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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Paris Saint-Germain, having conquered France, are still working on Qatar

Paris Saint-Germain may be Qatar-owned now, but the club still doesn't occupy the place in the hearts of Qataris the way clubs like Barcelona and AC Milan do.
Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic shown during the team's training session in Doha on Monday. Karim Jaafar / AFP / December 28, 2015
Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic shown during the team's training session in Doha on Monday. Karim Jaafar / AFP / December 28, 2015

Paris Saint-Germain may be Qatari-owned, runaway Ligue 1 leaders, unbeaten all season and an outside bet for this season’s Champions League but they are still battling to win over Qatari fans.

The French champions are currently on their winter tour in Doha, a four-day visit combining training sessions, PR work and, ultimately, Wednesday’s friendly against Italian league leaders Inter Milan in front of a sell-out crowd.

The club have been Qatari-owned since 2011, when Qatar Sports Investments became the majority shareholder, in a deal thought to be worth around €50 million (Dh200m).

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It made Paris not only the richest club in France but one of the wealthiest in the world, pushing PSG into competition for a worldwide fanbase with clubs such as Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

But winning over fans even in the country where the club is now owned, is proving considerably more difficult than winning the Ligue 1 title for PSG.

And as on the pitch, off it, in Qatar at least, PSG are in a battle to overcome the Spanish giants of Barcelona and Real Madrid.

“They (PSG) are not the most popular because they have just been around for five years,” says Mohamed Majdi Al Jozali, a Qatari football fan.

The 23-year-old civil engineer – “Qatar’s biggest AC Milan fan” – was speaking after a PSG training session.

Wearing a yellow Swedish national team shirt with the name “Ibrahimovic” emblazoned on the back, Jozali says it will take time, and success, for PSG to become the No 1 team in Qatar.

“I think we should give them some time and a lot of people will get on the bandwagon. But, for sure, Barcelona and Real Madrid are ... probably the two best clubs in history and there is a lot of deep football fans in this country and that is why they choose to support these clubs.”

Talk to any random Qatari football fan and it is more than likely they will tell you they support Barcelona.

There is a Qatari Barcelona supporters’ club and the Catalan club has just signed a contract to set up its first themed cafe in Doha.

In contrast, PSG have just announced their first local supporters’ club on this trip, according to officials.

It has even been suggested that one of the reasons domestic Qatari league games are poorly attended is because locals wold rather spend their money flying to Spain instead to watch their heroes there.

A visit to one of Doha’s biggest sports shops this week and an inquiry about which football shirts sell the most, brought a simple answer: “Barcelona.”

Asked if PSG shirts sell well, the same shop assistant smiled and simply said “No.”

Barcelona also have a local connection, being sponsored by Qatar Airways, but Jozali said the club’s history and tradition is something that appeals to Qataris.

One local sports journalist in Doha, who wished not be named, said it was vital that PSG replaced Ibrahimovic with a star name to keep their profile high in Qatar.

“PSG have the star factor going for them,” he said.

“People here tend to gravitate towards the big names like Zlatan but if you remove him, PSG may struggle to be a draw, even in Qatar.”

However, Mansoor Mohamed Al Ansari, the general secretary of the Qatar Football Association, told AFP that support for the club among Qataris is growing.

“Of course, I believe that all Qataris feel that they have a sense of belonging to the team due to the fact that it is a Qatari-owned club. And most Qataris are also new fans of the club as well,” he said.

There does seem to be one way though for PSG to make themselves the most popular club in Qatar – winning the Champions League.

“They have to prove themselves first,” adds Jozali.

“First off, by winning the Champions League, it would definitely get them more fans because the Champions League is ... the biggest stage of football every year.”

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