Saudi Arabia interested in Marseille

The Kingdom wants to enter Ligue 1 in order to threaten the hegemony of Qatar-controlled Paris Saint-Germain
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal

PHOTO/AFP  -   Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal

Paris Saint-Germain's dominant position in Ligue 1 (France's Premier League) may now be threatened by Saudi Arabia's intention to take over Olympique de Marseille, one of the Parisian club's historic rivals, which has been under Qatar's control since 2011, when it was acquired by the Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) fund.

The capital team has dominated French football since Qatar's entry into the game, under the leadership of President Nasser al-Khelaifi (who has been under siege by the Swiss justice system following investigations into alleged bribery of FIFA and alleged corruption in relation to the broadcasting rights for the Qatar 2022 World Cup). Now the archrival of this Gulf monarchy commanded by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, none other than Saudi Arabia, would come to French football. 

El presidente qatarí del París Saint-Germain, Nasser al-Khelaifi
AFP/FRANCK FIFE - Qatar's President of Paris Saint-Germain, Nasser al-Khelaifi

The Kingdom is still very interested in having a stronger position in the international football scene; and, after being interested in buying Newcastle in the English Premier League (to take on UAE-controlled Manchester City), in a deal with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, it is now France's turn and one of France's traditional competition clubs, Olympique de Marseille, a team with a rich history in French and European football (despite being the only French team to have won a European Cup or Champions League, the one won in 1993 against AC Milan) and with a large and extensive fan base (including thousands of fans of Arab origin settled in the port city of Marseille).

Behind this interest is one of the members of the Saudi royal family, Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, an entrepreneur and investor who is one of the great fortunes of the Middle Eastern country and who would be very close to acquiring the Marseille club.

According to the Arab football website Kooora, one of the most important websites in Saudi Arabia and with 1.5 million followers on its Twitter account, Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud's offer would have exceeded 400 million euros to acquire the majority of Marseille's shares.

Vista general de una pancarta exhibida por los aficionados del Olympique de Marsella
REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD - Overview of a banner displayed by Marseille fans

This is a very tempting figure for the current owner of OM, Franck McCourt, who, according to various media sources, is having to deal with the debts of the southern French team. Sources close to the French club spoke of a debt that would be close to 100 million euros, according to the newspaper Sport. McCourt, who had previously owned the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, took control of the Marseille entity in 2016 for about 40 million euros.

In fact, there has been speculation for some time that Franck McCourt has put the team up for sale due to the economic difficulties he has been experiencing in previous seasons. The negotiations are being conducted with complete discretion in this regard, according to the Kooora website.

If OM were to pass into the hands of the Saudi Royal Family, French football could see another high-profile duel between PSG, owned by QSI and headed by Nasser al-Khelaifi, and the Marseille team, with both sides expected to make a major cash injection to compete at the highest level. 

The Saudi Sheikh's interest in the Marseille team has been longstanding. In 2014, he had already tried to acquire the entire OM, but the obstacles to buying the Velodrome, the stadium where Marseille play and which is owned by the city council, slowed him down in his ambitions. 

Vista general del interior del estadio Vélodrome del Olympique de Marsella
PHOTO/REUTERS - General view of the interior of Marseille's Vélodrome stadium

Now Al-Waleed bin Talal has reportedly put 400 million euros on the table to buy the club and the stadium, an offer that has yet to receive a concrete response from the French football giant. The arrival of Al-Waleed in French football would therefore be a revolution in the French championship. Moreover, it is well known that the member of the Saudi Arabian royal family summers every year in the south of France, a country to which he is closely linked.