Through status and wealth, he has become one of the most influential people in football.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi is the power behind global sports investments by the state of Qatar – most prominently owning Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) – and the leader of European clubs fending off the Super League rebellion.
In a wide-ranging interview with Sky News at the World Cup, Mr Al-Khelaifi said:
- Free agent Cristiano Ronaldo is not an option for PSG but “everyone wants” to try to sign England sensation Jude Bellingham
- European politicians are criticising the FIFA tournament to pursue their own agendas
- Doha is ready to stage bigger events like the Olympics
- Qatar should be considered if UEFA pursues the idea to hold club showpiece events outside Europe
Commenting on Bellingham, who has lit up the World Cup and led England into a quarter-final meeting with France on Saturday, Mr Al-Khelaifi told Sky News: “What a player. Honestly, England are lucky to have him … and he’s one of the best players in the tournament.
“Amazing and you see his first World Cup – calm and relaxed and confident.”
Bellingham has scored once and set up two goals in four appearances in Qatar.
Asked if PSG’s recruitment team would be tasked with signing him from Borussia Dortmund, Mr Al-Khelaifi said: “Everyone wants him. I’m not going to hide it.
“But I respect he’s in his club and, respect if we want to talk to him, we talk to the club first.”
Mr Al-Khelaifi has gained prominence since leading the purchase of PSG in 2011 and using Qatar’s gas-funded wealth to sign stars including Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Asked about signing Ronaldo following his departure from Manchester United, Mr Al-Khelaifi said: “The three players that we have [Messi, Neymar and Mbappe], it’s very difficult, but I wish him all the best. He’s fantastic and he’s still an amazing player.”
It is staging the first World Cup in the Middle East that has elevated Qatar on the global stage.
But with concerns about anti-LGBTQ+ laws and the suffering of low-paid migrant workers, Qatar’s hosting has drawn criticism from teams and politicians in Europe.
While British sports minister Stuart Andrew wore a rainbow tie and armband at last week’s England-Wales group stage clash, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted praise: “Hats off to Qatar for hosting an incredible World Cup.”
Asked about the British reactions, Mr Al-Khelaifi told Sky News: “Politicians, they want to use the sport to promote themselves, to achieve something in their agenda.
“They will not succeed. Definitely because sport is sport, nothing to do with politics. And what we’re doing here in Qatar is just sport and football. So all the politicians try to use this for their own agenda. All of them failed.”
Qatar’s sports investments, though, can be viewed as a political power project – spending the gas wealth to grow status and influence.
“We have to be proud today and say it loudly that we are proud of our country,” Mr Al-Khelaifi responded.
Could an Olympic bid be next, with the 2036 Games yet to be awarded?
“Are Qatar ready to organise a bigger event? You can see the organisation, the infrastructure, the stadiums,” he said.
Another option is using Doha for big European club football matches. UEFA is open to holding the Champions League final outside Europe or a proposed new-look four-team Super Cup to open the season.
“We didn’t talk about it,” said Mr Al-Khelaifi, chairman of the European Club Association and member of the UEFA executive committee.
“But why not? To make the Champions League outside – not in Doha only, but outside in the US, in Asia … to develop the competition.”
He added: “It’s a great idea to explore and to expand fans with other markets.”
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