Since Agence France-Presse revealed last Saturday that nine clubs are facing UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) sanctions, the debate surrounding prime suspects Paris Saint-Germain has centred on how the French champions would manage to overcome a number of potential punishments.
The most likely punishments—it seems—would be related to the capital club’s overall expenditure on player salaries and the impact of potentially having the controversial sponsorship deal with the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) cut in half.
Essentially, any such sanctions being made against PSG would leave the Ligue 1 champions-elect needing to sell in order to buy this summer. It would also mean that the Parisians must slash their current wage bill—thought to be Europe’s most lavish at €240m—by a considerable amount.
Plenty of speculation is already swirling regarding the potential departures that the French giants might be forced to consider if these FFP sanctions are applied, with the majority of attention being focused on the future of Edinson Cavani.
According to Charles Perrin of the Express, the latest on the Uruguayan’s future is that El Matador is to meet with PSG regarding his future and that a potential swap deal with Chelsea for Eden Hazard could be in the offing.
Considering that Cavani’s market value is now higher than the €64 million that the French champions paid SSC Napoli for him last year—despite a relatively modest season by his high standards—the 27-year-old is the most obvious sacrifice to make in terms of covering the €100 million deficit created by halving the QTA sponsorship deal.
However, that requires PSG to find a buyer prepared to spend in excess of that original sum.
According to the Mirror’s Martin Lipton, Manchester United would be willing to spend £60 million (€73 million) on the South American. But even by selling Cavani for that price, the Ligue 1 side would have a number of salary issues to deal with.
This is where Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s status as PSG’s highest-earning player comes under intense scrutiny.
Le Parisien did a monthly salary comparison between Ligue 1 title rivals AS Monaco and PSG back in February—usefully annotated by @PSGTourist's tweet here—although it does not take into account a number of contract improvements that have been made since.
*Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta, Maxwell, Nicolas Douchez and Hervin Ongenda have all extended their deals recently and on better terms than those listed.
Cavani is only believed to be one of the capital outfit’s top three earners, with a salary approximately half that of Ibrahimovic—who signed a new contract reported by L’Equipe (h/t Ian Holyman of ESPN FC) to be worth an annual €15 million—and also less than captain Thiago Silva.
Thirty-three this October, Ibrahimovic represents a massive part of PSG’s overall wage bill. He also recently revealed to official club magazine 100% PSG (h/t Mark Rodden of ESPN FC) that he intends to finish his career in Paris.
However, this news comes at an awkward moment because the Swede has missed one month of football following a thigh injury in PSG’s 3-1 first-leg win over Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League. His absence has also exposed that Laurent Blanc's side need to invest further in order to cope without their star man.
Despite a phenomenal season—the best of Ibrahimovic’s career with 25 goals and 11 assists in Le Championnat alone—there are concerns that this injury could mark the beginning of a physical decline for the talismanic striker.
It is crazy to think it, and borderline blasphemous to even suggest it to PSG supporters, but the only way for Zlatan might be down from now on.
That possibility also brings questions over Cavani’s future to the fore once again. What happens when PSG can no longer count on Ibrahimovic and have to find a new focal point for the team’s attack?
Cavani is not the same player as the Scandinavian star, his debut season at the Parc des Princes has proved that much. But Ibra is a unique blend of creative and clinical ability for whom PSG will struggle to find an adequate replacement anywhere in world football.
More than likely is that it will take two players to fill the eventual void left by Ibrahimovic, one a striker and the other a creative midfielder. As far as goalscorers go and despite his difficult adaptation to life in the French capital, none come much better than Cavani.
The Uruguayan might only have a relatively disappointing tally of 16 Ligue 1 goals in 29 appearances this season, but extended across all competitions, that is still 25 goals in 42 matches. That is better than one goal every two games, and that has mostly been achieved from an unfamiliar wide-right position.
Admittedly, those figures pale when compared with Ibrahimovic’s overall tally of 40 goals and 11 assists in 42 appearances across all competitions, but it also seems unlikely that the Swede will be able to maintain this incredible form as he continues to age.
Has Ibra been worth the massive investment made by PSG so far? Absolutely. Will he be worth it after this season, though? That answer is yet to be discovered.
There are a number of underperforming players at the club more deserving of being sacrificed to FFP in order to ensure that Ibrahimovic stays in Paris, but Cavani is not one of them.
Instead, the likes of Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi—despite an excellent start to 2014—are more worthy of sacrifice in order to combat the FFP sanctions. Neither has lived up to his high price tag and PSG have better or at least equally skilled options in those positions.
Other relatively high-earning players such as Alex, former captain Christophe Jallet and aging left-back Maxwell could be let go of, while Marco Verratti is a player whom the club might consider using as a bargaining chip in order to bring in a domestically trained talent like Juventus’ Paul Pogba.
A potential consequence for PSG of having their squad for next season's Champions League reduced from 25 players to 21 is that those raised by PSG or born and educated in France become more valuable to the French giants. Therefore, moves for the likes of Pogba and Chelsea's Hazard become more of a priority.
To snare this calibre of player, the Parisians must be prepared to make sacrifices on several luxury players and potentially one or two important first-team members. Pastore, Lavezzi, Verratti and Brazilian Lucas Moura all qualify for this.
In terms of productivity, neither Ibrahimovic nor Cavani are anywhere near dispensable and both are integral parts of PSG's current and future plans. However, cold and hard logic must also come into the club's thinking in terms of getting around these potentially destructive sanctions.
Ibrahimovic, no matter how good he has been in the past two seasons—and he has been absolutely sensational—is now a financial burden. The true cost of keeping him in the hope that he reproduces this season’s form will only be known if the Parisians eventually sell Cavani.
How long will Ibra remain at the peak of his game, and is it worth the financial risk?
There will be life without Zlatan in Paris—that is inevitable and PSG must prepare for that accordingly while also trying to overcome FFP. Selling a pure goalscorer like Cavani when the club might be required to look for a new top-class striker in one year’s time is surely not the answer, though.
But, on the other hand, could PSG survive on and off the pitch if they were to sacrifice Ibrahimovic?