Ligue 1: Paris St. Germain—Where Did It Go Wrong?
Nicolas Anelka. Ronaldinho. Youri Djourkaeff. Gabriel Heinze. Jay Jay Okocha. George Weah.
Any team lucky enough to have the kind of talent possessed by these players would clearly be a powerhouse in any league in Europe, let alone the often-overlooked Ligue 1.
Paris Saint-Germain has been fortunate enough to employ all of these players at one point in their careers. Yet the club currently sit in 18th place in Ligue 1, tied with Lens and Toulouse on 39 points, and -1 of goal difference being the gap between safety and relegation for the first time in club history.
The question then becomes: What the hell happened? How does a club that has won two French league titles, seven Coupes de France (possibly eight pending this year's final), and consistently competed in the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Cup end in up the relegation battle?
The main cause can be traced back to Canal+, a collection of French TV channels. Canal was the main shareholder in PSG from 1997, and eventually became sole owner of the club in 2005.
With increased money, players such as Ronaldinho were signed to contracts and many expected the club to consistently challenge for the French and European titles. However, silverware did not follow, and Canal jumped ship in 2006 to cut their losses.
A succession of managers have been unable to stem the tide, as big names such as Laurent Fournier, Guy Lacombe, and now Paul le Guen have been unable to deliver the kind of results expected by the bosses.
Speaking of bosses, the club has been unable to have the position of chairman filled for extended periods of time, and the revolving door forces managers to change tactics or possibly face lowered amounts of money available for transfers.
What can be done to help PSG's decline? First, a competent manager with thick skin needs to be appointed. This is an immediate need that the club cannot go without. Why not Jacques Santini, recently let go by AJ Auxerre and former manager of the French national squad?
Second, that manager needs time and money. The results aren't going to immediately turn around. Don't look for PSG to push for a European spot anytime in the next three years.
Third, the club needs to further develop the youth side. Nantes has always been the benchmark for how to produce top players, yet there is no excuse that the only top-flight team in Paris can not effectively cultivate the young footballers that are all over the city.
Will PSG survive the drop this year?
The signs are good, as they are only one goal back from safety and have a very winnable/drawable match against AS Monaco on the schedule, and Lens have to play Bordeaux and Lille, two quality sides this season.
However, what about the long term future of the club? Le Guen is surely on his way out, as the fans are unhappy with him and he seems powerless to improve his squad. The backroom staff will probably be out of work as well, and PSG will almost have to start from square one to get back to where they once were.
Only the next few weeks will tell the future of Paris Saint-Germain. They will either pull off a revival and survive to play another year in Ligue 1, or they face the very real possibility that they may be playing in the second division.
This would leave Paris as the only European capital without a top flight club. But for now, Le Guen and his players must focus on the job at hand and not worry about what might be.
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