Champions League Preview: Paris Saint-Germain Achieves Big-Club Status
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With the past 13 months as evidence, the philosophy utilized by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) in relation to their pet project, Paris Saint-Germain (the group assumed principal ownership in spring 2011), takes on the veneer of a toddler transfixed by a number of pricey Christmas-time presents, only to grow tired of them weeks later.
£37 million spent on midfield maestro Javier Pastore; £36 million spent on centre-back Thiago Motta; and £35 million spent on Lucas Moura, the Brazilian, attacking wunderkind who won't join PSG from Sao Paolo until this January.
If their actions over the past year-and-a-half are to be construed as echoing their intent—and really, they have to be—then the ownership group wants two things: results that are achieved with a certain level of panache and with a very specific caliber of players achieving them.
It's why the recruitment of David Beckham last autumn received such widespread coverage. Beckham is a shell of the player he once was, but he is undoubtedly the most recognized athlete on the planet. His marketing consortium plasters his image on every possible billboard for fashion, football and the like.
In terms of footballing potential, he wouldn't have brought much to PSG, except immediately shooting them into the rarefied air of marketable clubs worldwide, which is where this side hope to end up.
"The Beckham Experiment," if Grant Wahl will allow me to call it that, failed.
So it was with little wonder that QIA's next two high-profile moves included swapping its manager, Antoine Kombouare, and bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic this past December and July, respectively.
First, Kombouare, a former star at PSG, who had helped lead the club to the Ligue 1 title in 1994. Kombouare presided over some of the most frightful seasons in recent memory, including the disastrous 2009-10 campaign, where PSG finished a dastardly 13th in the league table.
Yet the next season proved much better, with PSG just missing out on Champions League football after a fourth-place finish. The arrival of the new ownership group meant new investment and therefore better players, but Kombouare hardly had a deciding vote in who was brought in.
His job seemed under threat from the first kick of the 2011-12 season. Though he would lead PSG to first place in the standings at the winter break, he was promptly fired because, quite frankly, he wasn't a big enough name.
So in stepped Carlo Ancelotti, and though he would only manage to lead PSG to a second-place finish last term, he was not only retained, but also given a veritable war chest of attacking talent ahead of what will be a full-frontal Parisian assault on the Champions League.
There are few managers better capable of weathering the campaign than Ancelotti, who with AC Milan won two titles (2003, 2007) and nearly had a third (2005) were it not for some sensational Liverpool heroics in Istanbul.
His prize for this season will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, possessor of what could be construed as the most deadly combination of talent and ego ever seen in world football.
It's hard to deny the man the latter, however, given his considerable track record. Ibrahimovic has won everywhere he's gone, recording league titles with Ajax (two), Juventus (two, but both revoked because of scandal), Inter Milan (three), Barcelona (one) and AC Milan (one), but he has yet to achieve the ultimate glory of a Champions League crown.
QIA will certainly hope he breaks that duck in Paris. His arrival was a true spectacle: L'Equipe devoted four entire pages of its print edition to his career and potential with PSG and the team shuttled him about the capital for some high-profile press releases and photo opportunities at various landmarks.
Ibrahimovic's outsized game has already taken the league by storm, as the Swede is currently top of the scoring table with four goals through two appearances.
Suffice to say, this is exactly the sort of power-packed—both on the field and off it—impresario QIA were looking for.
He has become the focal point of the Parisian attack as Ancelotti opted for a Christmas-tree formation (4-3-2-1) with Ibrahimovic assuming the role, appropriately enough, of the star on top.
Whether he can replicate his already glittering domestic form at the international level remains to be seen, but his track record in Europe's premier competition is far from unsavory.
He twice nabbed five goals in the UCL, with Inter Milan (2008-09) and AC Milan (2011-12), and recorded four in successive seasons (2009-10 with Barca, 2010-11 with AC Milan).
One wonders what will be deemed acceptable in terms of European progress for PSG. This is, after all, their first season in the Champions League since 2004-05.
There was a grace period for Ligue 1 in 2011-12—QIA set Champions League qualification (a top-three finish) as the main goal and were happy to reach it.
Given PSG's struggles in the Europa League last season—they were defeated handily in Bilbao and Salzburg—and the fact that this side, while composed of a veritable who's who of stars, still needs time to gel, so expectations may be measured.
PSG should crack the knockout stages—there's simply too much talent not to, one would think—but the third-place finish of Manchester City a season ago, in their own maiden voyage in the Champions League with their star-laden side, could prove telling.
Then again, they didn't have Ibra and they didn't have Ancelotti. We'll see whether that dynamic wreaks havoc on Group A.
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