Europe France and football
The Swedish model
A football club mirrors many French anxieties
A literary sensation too
When the Qataris last year bought Paris SaintGermain (PSG), the French capital’s premier football club, it touched a raw enough nerve. This is a country, after all, which once declared yogurt-making a strategic industry in need of protection from foreign takeovers. Liberation, a left-wing newspaper, denounced the small Gulf state’s “ferocious appetite for power and influence”, and warned that “bling-bling football” was on its way to France. Nearly 18 months later, many French anxieties—over wealth, taxes, capitalism or free trade—are exemplified by PSG’s fortunes.
Short of the sort of cash that has been sloshing around other European football leagues, the French have traditionally exported talent, often to England. Stadiums are rarely full; no French club has won the European Champions’ League for nearly 20 years. Now the country has become an importer too. Supplied with a fat chequebook by the Qatar Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund, PSG has gone on a shopping spree. After bagging an Italian manager, it splashed out on two Brazilians, an Argentinian, an Italian and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a Swedish striker whose father was a Bosnian Muslim and mother a Croat.
To French eyes, the yearly salary reportedly promised to Mr Ibrahimovic—some 14m ($18m), said the French press in August, or closer to 9m according to Le Parisien newspaper last month—was shocking. The French like wealth only when it is discreet and do not care much for the fast cars and flashy nightlife that seems to go with high-level football. They elected a president, Francois Hollande, a Socialist who once said he didn’t like the rich and promised during his campaign to tax salaries of over 1m at 75%. Predictably, politicians decried the footballer’s extravagant pay. “Indecent”, given the economic crisis, declared Jercme Cahuzac, the budget minister.
Parliament has just approved the new top tax rate. French business is dismayed. But it will do little to dampen footballers’ take-home pay: the Qataris are guaranteeing Mr Ibrahimovic’s salary, net. Whether Parisians can overcome their distaste for the vulgarisation of sport and the inequalities that such largesse brings will depend partly on performance on the pitch. So far, Mr Ibrahimovic has scored nine goals in eight league matches; PSG tops the league. Should his feet fail him, though, the Swede may just find other ways to charm the French. On October 22nd his autobiography was shortlisted for Sweden’s smartest literary prize—just the sort of non-financial success that Parisians truly cherish.