Since Qatari Sports Investments bought Paris Saint-Germain in 2011, they have rapidly transformed from perennial under-achievers to the dominant force in French football and real contenders for the Champions League.
They followed the example of Manchester City by blowing other clubs out of the water in the transfer market, signing Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and now Edinson Cavani for an eye-watering total of almost £200million. The quality in their ranks is obvious, but with the nouveau-riche AS Monaco hot on their heels in the transfer market, can PSG become a new world superpower?
In truth, Paris is not a football city. Marseille is considered the true footballing capital of the country, and PSG’s Parc des Princes is located on the edge of the city, in the suburbs. Paris’ other clubs have either gone out of business or languish in the lower divisions, giving PSG a unique advantage over its rivals because it has no competition, with no first or second division clubs within 100km.
Whereas Real Madrid have to compete with Atletico, Manchester United with noisy neighbors City, Inter with AC Milan, and Bayern Munich to an extent with lowly 1860, PSG have no competition for fans and the best young players of the region. This being the case, there was always potential for PSG to become a big force in Europe, but the club didn’t experience their true heyday until the 1990’s, when they were bought by TV giants Canal+.
Football stars such as George Weah, Rai, Jay-Jay Okocha, and Ronaldinho passed through the club, and despite early successes, they slumped down the table and were almost relegated in 2008. Since Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the QSI completed their takeover in 2012 however, their rise has been meteoric and so far unchallenged. Al-Khelaifi bought the club for less than the infamous Venkys paid for Blackburn Rovers, and has since referred to PSG as a “project.” Other fans use this as a derogatory term, saying that PSG no longer exists and has been replaced by ‘the project’.
Giants such as Carlo Ancelotti and Leonardo were brought in to manage the club and did so successfully, winning Ligue 1 in 2012 and enjoying a successful Champions League campaign; they only bowed out on away goals after draws with Barcelona.
Although Zlatan Ibrahimovic led the line in the league with 30 goals, he played a more withdrawn role in Europe, holding the ball up and creating goals with strong center-forward play. He scored three and assisted five in the Champions League, with goals shared round the team; Ezequiel Lavezzi was the top scorer with five in nine European appearances.
Despite these impressive figures, it was not all smooth sailing for the journeyman Swede, as he was sent off in the 92nd minute of the first leg victory over Valencia for a cynical foul on Mexican winger Andres Guardado, leaving his team without their star striker for the crucial second leg. They survived it and went through to play Barcelona in the quarter-finals.
The standout performer across both legs was their influential captain, Brazilian defender Thiago Silva. Silva was calm and composed during the 2-2 draw in the first leg, always there when it mattered to win the ball from Messi, Villa, Iniesta and co. After putting in such a stoic performance, he was visibly exasperated by his teammates when a penalty was conceded, and converted, in the 90th minute, but was as jubilant as anyone when Blaise Matuidi humiliated Victor Valdes four minutes later with the last kick of the match. PSG led for 20 minutes of the second leg and were only put under pressure with the introduction of Lionel Messi, and although they hung on for a draw they were unable to find the goal to take them through.
Carlo Ancelotti has left to manage Real Madrid and Leonardo has stepped down from his position, so new manager Laurent Blanc needed to make a statement upon his arrival. He already had possibly the best center-forward and the best center-half in the world, a Brazilian superstar forward and a dependable defense and midfield, so what could he possibly do? Bring in one of Ibra’s rivals to challenge for the “best center-forward in the world” title, that’s what.
Edinson Cavani arrived for a gigantic £55million fee after scoring 38 goals in 43 goals for Napoli last season, giving PSG one of the most potent forward lines in recent history. Some have said that the signing was made as a show of power, especially to new rivals Monaco, who signed Falcao for a similar fee, but also to the rest of the footballing world.
Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid were also looking to capture the Uruguayan’s signature, but he was lured away from established superpowers to the relatively small world of French football. Others feel his arrival signals the end of Ibra’s stay in France, with rumors he is unhappy about the appointment of new manager Blanc. Having now played in France, Italy, Spain, Holland, and Sweden, Germany or England seem the most likely destinations for a man who has never spent more than four years at one club. English fans, just imagine: a duo of Ibrahimovic and Mourinho taking the Premier League by storm, mouth-watering stuff.
The main question seems to be whether PSG can maintain their current strength. The biggest names want to be in the biggest leagues, and the draw of Qatari dollars only lasts so long. In this respect, Monaco’s rise could even be a good thing for PSG. Last season was less than competitive with Les Parisiens finishing 12 points clear of Marseille in second.
With the two richest clubs almost guaranteed the top two spots, it may even encourage other clubs to splash the cash to stay competitive, and the success of the two clubs may encourage other wealthy people to invest in the country’s football. For now, however, it seems that the only way is up for Paris Saint-Germain, and as the locals sing, “Allez les Parisiens!”