Al-Khelaifi: At PSG the Institution Comes First

Reuters

 

1) This ranking is arbitrary of course - who would you name as the top 5 influential people in world football?

That’s a very difficult question to start with, there are so many owners, chairmen, managers, players and indeed fans who are now very influential. Believe me, there are a lot of “influential” people, both in French football and internationally – but it’s only those with substance that can effect genuine change. I don't want to list a top five, let alone offend those I didn’t mention, but I would mention a leader like Alexander Ceferin at UEFA who has been extremely influential during his tenure, and who has been a much needed unifying force for European and world football.

 

2) Who impresses you the most for their ability to unite and above all impose ideas?

Without hesitation, I would firstly single out Sir Alex Ferguson. Not only did he build one of the greatest teams in world football, but his presence was – and still is – incredible.  Even today, when he enters a stadium, there’s a murmur through the stands – you can feel it.  I've had the pleasure of getting to know Sir Alex over the past few years and his knowledge and passion for football are clearly second-to-none. You can learn a lot by listening to these legends of world football. 

Not directly involved in football but someone whose presence and influence are still strong long after he retired is Michael Jordan – not only was he the greatest of all time on court, but he hasn’t stopped since. Having hung up his own Air Jordans, he still has got as much passion and drive as ever and even today still influences younger generations who never saw him play. He’s built one of the world’s greatest and most iconic brands which I had the pleasure to work with when PSG partnered with Jordan to create an innovative sport line to bring both our sports together to global markets.

Outside of our football world I also have great personal admiration and respect for the IOC President Thomas Bach, who has helped transform the Olympic movement and whose modernization program has been a valuable lesson in how to bring together and unite a very complex institution.      

 

3) What is the real influence for you: economic, sporting or popular?

It is the game that matters most. This what weaves everything and everyone together – from the fans to the players to the communities and the club. Of course, sports and economics are closely linked and they are both critical to developing an effective sporting ethos and business. But popularity and economics follow sport itself – that comes first, it’s sport that drives passion.

Clearly the economics of football are now being rethought in light of the current crisis - which only underlines the sense of responsibility that football's leaders must have, in a sector that provides a living for tens of thousands of people in France and many others around the world. We do not take this responsibility lightly. In the context we're living in, it's absolutely essential to bear in mind football's extraordinary ability to bring people from all walks of life together, to connect them to each other and share emotions. One of the best recent examples of this was the World Cup in Russia, where fans came from all over the world to share the same passion. All that fervor, all that colorful atmosphere, it was fantastic to see.

 

4) Do you now feel more influential and listened to than when you came into football in 2011?

I don’t think about things in terms of influence, we try and earn people’s respect in the same way that we have always respected others. To earn this respect you need years of hard work by many people along with a very clear vision. I'm very proud of what we have achieved so far, but we are still at the beginning of this journey and there is long way to go. This project isn’t just about a vision for a club, but also that of the whole of French football and the various communities that make it up and surround it. That’s why we have always tried to invest intelligently, whether we are signing players, developing future talents, renovating and building top-of-the-range facilities like our new state of the art training centre, or investing in areas close to our hearts like women's football, handball, judo and e-sport – and of course our strong commitment to our PSG Foundation which changes lives every day. 

 

5) Cristiano Ronaldo and Gianni Infantino are alongside you on the podium of our most influential people. What do you envy in them? What do they have that you don't, that would be useful to you in your job?

It’s a huge privilege, and surprise, to be nominated alongside such esteemed company.

Cristiano Ronaldo, has a unique single-mindedness year after year, and an unmatched strength of character. He still has a desire to get better every day and he is always pushing himself to the limit. I admire this relentless drive and he is a great example for all aspiring athletes. His generosity off the pitch is not always given enough credit as he spends a lot of time and energy giving back.

So too Mr. Infantino, who has risen to lead one of the most important and most influential organizations in the world, one that transcends football in its size and scope.  

 

6) Who do you see as the most influential: club chairmen, institutions, players' agents or star players?

I meet lots of people in the industry, many of whom have great influence. But at Paris Saint-Germain the most important part is the institution itself, we place this above everything and everyone. Those who work at PSG know this already, and it is made clear to everyone who joins on day one.

In light of the current crisis, chairmen will clearly have responsibility to show even more decisive leadership as we come out of the crisis. The players as role models for many young people should also take more responsibilities.  

 

7) What is the trap to avoid when you have influence?

