European soccer roundup: France’s Ligue 1 on the brink after Mediapro mess, Qatar in Europe, and more

With the Champions League and Europa League now over until 2021, all eyes are turning back toward domestic football after this week’s continental drama.

In news that might have passed unnoticed during the week, French football is in financial crisis as a lucrative contract is on the verge of collapse, Europe’s 2022 World Cup qualifiers will have a guest, Paris Saint-Germain have got a big earner off their books and a La Liga striker ended his yearlong goal drought.

All of that and more in this week’s notebook.

Mediapro deal collapses

French football has been plunged further into crisis by television distributor Mediapro who failed to honor the second installment of payments earlier this month.

The Spain-based, China-backed group have refused to honor pre-agreed payments in October and December as part of their €830 million season fee which is worth around €3.3 billion over four years.

Mediation had been underway between Ligue 1 and Ligue 2’s chiefs the LFP and Mediapro, but it appears that it has failed to resolve the issue of the latter wanting reduction in fees due to the COVID-19 situation.

Consequently, Mediapro’s newly formed French football channel Telefoot is unlikely to be broadcasting this weekend’s headline Ligue 1 clash between PSG and Lyon on Sunday with closure imminent, such is the severity of the situation.

With clubs already struggling after the messy divorce between Canal+ and the LFP at the end of last season, there are professional clubs in France facing genuine and immediate threats to their very existence.

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“It is not taboo to say it,” Stade de Reims president Jean-Pierre Caillot told Le Parisien recently. “Television rights are part of our economic base today and Mediapro — the principal broadcaster — are no longer paying us. The LFP and President Vincent Labrune are working to find solutions and that is not simple.

“When you do not have any TV rights money, ticketing money, hospitality money, you will have to explain to me how we are supposed to keep our business running. So yes, very clearly, more than half of the Ligue 1 clubs could end up in a position of not being able to pay their people.

“If the league cannot get a new loan, which is far from assured at this point, I think that in February or March, there will be a lot of clubs who will not be able to pay their players and employees. We often forget that a football club is not just 11 players.”

The two loans that Caillot mentioned are the money that the LFP has already borrowed to cover the cost of Canal+ and Mediapro’s refusal to honor their contractual obligations and while another loan might be possible to cover this latest failure to pay, the process cannot continue for much longer.

At present, the most likely outcome is that Mediapro ceases to exist, and French football will look for a new broadcaster — possibly a former partner — which would almost certainly not be at the record amount agreed with Mediapro and budgeted for by many clubs in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2.

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History has shown, particularly with the collapse of ITV Digital in the UK back in the early 2000s and its impact on English clubs, that the impact on French football — especially the ones not at the very top — will likely be severe and football clubs are already bracing for the worst come 2021.

French football clubs will need to adopt new business models if they are to survive — and fast.

Jese and PSG split

Staying in France, you would be forgiven for having forgotten that Jese Rodriguez was a PSG player up until very recently when he and the French champions parted ways.

Signed for around €25 million from Real Madrid back in 2016 as part of a strategy to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic which also saw Hatem Ben Arfa arrive at Parc des Princes, the Spaniard was earning around €5 million per year on a five-year deal that would have ended this coming summer.

Jese, now 27 and involved in all types of controversy since his arrival in Paris, scored just once in 390 minutes of play across 18 appearances — he went on loan more times than he scored goals for PSG with spells at Las Palmas, Stoke City, Real Betis and Sporting CP.

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PSG and the former wonderkid of Spanish football agreed that his contract would be rescinded, and he is now on the lookout for a new club.

Qatar to join World Cup 2022 qualifiers

UEFA has confirmed that the 2022 World Cup hosts will be joining the qualification process for their own tournament and participating in non-competitive clashes within Group A.

Portugal, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Azerbaijan will all come up against Qatar in “friendly” clashes that do not count towards the qualification table in an approach that mirrors France’s preparation for Euro 2016 on home soil.

The French were in Group I that time, which also featured the Portuguese and the Serbians, as well as Albania, Denmark and Armenia.

Qatar are also participating in Asian World Cup qualifying, which doubles as qualifying for the 2023 Asian Cup, and they have also been invited to be a part of the 2021 Copa America and CONCACAF Gold Cup as a “guest” team.

Iglesias ends goal drought 

Finally, Real Betis’ Borja Iglesias ended a run of 322 days without a goal after 25 goalless appearances before his strike in the win over Osasuna last weekend.

The 27-year-old last scored back on January 19 and has only found the back of the net four times in 46 outings after a €28 million move from Espanyol back in the summer of 2019.

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