Qatar, the gas-rich Gulf state that has gained an outsized influence in global soccer, held advanced discussions to buy a stake in the storied English team Leeds United on Monday, according to two people with direct knowledge of the discussions.
Qatar stunned the sports world when it secured the rights to host soccer’s World Cup in 2022. Since that vote in 2010 it has been among the most consequential nations in soccer, buying and investing huge amounts to turn Paris Saint-Germain into a powerhouse team and also becoming the biggest buyer of soccer rights on the continent through its BeIN Sports network.
The move for Leeds, which missed out on a return to the Premier League after losing a playoff semifinal to Derby last month, would be Qatar’s first foray into English soccer and most likely will lead to further scrutiny into its affairs at home and abroad. Human rights groups have drawn attention to the treatment of workers building World Cup stadiums, while there have been allegations of wrongdoing over the way in which Qatar convinced FIFA members to choose it to host the World Cup.
The talks with Leeds, which won the last of its three English championships in 1992, are at an advanced stage and stem from a close personal relationship between the club’s majority owner, Andrea Radrizzani, and Nasser al-Khelaifi, the businessman who fronts most of Qatar’s investments in sports. A close friend of Qatar’s emir, al-Khelaifi is president of P.S.G. and chairman of beIN Sports. He once backed Qatar’s joint sports television venture in Asia with Radrizzani, who ran MP Silva, a global sports rights buyer.
The Financial Times first reported talks between Qatar Sports Investments — the vehicle that controls its sports assets — and Leeds on May 25.
Spokesmen for Radrizzani, Q.S.I. and Leeds declined to comment. Last year, the Leeds owner sold a 10 percent stake to 49ers Enterprises, the investment division of the San Francisco 49ers. The initial talks with Qatar involve a stake sale, though there could be a provision for a full buyout later on, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions.
An investment in Leeds would be Qatar’s third in club soccer teams. As well as P.S.G., which is now home to soccer’s two most expensive players, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, the Gulf team owns K.A.S. Eupen, a minor Belgium team. That investment is part of a plan to improve the skills of young Qatari nationals, who may form part of its national team in the World Cup, now just three years away.
Should a deal be completed, there are also likely to be other complications. European soccer’s governing body does not allow teams with a single owner to compete against each other in continental competitions. While that seems a long way off, with Leeds not even in the Premier League, Qatari money in Paris has shown how quickly a formidable team can be assembled to compete with Europe’s finest.
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