Thanks to his status and wealth, he became one of the most influential people in football.
Nasser Al-Khelaifi is the driving force behind global sports investment by the state of Qatar – the biggest owner of Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) – and the leader of European clubs repelling the Super League rebellion.
In an extensive interview with Sky News during the World Cup, Mr Al Khelaifi said:
- European politicians slam FIFA tournament for pursuing their own agendas
- Doha is ready to host bigger events like the Olympics
- Qatar should be considered if UEFA pursues idea of staging club showcase events outside of Europe
- Free agent Cristiano Ronaldo not an option for PSG but ‘everyone wants’ to try and sign England sensation Jude Bellingham
Commenting on Bellingham, 19, who lit up the World Cup, leading England to the quarter-final against France on Saturday, Mr Al-Khelaifi told Sky News: “What a player. Honestly, England have Lucky to have him… and he’s one of the best players in the tournament.
“Incredible and you see his first World Cup – calm and relaxed and confident.”
Bellingham has scored once and scored twice in four games in Qatar.
When asked if PSG’s recruitment team would be in charge of signing him from Borussia Dortmund, Mr Al-Khelaifi said: “Everyone wants him. I’m not going to hide it.
“But I respect that he is at his club and, respect if we want to talk to him, we talk to the club first.”
Mr Al-Khelaifi has risen to prominence since leading the purchase of PSG in 2011 and using Qatar’s gas-backed wealth to sign stars such as Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar.
Asked about signing Ronaldo after leaving Manchester United, Mr Al-Khelaifi said: “The three players 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 incredible player.”
It hosts the first World Cup in the Middle East which elevated Qatar to the world stage.
But with concerns over anti-LGBTQ+ laws and the suffering of low-paid migrant workers, Qatar’s welcome has drawn criticism from teams and politicians in Europe.
As UK Sports Minister Stuart Andrew wore a rainbow tie and armband during the England-Wales group stage last week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted his praise: “Hats off to Qatar for having organized an incredible World Cup”.
Asked about the British reactions, Mr Al-Khelaifi told Sky News: “Politicians, they want to use sport to promote themselves, to achieve something in their agenda.
“They won’t succeed. Certainly because sport is sport, nothing to do with politics. And what we do here in Qatar is just sport and football. So all the politicians are trying to use this for their own agenda. All have failed.”
Qatar’s sports investments, however, can be viewed as a political power project – spending gas wealth to increase status and influence.
“We must be proud today and say loud and clear that we are proud of our country,” replied Mr. Al-Khelaifi.
Could an Olympic bid be next, with the 2036 Games yet to be awarded?
“Is Qatar ready to host a bigger event? You can see the organization, the infrastructure, the stadiums,” he said.
Another option is to use Doha for major European club football matches. UEFA is open to holding the Champions League final outside Europe or a proposed new four-team Super Cup to open the season.
“We haven’t talked about it,” said Mr Al-Khelaifi, president of the European Club Association and member of the UEFA executive committee.
“But why not? Do the Champions League away – not just in Doha, but outside in the United States, in Asia… to develop the competition.”
He added, “It’s a great idea to explore and expand the fans with other markets.”