A huge, and for some potentially distressing, report has dropped concerning the future ownership of Tottenham Hotspur this afternoon. According to Ben Jacobs, writing for CBS Sports, earlier in the week Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy had what is being called an “exploratory meeting” with Qatar Sports Investments, including QSI and Paris St. Germain chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi, over a possible minority investment in the football club.
Exclusive: Qatar Sports Investments are ramping up efforts to find another team to minority-invest in this year. They're actively talking to EPL clubs, including Tottenham. Nasser Al-Khelaifi met with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy earlier this week to hold an exploratory meeting. pic.twitter.com/GWDhpd9eH8— Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) January 8, 2023
The report goes to great pains to state that this does not mean that anything is going to come out of that meeting. QSI, which has a controlling share of PSG and a minority investment in Braga in Portugal, is seeking other financial opportunities and is particularly interested in expanding into the Premier League and South America. The meeting with Spurs was preliminary; QSI is looking at a number of Premier League clubs in which to potentially invest, with Liverpool also a possibility as the Fenway Sports Group has made it clear they are open to bids for a potential sale of the Reds.
It’s not clear what any of this means. We don’t know what kind of investment QSI would be interested in or how big of a percentage they would want, whether Spurs would be open to the idea beyond these preliminary talks, or what it might mean for ENIC’s controlling ownership in the future. QSI is said to want to make “ambitious” investment in other football clubs in 2023 in an attempt to create an organization that can compete with the City Financial Group. This meeting is one step towards that eventual goal.
This news comes amidst the backdrop of significant Tottenham fan unrest in recent weeks, with ire squarely directed at Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy. The “ENIC OUT” movement flares up every couple of years or so and then eventually dies down after a productive transfer window or a series of positive results, but this instance seems particularly intense. It would be inappropriate to suggest that this meeting between Levy and QSI is in any way related to that unrest (it is virtually certain they are not) but it’s an interesting coincidence nonetheless.
Tottenham has been open to overtures towards sale or investment for a number of years now. We’ve seen reports of sale talks a number of times over the past decade — who can forget the Cain Hoy saga? — and ENIC owner Joe Lewis has always viewed Tottenham Hotspur as an investment. The club is apparently valued at over £2.3b, and it would take a significant chunk of change to achieve even minority investment. But we’ve been here before, certainly, and nothing has come of any of the past rumors.
But even if one takes the position (as we do) that all football club owners are at some level bad and immoral, this one feels particularly gross. Qatar is coming off of what can be considered an extremely mixed World Cup in their home nation — the football was spectacular, but the event itself was grossly overshadowed by numerous allegations of harassment of LGBTQIA+ and trans individuals, substandard housing for attendees, and the deaths of migrant workers in the construction of the stadia and other infrastructure. This is a preliminary meeting, but it suggests that despite an inordinate amount of bad press in the past month or so, Qatari sports organizations are more than willing to continue blatant sportswashing.
It’s important to reiterate that a preliminary conversation is just that. It is not necessarily a signifier that talks are going to go forward. But as we’ve seen numerous times over the years including the aborted attempt to form a European Super League, Tottenham Hotspur is a business and is going to make decisions that prioritize the financial state of the business over general morality, although it is worth noting that the club is also receptive to fan criticism and will course-correct if forced to.
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself at this point in time, but despite al-Khelaifi’s past assurances, there’s plenty of skepticism about just how much “separation” there is between QSI and the Qatari Sovereign Wealth Fund. We have already seen massive Gulf State sovereign money poured into Manchester City, PSG, and now Newcastle for me to be vehemently against even minority investment into Tottenham. Yes, minority investment into Tottenham could be borderline transformational for the club, but I fear the cost of such investment in the medium to long term.
Some fans may be fine with another Gulf State consortium with close ties to a national government investing in their club, so long as that investment leads to more wins and titles. I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable about it, even as I wait for further developments.