“With Qatari investment the previously unfashionable French club are becoming giants of the global game,” reads the subhead of Philipp Lahm’s latest op-ed, a paean to Paris Saint-Germain in The Guardian.
It is hard to imagine a take further removed from the values of dedicated Bundesliga fans, who view the excesses of the Qatari-owned giant PSG as a direct threat to traditional club soccer and the national leagues. Lahm compares PSG to a luxury department store in Paris, where customers buy “Dior, Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. Shoes cost €1,000. Champagne bottles can be personalised, perfume bottles can be bought for six figures.”
Lahm approves: the luxury store “attracts people.” And, he argues, so does PSG.
Since his retirement from his athletic career in 2017, Lahm, now 37, has fashioned a public persona as a business-savvy leader, publishing a series of articles on LinkedIn—notably a critique of Jogi Löw in 2018, “When Avoiding Change Prohibits Success.” In 2018, he was appointed by the DFB to head the organization of Euro 2024, which Germany will host.
Since his transition to his organizational role in world soccer, Lahm appears to have internalized the values that have characterized FIFA and UEFA over the past twenty years. He has nothing but praise for Qatar, which will controversially host the World Cup next year.
“For 10 years PSG have belonged to the ruling family from Qatar,” Lahm writes. “The owner—the head of state, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani—has invested more than a €1bn in the club. The country, host of the next World Cup, has been attracting worldwide attention by financing sports for many years.”
All that matters is the spectacle: “They think globally in Paris,” Lahm says, and “the number of fans around the globe is growing.”
What is the most shocking about Lahm’s position is that he embraces this grotesque vision of club soccer: the club as luxury brand, exclusive and unattainable for people who cannot afford €1000 shoes and personalized champagne bottles, but on display for the adoring masses.
Critics of Bayern Munich may object to the club’s sponsorships and seemingly unshakeable Bundesliga dominance. But Bayern Munich is not is a state-owned enterprise created ex nihilo and bankrolled in more or less open defiance of UEFA’s toothless financial parity bylaws.
Frankly, this writer finds it repulsive how Philipp Lahm gushes about PSG’s culture of conspicuous consumption, celebrity cameos, and designer shirts that retail for €3,000.
Bayern Munich’s players have ties to popular culture. They get Audis from the club and drive fancy private cars like other prominent players. They sometimes do outrageous things (ahem, Franck). But they also visit local fan clubs, attend Oktoberfest, and pose in lederhosen holding Bavarian Hefeweizen for their sponsor Paulaner (a Munich brewer) every year. They take the “Bayern challenge” and try their hand at traditional Bavarian folk games. (This year: Tolisso, Choupo, and Roca—check it out!) Bayern may be a wealthy club that insists on quality, but it is decidedly not a luxury brand.
“There is no greater spectacle,” Lahm concludes in anticipation of PSG’s upcoming match against equally grotesque, UAE-owned Manchester City.
Some things, however, are greater than spectacle.