The gas-rich Middle Eastern state and its wealthiest individuals have been building up a stake in European football since 2010 and now have a major interest in three leading clubs, two in Spain and one in France.
In June 2010 a member of the Qatari royal family, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nassar Al-Thani, agreed to buy Malaga football club for €36 million, becoming president of the club on July 28th that year. The financial benefits were soon visible as the club began to compete with Real Madrid and Barcelona in the Spanish transfer market. In the Summer of 2011, Spanish international Santi Cazorla joined the club for a record fee of €21 million or £17.5 million.
In December 2010, soon after Qatar was awarded the rights to host the 2022 World Cup by FIFA, it was announced that the Qatar Foundation, a charity, had reached a five-year, €150 million or £125 million deal to join Unicef as the official shirt sponsor of Spanish and European champions Barcelona. Under the terms of the deal Barcelona were to receive €30 million or £25 million per season from 2011-12.
In June 2011 the Qatari Investment Authority bought a 70 per cent controlling interest in French Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain. The club's new financial fire power was immediately demonstrated as they beat Chelsea and others to the signature of Palermo's young Argentine star Javier Pastore for a record £37.6 million.
Qatar's interest in acquiring a stake in Europe's leading clubs is unlikely to end there, however. In February, 2011, news leaked out that the ruling Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani had made a bid for Manchester United through his company Qatari Holdings.
The Sheikh had offered United American owners, the Glazer family, £1.6 billion to acquire their controlling stake in the club. The offer was apparently rejected.