No matter what your position, role or status in life, you should never be complacent or arrogant to think that you have attained some kind of success, you must never forget your background and where you have come from, but always keep moving forward, always be prepared to learn and listen and stay focused on your goals.

The key is to have a vision and show humility. In sport, nothing should ever be taken for granted and things can fall apart suddenly. But if you have humility and constantly learn from your mistakes, your vision will be achieved. And always have in mind that sport is an endlessly repetitive cycle, and that's why we love it.

 

8) Is it possible to have power, and to exercise it, without having the resources to do so in 2020?

As I always say, resources help, but it’s not the most important. You need to know how to use whatever resources you have in the most beneficial way. Resources in themselves cannot buy you passion, vision or success.

Football is THE universal game, and you have to remember why fans come and watch week in and out - it’s because of their passion for the game.

 

9) Is power exhilarating? How do you avoid making mistakes out of pride?

I don’t look at myself in that way. Whatever you do, it’s unavoidable at times not to make mistakes –and there is no shame in admitting when you have made one. It’s how you respond to it that counts, and you need to learn from it and not make the same mistakes again.

 

10) Which hat gives you the most authority and influence in the world: Chairman of PSG, Chairman of the beIN Media Group or Minister of State?

For me it’s not roles, positions or titles that matter. I never been driven or motivated by this things I rather focus on results and outcomes.

In terms of authority and influence – there are enough journalists to analyze and comment.

 

11) How does your influence help you outside sport?

When I was growing up, I was taught to help others before you help yourself – It's part of the fabric of our society and how we are raised.

I've already told you about the Paris Saint-Germain Foundation and I'm going to insist on this point. Football is about sharing emotions, an unparalleled ability to bring people together who, in other aspects of their lives, may be divided. Football also has this fantastic power to bring comfort and hope to many people who are going through difficult times. I feel we have a great moral mission with them, and especially with children. Our Foundation, celebrating 20 years this September, has helped over 250,000 children, many of them in France but now also abroad where we have developed several projects with Action Contre la Faim in Africa. We have just renewed our agreement with Secours Populaire, another Foundation partner. And we will continue to develop the Ecoles Rouge & Bleu, providing educational support while passing on the civic values that are dear to our club. To sum up, anyone who has the ability to should always think of those less fortunate – that’s the ethos of our Foundation. And this is why we dedicated our 2019-20 league trophy to all medical workers and the real heroes who have been fighting so courageously since the start of the health crisis.

 

12) Where is the most difficult environment to impose your views: a dressing room with your players, a council of Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 chairmen to talk about TV rights or a meeting room with representatives of major European clubs?  

Every environment has its own unique and difficult challenges- you just need to adapt to them. The current crisis is, without doubt, one of the most difficult situations I have encountered, but it is how you react to adversity which is important. We have to ask ourselves how to bring out the best of us.

As an example, many club chairmen across France are doing extraordinary and selfless work for their clubs, fans and local communities every single day in what is probably the most difficult challenge they will ever face. They should be congratulated – a lot of the time they don’t get the credit they deserve.

 

13) Do you feel like an all-powerful person? With what kind of responsibilities?

Not at all – the only thing I feel is a sense of responsibility, not power. Responsibility toward our projects for the club, the fans, our city and all the Paris Saint-Germain community. Power for power's sake - the obsessive search for the spotlight - it’s just pure vanity as we all know. Of course, with responsibility comes scrutiny and often criticism, which I have no problem with. In the modern media world that’s the price you have to pay, but I hope that with this rating I will not get more of it!

 

14) Among all the players you've come across (at PSG or elsewhere), which one (or ones) impressed you the most and who will be very influential in a few years’ time with a lot of responsibilities?

I’ve been privileged to work with so many great, great players over the years – it’s incredibly hard to pick. Looking at players that joined us from the start of our PSG ambition, I would have to pick out Zlatan Ibrahimovic – his character, his leadership, his charisma and ability to move things forward. He helped us progress enormously during his time here, on the pitch of course, but also in a lot of day-to-day areas. He was forever dependable and also stood up when needed.

I would also have to say David Beckham. While he was only at PSG for a short time, he had a transformative effect. His training ethos, his attention to detail, his application and determination to succeed, his teamwork and his natural aura were such precious assets then, and are today in his new activities. David also always showed extraordinary kindness and gave enormous time for the fans, despite his star status. In my view he’s one of the best role models for any young boy or girl aspiring to be a professional athlete.