This column by Eric Giardini. Proof once again that he does, in fact, write for TSG.
At the conclusion of their 1-0 home loss to Lorient, jeers from the supporters rained down upon the Paris Saint-Germain players as they left the pitch at the Parc de Princes.
While home losses have become a common occurrence in Paris, this loss was especially disappointing to the home crowd. The capital club, which has floundered in mediocrity over the past decade, has not been in contention for the Ligue 1 title since 2004. With Lyon, Bordeaux, and Marseille all surpassing the once proud club in France in recent years, Parisians have almost had a laissez-faire attitude towards the club.
Since the 2001-02 campaign, the average attendance has dropped from approximately 43,000 per home match (86% capacity) to a low of 33,000 in 2009-10 (70% capacity, good for 12th in Ligue 1).
A week later, PSG followed up their home loss to Lorient with an away 1-1 draw Rennes and are currently in sitting in 15th place. With multiple bottom half of the table finishes in recent years, why are expectations so high in 2011 to get supporters worked up over an opening matchday loss?
Since the middle of June, the club has splashed €91.5m (91.5m!) bringing in eight new players. While the names and numbers of new faces in Paris are noteworthy in and of themselves, the crown jewel of the European transfer market packed his bags in Sicily, waved farewell to the iconic pink Palermo shirt, and will don the equally iconic red and blue for PSG. That’s right, PSG, the club that had become an afterthought in France, and even Paris, beat out the likes of Chelsea and Real Madrid for Javier Pastore’s signature. How did this happen? One must look no further than the club’s new Qatari owners and new Director of Football.
The Qatar Investment Authority, founded in 2005, was established initially with the goal of managing the extra natural gas and oil surpluses that the Qatari government was receiving. In six short years, the QIA now has more than an estimated $80 billion in assets. After numerous attempts to purchase clubs in the past (Everton in 2008-2009 and Manchester United in 2010), the QIA was successful in being able to purchase 70% of PSG on May 31, 2011. The group hasn’t looked back since.
On July 13, Leonardo returned to the club he spent a season at as a player in the mid-1990s and was appointed as the club’s sporting director – a move that was widely expected as soon as he stepped down from the manager’s post at Inter Milan in mid-June. With control over the estimated €100m transfer kitty, Leonardo went to work assembling a team to the specifications of the new ownership. Said Nasser Al-Khelaïfi, Head of the Board:
“Our aim is to qualify for the Champions League every year as of 2012. Then, from 2015, we want to play a major role in Le Championnat. We don’t want to sign Lionel Messi, but we want to invest in the big stars of tomorrow from all over the world, including France.”
Leonardo, thus far, has taken ownership’s edict to heart and four of the eight new signings brought in are French. Somewhat unusual though, is rather than focusing on players within Ligue 1, Leonardo has targeted Serie A for signings.
Kévin Gameiro was the first big money signing for PSG as he was brought over from Lorient on June 12, prior to the arrival of Leonardo, for €11m (with add-ons, the deal can reach up to €15m) after scoring 51 goals in 110 league matches. Once Leonardo officially took control, action came fast and furious in the transfer market. On the same day, July 25, three moves were announced as final. Defensive midfielder Blaise Matuidi arrived from Saint-Étienne for an additional €10m to help shore up that position after the retirement of Claude Makélélé – big shoes to fill to say the least. Jérémy Ménez arrived from Roma for a cool €8m (with another €1m in potential bonuses). To round out the day’s action, Serbian center back Milan Biševac joined the club from Valenciennes for up to €4m. Three days later, on July 28, a double swoop of Serie A occurred with the purchases of Sissoko from Juventus (€8m) and Sirigu from Palermo (€3.5m).
While bringing in eight new players may have the potential to disrupt the chemistry of a club, these moves will ultimately pay dividends for PSG in the long term. While the supporters may have unrealistic expectations for this season, where anything less than the Ligue 1 title will be deemed a failure, the new Qatari ownership have set their sights more realistically. A top three finish should be easily obtainable for the club and their slow start shouldn’t change this. Additionally, the players brought in over the summer were brought in with a plan and not just for the sake of purchasing players. Seemingly each new addition can be seen as a direct replacement for someone who has moved on. For example, Sirigu was brought in to take over for the retired Grégory Coupet, Ménez in for Ludovic Giuly who moved to Monaco on a free transfer, etc.
Another question is whether the targeting of the Serie A players will have an adverse affect on their old clubs and the league in general. Obviously Palermo will have a hard time overcoming the loss of their starting goalkeeper and their top playmaker and the effects were already seen with the club being knocked out in the qualification stage of Europa League.
Sissoko became a fringe player at Juventus and didn’t appear to be in new manager Antonio Conte’s plans. Time will ultimately tell what the loss of Ménez will mean for Roma. While it seems like he would be a good fit for Luis Enrique’s 4-3-3 attacking formation, for chemistry’s sake he was deemed expendable and was allowed to leave. The loss of Pastore from Italy to France seems to mean less for the state of Serie A than the fact that yet another continental star has decided to spurn advances from England to stay on the mainland. Pastore was never going to be allowed to move to one of the big clubs on the peninsula and was always going abroad. The fact that he chose to go to France rather than England (and Alexis Sanchez chose Barcelona from Udinese over a move to England) may be a sign of things to come in future transfer windows.
While these signings were all well and good and will certainly help the club, the signing of Pastore is what sent shockwaves through the soccer world. The €42m transfer smashed the previous French record transfer fee paid from 2000 when PSG paid Real Madrid €33.5m for Nicholas Anelka.
Pastore should bring a playmaking ability that hasn’t been seen in Paris since a young Ronaldinho was beginning to make his name in Europe. Fortunately for the club, Pastore couldn’t be further from Ronaldinho in terms of attitude and work ethic. The odds of manager Antoine Kombouaré having to discipline Pastore for a lack of effort hover at about 0.00%. Pastore will become the focal point in the PSG attack and help link the back four with a very formidable attack. Pastore, Ménez, and Gameiro arrive in a squad that already contains plenty of firepower. Nenê, Guillaume Hoarau, and Mevlüt Erdinç provided a potent three-pronged attack before the new arrivals. With the new insertion of attacking skill, opposing managers will have a headache trying to scheme their defenses. Conversely, Kombouaré will have his own troubles trying to keep everyone happy with playing time.
In the club’s first two matches, five of the new eight signings have started: Sirigu, Biševac, Matuidi, Ménez, and Gameiro. While Pastore has not featured yet for PSG (he is still recovering from participating in Copa America for Argentina), his debut may come sooner than later with the early season struggles. I can’t imagine Pastore making his debut away to FC Differdange of Luxembourg of their Europa League qualifying round fixture, but he most certainly should play a role in the next Ligue 1 match at home to Valenciennes. If not, more than jeers may rain down from the Les Parisiens faithful.