Money isn’t everything, but it’s a lot. Nostalgic fans of the game will look back yearningly at a time when spending £10 million on a player was a considerable outlay on real talent, but those days are long gone. £10 million now will get you a reasonable Championship striker, or Neymar’s little toe. Despite only being founded 47 years ago, Paris Saint-Germain have a rich history to rival most other clubs in France. They now have finances that cannot be rivalled domestically, with the Qatari investment enough to propel the club from plucky European outsiders to genuine Champions League contenders. While success in the Champions League has remained frustratingly elusive, the foreseeable future in Ligue 1 looks set to be dominated by PSG.
Money trumps Monaco
PSG were not exactly useless before the big takeover. They had a stronger starting point than Manchester City before their takeover, with their overall standing in France more akin to that of Chelsea before Roman Abramovich swooped in. Attracting star players to Paris was never an issue, with PSG famously crucial in the formative stage of Ronaldinho’s career and home to the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Nicolas Anelka and George Weah. Having such prestigious players capable of conjuring magic out of nowhere may have seemed like a worthy pinnacle for the club, but there’s nothing quite like the momentous capture of Neymar from Barcelona in the summer. That’s not hyperbolic; there’s literally nothing like the most expensive transfer in footballing history, with the €222 million deal financially staggering but also significant for luring away a player approaching his peak years with Barcelona.
Fuelled by this Qatari investment, PSG stormed to four consecutive league titles. This run of success has been bookended by surprise league victors. The champions before PSG asserted their dominance were Montpellier, the unfancied side winning their first league title with the goals of Olivier Giroud integral to that triumph. The reigning champions are Monaco, and the surprise nature of their title comes purely by virtue of the winners not being PSG.
There was a time when it was expected that Monaco would be the new powerhouse in France, with the takeover in 2011 by Russian businessman Dmitry Rybolovlev propelling the club back into Ligue 1 and attracting leading players like Radamel Falcao and Joao Moutinho. Yet Monaco were unable to convert their spending into success like PSG, and their recent title was all the more surprising because their expenditure has become considerably more modest in the past couple of years. PSG are in a different financial league to Monaco, and the reigning champions have had to take solace in leading the pack of challengers behind PSG.
A tradition of dominance
The vast distance between first and second is an indication of the formality that the domestic season has been for PSG. In the same way that Bayern Munich are untouchable in Germany, PSG are significantly superior to their league rivals. While Juventus have enjoyed six consecutive Serie A titles, Napoli have established themselves as a worthy contender and look likely to break the Juve stranglehold soon. La Liga has its traditional duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid with occasional disturbance from Atletico Madrid, although Barcelona are streets ahead of their rivals and on the verge of invincibility in this domestic season. Manchester City have waltzed to the Premier League title, although there’s enough money and talent in teams such as Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea that Pep Guardiola’s side should not find future titles so straightforward.
In Ligue 1, however, PSG are unsurprisingly on a different level to their nearest challengers. The ruthless ease with which they seized Kylian Mbappe from the newly-elected champions Monaco is indicative of their financial strength and the lure of their project as a whole. The transfer is reminiscent of Juventus’ capture of Serie A top scorer Gonzalo Higuain from their main rivals Napoli in 2016. It’s one thing to make your squad significantly stronger, but to weaken your main contender while doing so is a luxury afforded only to the richest of clubs. It’s also a real kick in the teeth for neutrals hopeful of a close title race, the footballing equivalent of Usain Bolt tripping up all his rivals before sauntering away to a comfortable victory.
Ligue 1 is accustomed to dynasties developing in this century. Lyon claimed their first league title in 2001/02, and liked it so much that they went on to win six more in consecutive years. The end of that run of dominance created relative chaos, where Bordeaux, Marseille, Lille and Montpellier all shared the glory of becoming champions. The only way Ligue 1 will witness such a period again will be if PSG become poorer or everyone else becomes richer. While money does not directly buy success, it does buy you a front three of Neymar, Mbappe and Edinson Cavani.
Domestic success does not mask European woes
That attacking trio is one of the leading front lines in world football, while the supporting cast behind often step forward to take starring roles. Thiago Silva, Marco Verratti and Angel Di Maria are leading players in their respective positions, and it’s no surprise that PSG overwhelm many opponents in Ligue 1. Set to reach a century of goals in the league this season, 6-2 and 5-0 victories appear merciful compared to their 8-0 thrashing of Dijon. However, PSG have struggled to cut the mustard in the Champions League once again.
Such is the quality of the PSG squad that European success is a realistic expectation rather than a pipe dream. Last year’s campaign seemed to be going swimmingly until the most dramatic collapse in Champions League history. Unai Emery’s side shocked the world with a 4-0 smashing of Barcelona in the first leg, giving PSG’s owners hope that their club had finally established themselves as a European powerhouse. Ultimately, it’s the hope that kills you; PSG crumbled comprehensively by a 6-1 scoreline in the second leg, and Barcelona displayed a gulf in class that cannot be bridged by money alone. A 3-0 victory in the group stage against Bayern Munich this year hinted that Emery had got a handle on European football, but an unfortunate draw saw PSG face Real Madrid in the first knockout round. While it wasn’t anywhere near as humiliating as the defeat against Madrid’s great rivals, 5-2 on aggregate will have PSG’s owners considering Emery’s capability to turn money into trophies.
The caveat that comes with an influx of money is that expectations rise accordingly. The bare minimum for PSG now will be to win Ligue 1, and failure to do so will likely guarantee a parting of ways with the manager unless the Champions League title is brought to Paris. Emery looks certain to deliver the minimum of a Ligue 1 title this season, but that may not be enough for owners who are becoming restless with the lack of European success. The likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City remain a class above PSG, despite all of the latter’s spending. Domestically, there are no teams that currently look capable of mounting a prolonged challenge against PSG. For the rest of the teams in Ligue 1, second may become the new first; PSG are in a league of their own.