European Football

PSG and the problem of the one-horse race

PSGSURELY Paris St. Germain could have done better? The manner in which the French champions went about their second leg quarter-final in the UEFA Champions League underlines the possible downside of one-club domination. PSG have steamrollered everyone this season in Ligue 1, one of the continent’s first confirmed title winners in 2015-16, but how often have they been really tested and how equipped are they for meetings with Europe’s top clubs?

PSG’s record this season is staggering: 50 games played, four defeats, 39 wins. A goal difference of plus 88. Nobody can touch statistics like that, but just how well prepared for Manchester City or Real Madrid can you be when you play in league that allows those sort of statistics to develop?

PSG have moved into the very top bracket of European uber-clubs, but as well as being representatives of – effectively – a one-club city (apologies to Paris FC, Red Star and Racing),  they are also in a one-horse race.

Ever since PSG started to benefit from their Qatari investors, the gap has remained significant but not ridiculous. This season, the margin has extended – currently – by 20 points.

  P W D L F A Pts 2nd place and margin
2015-16 33 26 5 2 83 18 83 Lyon (55 pts) 28 points
2014-15 38 24 11 3 72 33 83 Lyon (75 pts) 8 points
2013-14 38 27 8 3 63 31 89 Monaco (80 pts) 9 points
2012-13 38 25 8 5 69 23 83 Marseille (71 pts) 12 points

PSG’s financial clout dwarfs French football. Which exposes the real rationale for such a huge investment – European success. That’s why defeat at the quarter-final stage for the fourth consecutive year will be hard to take in Qatar.

By revenues, PSG rank fourth in Deloitte’s Football Money League, but there is no sign of any other French club entering the “bulge bracket” of European football. Indeed, Deloitte said that while the development of PSG both on and off the pitch continues at breakneck speed, the club’s Ligue 1 stable-mates appear further away than ever from the top 20. For a brief moment, Monaco threatened to compete, but the cash injection that took the likes of Rademal Falcao to the sun-kissed playground of the rich dried-up.

According to sportune.fr PSG’s playing budget for 2015-16 was EUR 490m. The nearest contender was Monaco at EUR 250m and only Lyon (EUR 170m) and Marseille (EUR 125m) were above EUR 100m. The lowest, incidentally, was Ajaccio at EUR 14m. Little wonder that PSG have been able to put 28 points between themselves and Lyon.

If the rumours are to be believed, PSG will lose the brilliant Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the end of the season. “Ibra”, in his four years in France, has scored 145 goals in 172 games, statistics that are consistent with his overall career. He may not have been as prolific if he had been plying his trade in a more competitive league – he is 34, after all.

PSG’s 1-0 defeat in Manchester and tactics over the two legs have been criticised in France, notably by L’Equipe who called their performance a “fiasco”.  Laurent Blanc has come under fire for his approach to the game, starting with an unfamiliar back three, reverting to four as the game progressed. Ibrahimovic has broken ranks by criticising his team’s  display.

Of course, with defeat and under-achievement, comes boardroom pressure on Blanc, who has yet to take PSG to the next stage of their development. The problem is, total domination of domestic football can cloud judgement on how good a team is. PSG have some fine players, but they are not being tested on a regular basis, and although their statistics are impressive, they are not world-beaters. This season, PSG’s 26 victories in Ligue 1 have included 13 by three goals or more, including a resounding 9-0 win at Troyes that clinched the title. PSG rarely have to be at their very best to win games.

Is there a comparable league in Europe right now? Olympiacos of Greece have a 25-point lead over second-placed AEK Athens. If you look across the continent’s leagues, while there is always an elite band that are most likely to produce the champion club, very rarely is a top line league as one-sided as France has been in 2015-16. In Spain, Real always have Barca and Barca always have Real to keep them on their toes. In Scotland, Celtic and Rangers always ran the show. Money has always bought success in football – it is not a new phenomenum. If PSG are tooled-up just win the French league and cups, then the “project” has been an incredible success, but you do not need EUR 490m to win Ligue 1 – it is the equivalent of using a Formula One car to come first in the Grand National. Perhaps a European Super League is the answer?

Until French football becomes more competitive, the club may have to come to terms with being “nearly men”. You can buy the tools that can create success, but actually achieving it is far more difficult. If, like all football grandees, PSG’s owners are impatient, the most likely casualty in this will be Laurent Blanc. And the most logical outcome is that PSG will – once more – go in search of a coach that has won trophies in a more demanding environment, so don’t be surprised if a half-shaven Portuguese rolls up in the Parc des Princes any time soon. Now, he does know how to win the Champions League…

www.gameofthepeople.com

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