PSG’s win over Marseille in Le Classique on Sunday extended its record to 34 consecutive Ligue 1 games unbeaten, going back to last March, while Wednesday's 3-0 win over Lyon in the Coupe de France extended PSG's unbeaten streak in all competitions to 21 games (with 20 wins). Its only loss this season came on Nov. 3 at Real Madrid, 1-0, in the UCL group stages.
Chelsea, and its billionaire ownership, visits the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, when the clubs will do battle in the UEFA Champions League knockout stages for the third year in a row, with last year’s second leg at Stamford Bridge revealing PSG’s grit beneath its glitter, knocking out Chelsea while playing with 10 men for most of the game, before being brushed aside by Barcelona.
A couple weeks ago the cover of L'Equipe shouted "300 million euros to dream," referencing the $340 million PSG may look to spend this summer after it had been restricted by Financial Fair Play the last two years, but still managed to add Angel Di Maria, Layvin Kurzawa, Serge Aurier, Kevin Trapp and Benjamin Stambouli.
The club's announced goal is to become the best team in Europe. With a great roster and better finances, this goal seems more attainable than it did a few years ago, and yet, there are several reasons to think that’s not going to happen.
Location, location, location. While Paris may well be the City of Light, even allowing for British bias, the phrase "the top four leagues" has become a lot more common than it used to be, with France now in a nether region above Portugal and Russia but beneath the four leagues casual fans prioritize -- this is not a good thing for PSG.
Ligue 1 has had twice as many Champions League quarterfinalists (four) over the last three tournaments as the EPL (two), and many of the EPL's breakout players this year came from France (Dimitri Payet, Andre Ayew, Riyad Mahrez, N'Golo Kante and Anthony Martial), but that first fact is largely because of Les Parisiens, and the second has only made their 38-game title procession more predictable.
PSG won its previous three titles by 29 points, combined. After 25 games this season, PSG is 24 points ahead of second-place AS Monaco. PSG's goal differential is currently +51; no other team has a goal differential better than +9.
Even France’s bigger teams are choosing to sell players at a profit over challenging for a title that’s already decided (Lyon, Monaco and Marseille --- second, third and fourth in 2014-15 -- were all net sellers in the transfer market last summer). Reducing the amount of clubs capable of giving PSG a game in a league that already makes it hard for PSG to stay sharp for its Champions League priorities.
PSG’s own dominance gives rival clubs incentive to sell talent, further reducing any competition -- and watching PSG running rampant in France doesn't make the club look better, or more appealing, from afar, but worse, and less appealing to prospective transfer targets.
Silver linings: In 2014, Ligue 1 signed the third largest domestic TV rights deal in Europe, for approximately $1 billion, covering 2016 to 2020. Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux and Nice are all playing in stadiums built in the last four years. With France 2016 just months away, the league is hoping to gain exposure from the Euros. PSG’s ownership does seem committed to the long term, and fostering stability by extending Blanc’s deal was a shrewd decision, he’s intimately familiar with Ligue 1, and proven he can handle the unique challenges PSG presents.
Laurent Blanc's competitive record as PSG manager:
Games: 151— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 11, 2016
Win rate: 73.5% https://t.co/wverfaBtIw
Timing is everything. PSG finished first in last May's ESPN/SportingIntelligence Global Salary Survey, with PSG players earning $9.1 million, topping those at Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona and the Los Angeles Dodgers, which rounded out the top five.
"Before Qatar Sports Investments bought France's PSG in 2011, they weren't among the top 10 French clubs in all-time title wins. Now they're on a hat trick of title wins and the world's richest sports team,” said Nick Harris of SportingIntelligence.com.
While France may have surrendered, conquering Europe will prove far harder.
With the collective purchasing might of the EPL and its lavish new TV deal, and even the Chinese money now picking off players (PSG sold Ezequiel Lavezzi to a club in China as I wrote this), this will further siphon competition from Ligue 1.
Not to mention the fact there are already three behemoths at the top of the continent's pecking order who are each well funded, with rich histories, and playing in better leagues that get far more exposure, and it’s hard to see the trinity of Bayern Munich, Madrid and Barcelona playing second fiddle anytime soon.
Money can't buy you love. Children all over the world grow up dreaming about playing the beautiful game for the biggest clubs in the world’s most popular leagues, few of those dreams include playing the vast majority of those matches in front of sparse crowds, against relatively anonymous opponents or cashing out so you can spend your prime playing in a league your childhood friends never watched.
Save perhaps the occasional matchup with Lyon, Marseille or Monaco (where average attendance in 'the principality' this year is at 8,049), PSG’s league games barely move the needle, an ambivalence mirrored on the field by a distinct lack of joy in the Parisian club, as it's sometimes hard to tell if their going through the motions, or heading to the dentist's office. With obscene money available in almost every country, it’s hard to believe superstars, particularly those in their prime, stare at PSG’s lack of resistance played out before half-empty stadiums with longing.
Excluding Thiago Silva, because defenders are always excluded from such discussions, PSG has captured only one of soccer’s crown jewels, late in his career. A feat that may need to be duplicated, with the face of nouveau PSG heading out the door -- but where do you find another Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
Ibrahimovich, 34, was the perfect front man for the project in Paris. In my mind, the big Swede's force of personality was almost as important as the club's injection of money. He gave PSG credibility, and the club seemed to assume his arrogant identity as that of an outsider that was impermeable to your opinion. He was not one to give 100 percent all of the time but if Ibra leaves, what's next?
I would venture to guess replacing Ibrahimovich with another superstar capable of handling the challenges at PSG, and there are challenges, may be just as difficult as navigating the problems presented by trying to build the world’s best soccer team while playing in Europe’s fifth-best league.
Having said all of this, at its best, PSG offers some of the most entertaining soccer on earth, and watching this cash-heavy train wreck, from afar, is a guilty pleasure I strongly endorse -- and just imagine how the world would be turned on its head if the European Cup is flown back to Paris (on a plane fueled by Qatari oil).