PSG revels in Qatari riyals

Since Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) completed a buyout of Paris St. Germain in 2012, the club has been going places.

PSG owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi (L) and Sports Director Olivier Letang attend a training session on the eve of the Champions League match against Manchester City.   -  REUTERS

On the eve of Paris Saint-Germain’s second leg clash with Chelsea in a Champions League Round of 16 tie, Zlatan Ibrahimovic made a very telling statement.

“This club (PSG) was born the day the Qataris took over,” said the Swede. For once the man was spot on. But these words do reflect the Parisian club’s transformation since Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) completed a buyout of the club in 2012.

PSG had two league titles under its belt along with a number of domestic cups and the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the Intertoto Cup. Now, the Qatari money has seen it become the undisputed monarch, or possibly the tyrant of French football considering the manner in which it has steamrolled its way to the crown this time round.

The decade from 2000 saw Lyon dominate French football by winning an astonishing seven straight league titles until its streak was snapped by a Yoann Gourcuff-inspired Bordeaux in 2008-2009. The next three seasons saw a scramble for league glory as Marseille, Lille and even Montpellier lifted the Hexagoal trophy.

Halfway through the 2011-2012 season, QSI appointed Carlo Ancelotti as PSG’s new manager and relieved Antoine Koumbouaré of his duties despite the club being at the top of the table. The owners were keen to showcase their ambitions and they had done exactly that by appointing a man with Champions League winning credentials and league titles in Italy and England. PSG would go on to finish as runner-up to Montpellier that season but it was the following summer that QSI changed the landscape of French football.

Having acquired a coach of Ancelotti’s standing, PSG needed the personnel on the pitch to take it a step closer to glory. The cash was splashed and the team roster now had the names of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swede was the first global football superstar to grace Ligue 1 in over a decade and he wasted no time in making his mark as he finished the season as the league’s top-scorer with 30 goals to end PSG’s 19-year wait for a title.

Ancelotti moved on to Real Madrid soon after and former France boss Laurent Blanc took charge. He continued the Italian’s good work and snapped up two more league titles aided no less by the Qatari funds. The World Cup winning defender led the Parisians to an unprecedented quadruple last season. Javier Pastore, Marquinhos, David Luiz and Edinson Cavani were some of the big names to make Paris their home during this time, Angel di Maria the latest entry into this list.

About two weeks ago, PSG captured its fourth straight Ligue 1 title and in some style, trouncing Troyes 9-0. While scoring nine without reply must be considered an incredible feat, the fact that PSG has wrapped up the title in the second week of March, with a gap of more than 20 points over its nearest rival and over a month of football still left to play, has left some scratching their heads.

In none of the other major European leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A) does such an enormous power-gap exist. One might argue that Bayern has it a tad easy in Germany, but Dortmund’s presence over the last decade and its re-emergence under Thomas Tuchel this season, has kept the Bavarians honest. The same argument could be made in Juventus’s case but Napoli, Roma and Lazio have all run the Bianconeri close at least till the last three games of the season. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have always managed to make the La Liga title into a two-horse race if not a three-way. No Premier League team has managed to retain the title since 2008-2009.

PSG has too much quality for the Ligue 1. No team comes close to matching the champion in any part of the field. Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival at Marseille may have given some a faint glimmer of hope that all was not lost, but it was extinguished before it became any brighter after the Chilean’s unceremonious departure. QSI President Nasser Al-Khelaifi has turned his attention to European glory having conquered France.

On the European stage, PSG has not managed to make it beyond the last eight. One could argue that that might be due to not facing quality opposition on a regular basis (read Ligue 1). The whispers of a European Super League have not faded away yet and PSG might actually benefit from something of this sort. To take on opponents who match up to or are even better than you will bring out the best in the players at the club and help them improve and move up to the next level.

But the other side to it is that the team is filled with genuine world class players. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Angel di Maria can single-handedly win you games. Add to that the solidity of Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Blaise Matuidi. PSG feels it is ready to take on the European elite.

After quarter-final exits in the previous seasons, there is now a real possibility of a maiden semi-final appearance after being drawn against a depleted Manchester City side. While there is still work to be done in order to reach the level of a Barcelona or a Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain is getting closer and closer to the promised land.