained.
“I’m not saying against any changes. Of course, I want to play more matches in European level too. I’m not hiding it, right.
“But I think there need to be very clear open leagues and that’s what we are doing in ’24. I think this format will be fantastic,” added Al-Khelaifil, referring to the expansion of the Champions League in 2024, when the competition will increase from 32 to 36 teams.
UEFA ‘doing an amazing job’
The Qatari also sits on the board of UEFA, and Al-Khelaifi told Anderson that he believes the organization is doing “an amazing job” to “protect everybody.”
“We have the ecosystem of football. It’s not just about 12 clubs or eight clubs or four clubs,” he said. “Those clubs, they want to be only in the level. They don’t want anybody compete against them. Is this fair? Not at all.”
Messi, Mbappé and Neymar
With three of the World Cup’s biggest stars on its books, PSG has a particular interest in the tournament. All three have been subject to speculation over their futures amid frequent transfer rumors.
Al-Khelaifi told Anderson that PSG has a two-year contract with Messi, but will discuss his next steps after the tournament ends.
“I’m so proud of him, what he has done with our club, what he gives to the club and he’s so happy at the club.
“After the World Cup we going to start that discussion,” he said. “We [will] see what’s the best for both.
But definitely if … the mutual interest and we want him to stay and he wants to stay, then he will stay. If one of us doesn’t want, then he will move on.”
He also pushed back on any suggestion that Mbappé is dissatisfied at the club.
“Can you see him? He is happy, he is. I mean, he’s scoring goals and very competitive, very professional. So he’s French and originally from Paris, so he’s Parisian.”
Brazil star Neymar injured his ankle in his country’s opening World Cup match against Serbia. Al-Khelaifi told Anderson he expected the star to be okay for the tournament’s knock-out stages, but that he needs referees to give him more protection.
“I think he will be okay for Round 16. He’s injured, he’s really unlucky. I feel sorry for him,” he said.
“He’s an amazing talent and the world need to protect him so the fans can enjoy Neymar in the World Cup.”
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