The score was level after the first leg of a two-game faceoff between two of the world's Petro-soccer giants on April 6.
Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) clashed in the UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday in Paris. For those not familiar with the tournament, it is an annual clash between Europe's best clubs, and the most prestigious club tournament in the world.
Little separated City and PSG when they played in Paris, and with the score standing at 2-2, they will meet again in Manchester next week to decide who will advance to the semi-finals.
But as David Conn of The Guardian pointed out this week, there was much to the game than simply two of the world's most talented teams. "The tie, between two eye-wateringly expensive and lavishly paid squads, embodies the determining force of money in modern football, in which international cast lists of players go to the European clubs which pay the most," Conn wrote.
Why are Manchester City and PSG so rich? The two teams owe much of their success to oil and gas wealth from the Middle East, oddly enough. City is owned by a member of the ruling family in Abu Dhabi. Manchester City's opponent in Wednesday's match, PSG, is owned by Qatar.
Abu Dhabi, of course, is where the bulk of the UAE's 3 million barrels of oil per day of oil production is located, which has allowed the ruling elite to become so incredibly wealthy. The state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company is the 12th largest oil company in the world by production. Its neighbor, Qatar, owns the 15th largest oil company in the world with 2.4 million barrels per day in production.
Before Manchester City was purchased by Abu Dhabi, it consistently wallowed in the lower half of the English Premier League, and even spent several seasons in second-tier division in the late 1990s. Following the purchase of City by Abu Dhabi's Sheik Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2008, an infusion of oil money transformed City from a middling team with unremarkable players to one that could compete on the world stage with top talent. City has won the English Premier League twice since 2008.
PSG followed a similar path. It had not won the French league in nearly twenty years, but then, in 2012, Qatar purchased the team for $130 million and subsequently pumped another $340 million into the club, building a footballing powerhouse by throwing money around. With a massive war chest, PSG was able to convince several world class players to come to Paris when they might have otherwise played in the more competitive leagues in England, Spain or Italy. Now, PSG has virtually no competition in France and has won the French league title every year since Qatar took over. PSG is now the fourth richest football club in the world, and no other French team cracks the top 30.
The Guardian described the April 6 clash as one of two ungodly rich football teams, but also a clash between the moneyed entities of the UAE and Qatar, two countries that often take opposing sides in some of today's geopolitical flashpoints. For example, Qatar has a record of funding extremist groups while the UAE has opposed them. Both countries, however, have a financial empire that has steadily extended its reach in global sports. Qatar is set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, an honor achieved not without controversy.
Both Manchester City and PSG are huge advertisements for the tiny rich Middle Eastern countries. Manchester City has the Etihad Airways logo embossed on its jersey, UAE's second-largest airline. Also, the stadium in Manchester is named the Etihad Stadium. PSG's shirt reads "Fly Emirates" across the chest.
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The financial benefits from the sponsorships keeps the teams flush with cash, which will ensure that they will not fall into footballing obscurity for the foreseeable future.
Nevertheless, neither team has been able to win Europe's highest prize, the Champions League. In recent history, that honor has gone much more frequently to two much richer football clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid, arguably the two best teams in the world. Whoever wins between Manchester City and PSG will have to go on and likely face a more talented team from Europe. Up until now, despite all of their trophies, City and PSG have not been able to lift the Champions League trophy.
So, it seems, oil money can't buy you everything. Then again, Barcelona and Madrid are not free of oil and gas money either. When the world's two best players, Ronaldo (Real Madrid) and Leo Messi (Barcelona) meet, across their chests are the corporate logos of two major international airlines: Emirates and Qatar Airways.