His wealth exceeds that of Alafouzou, Marinakis, Melissanidis and Savvidis combined, but during his days Rennes have won a Cup in 25 years! Why; Sotiris Milios writes…
“You know, I’ve known some pretty big business successes, but I’ve never felt this feeling that I’m experiencing now,” he said in a broken voice to the town’s Mayor. The 2019 French Cup was resting on the table of Rennes Town Hall, the whole city was on the street, waiting for the apotheosis of the winners, and the then 80-year-old François Pinault felt like a small speck had entered his eye.
No one had ever seen him like this, he always hid behind the guise of the sleazy, strict, cruel, ruthless businessman who will not hesitate to step even on corpses to make a profit.
He was 7 years old when Wehrmacht troops stopped his father and began to torture him horribly in front of his eyes to testify to the hiding place of Allied troops, to whom they suspected he was sneaking food.
None of them broke. None of them spoke In Brittany, reason, honor have a different value than in the rest of continental France, the “hard” natural landscape of the region creates rough, resistant people.
He dropped out of school at the age of 16 to work in his father’s logging and timber business.
As a child he was taciturn, withdrawn and dark. No one could have imagined that a few years later thanks to his entrepreneurial spirit he would become the richest man in all of France.
“He’s so good at making money, it’s almost scary. He has a sixth sense that helps him sell and buy at the right timing without the slightest sentimentality,” says a close associate.
It all started with a bank loan of 100,000 French francs, which helped him turn his father’s small carpentry shop into a huge chain, thanks to his shrewdness in buying up semi-bankrupt businesses across the country and bringing them into his protective embrace.
His wealth is like counting grains of sand. The most recent count a couple of months ago by Bloomberg magazine concluded that he is the 32nd richest person in the world, “only” with 39.1 billion dollars (twice as much as the combined sum of the six richest Greeks in the world according to latest Forbes count which are: Maria Angelikousi, Aristotelis Mystakidis, Filippos Niarchos, Vardis Vardinogiannis, Spyros Latsis). In 2022 Forbes magazine declared him to be the richest football team owner on the planet. Not bad…
It’s everywhere. And behind everything. No matter which stone you pick up, you will find behind either Kering or Artemis his companies that are active everywhere: real estate, technology, media, tourism, arts, fashion, tourism, wineries. Oh, and in football. Since 1998 Francois Pinault has acquired a majority stake in Rennes: “My way of giving back to Brittany, what Brittany has offered me,” as he says.
He owns the Gucci house. His and Yves Saint Laurent. He owns Christie’s auction house. He controls most of the French wine industry, countless properties, his art collection is estimated at $2 billion.
His last acquisition last September, the company Creative Artists Agency, which is estimated at 7 billion dollars. Among the clientele of the company that represents all of Hollywood are Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Beyoncé, Justin Bieber and… his bride (she is married to his son) the charming Salma Hague .
Its branch (5% of its turnover) is CAA Base and CAA Stellar which represents athletes, some of them are Richarlison, Sean, Varane, Coman, Kamavinga, the old home of Lebron James.
He is the man who raises and lowers governments in France, one of the pillars of its banking system, a business move by the Pinot family could affect the financial future of millions of French people. Then how is it that this business / financial giant of the country has won just one French Cup in 25 years of involvement with his beloved team?
In the summer of 1999, François Pinault bursts into French football like a trailblazer, voraciously wanting to conquer everything. His order is one: “bring me the best, I don’t care about the price”. In Brazil, the star of 19-year-old Ronaldinho begins to rise, but various intermediaries convince Pino that the next big name in world football is Lucas Severino, the “new Ronaldo”, as they call him.
In his maiden season with Atlético Paranaense, he scored 11 goals and physically resembled the “phenomenon”. He is only 20 years old and Pinot is pulling in 140 million francs (equivalent to 21 million euros) from the coffers, making it the most expensive transfer to date in French football.
To put the scale of the investment into perspective, a few weeks later, Arsenal paid £16 million to sign Thierry Henry from Juventus, the player who changed their entire history.
The Brazilian arrives in Brittany along with another expensive acquisition, Argentine Mario Hector Tourdo, who is acquired for another 12 million euros, France is shocked by the massive waste of sums that seem unreal and beyond reason.
In the two years he stayed in Brittany, the “new Ronaldo” scored six times in all, in 2004 he moved to Japan and stopped football at the age of 29.
And the Argentinian played all 18 times with the shirt of Ren since 2004 and then he played in small and medium teams of his country, cutting the ball at the age of 30!
Pino learned the hard way that football is not like his other businesses. One and one may never make two. Football and its unwritten laws can deprave you, drag you down, make you feel like trash, even if you’re the biggest self-made crooner in the country’s history.
His decision was to radically change strategy. He hired Pierre Dreossi, a man who spent many years later at Panathinaikos, who made a long-term football plan based on economic self-sufficiency through the production process.
In those years, the flamboyant Pinot is considered the tightest, stingiest team owner in Ligue 1. But in his days, the team’s ground, ‘Roazhon Park’ was built almost from scratch and is a real gem. Piverdière’s training facilities are considered among the best in the world and its academies the best in France. Because what matters is development, surplus value, not championships.
In these 25 years, the Rennes of the tycoon Pinot lost two Cup finals (2009 and 2014) to the fishing village of Lorient, the small and humble team from Brittany, but they did not budge. The club’s strategy is non-negotiable. Either it will be done her way or not at all.
In its own way, Rennes has filled all of Europe with players either of its own production (Kamavinga, Tel, Ousmane Dembele, Edouard Mendy, Doukoure, Ismaila Sarr, Ugotchukwu), or of its own… processing (Rafinia, Dokou, Agerd, Lovro Mayer , Sulemana).
In her own way she is all around: third in 2020, sixth in 2021, fourth last year and the year before. From an elevator team between the first two categories, a team that is a model of football logic and organization.
If, in that summer of 1999, François Pinault had chosen to bring in Ronaldinho, Rennes might have become Paris Saint-Germain, long before the Arabs mutated Paris Saint-Germain into what we have seen over the last decade.
That expensive “coat” from Brazil, possibly changed the history of the entire European football…