When one team is now so ludicrously superior to any other, questions have to be asked about where domestic football is heading in France.
How do you solve a problem like Paris? No, this isn’t one of those churlish, Michel Platini-inspired rants about the evils of Arab money ruining football.
Let’s face it, anyone who saw Paris Saint-Germain play before the Qatari money arrived would have known they were already making a very tidy job of ruining football without anyone else’s interference. They were hopeless. But all the same, when one team is now so ludicrously superior to any other, questions have to be asked about where domestic football is heading in France.
Under coach Laurent Blanc, PSG won not only the treble, but a never-before-done quadruple, picking up the trail of silverware back in August last year.
As 2013-14 Ligue 1 champions, they faced French Cup winners Guingamp in the Champions Trophy, a “Charity Shield on the road” affair in Beijing, and cruised to a 2-0 win. Then they bagged the League Cup at a canter with a 4-0 demolition of Bastia in April, before collecting a third successive Ligue 1 title after finishing eight points ahead of Lyon. And to top off a remarkable domestic campaign, they landed the French Cup in May, beating second division Auxerre 1-0 in what was very much an end-of-season performance.
What is perhaps most revealing about PSG’s season, however, isn’t immediately apparent. The capital club were able to land the Ligue 1 title after a start to the campaign that could only be described as beyond sluggish. Three wins and an astonishing six draws in their opening nine matches saw PSG lying in third place, seven points behind Marseille. Yet even with such a head start, neither OM nor anybody else was able to match the Parisians for strength, depth, ability and durability. There was never any real sense during the long campaign that it would be anyone other than PSG skipper Thiago Silva who would end up hoisting the league trophy aloft. The title was duly delivered with a game to spare thanks to a 2-1 win at Montpellier.
In his hour of glory, Blanc wasn’t slow to take a dig at PSG’s critics, of whom there had been many during the campaign.
“To retain the title is never easy,” said Blanc after doing just that. “That we had to wait until the second-to-last match to do it tells you something. So obviously I get more pleasure out of this title than last season’s.
“The critics? I’ve got nothing to say about them.” This wasn’t exactly true, as the 49-year-old immediately went on the attack. “They should be more realistic. People won’t remember this, but believe you me, in the first half of the season you lot were really hard on the team and the coach. It’s a good job I love this job.”
Indeed it is – and by the way the PSG players celebrated their victory you’d be hard-hearted to claim they didn’t love their work every bit as much. Mind you, you too would have a smile on your face if you were a member of the current squad. A recent survey revealed that the average first-team wage at the club came in at an eye-watering £5.5million, or £101,898 per week. That’s 20 times as much as fellow Ligue 1 club Guingamp. Small wonder, then, that PSG inflicted a 6-0 defeat on them in May.
While nobody could have expected the plucky little Brittany club to provide serious competition for PSG, the worry as thoughts turn to next season is where any sort of meaningful competition is going to come from. After all, Blanc has already made it clear that next term he expects his side to go up another notch and aim higher.
When the Qataris first took over in 2011 they immediately announced that their aim was to build a European juggernaut, a footballing superpower. Well, nobody can claim to be a superpower until they’ve won the “Big One”. PSG Chairman Nasser El Khelaifi has openly stated that “our main dream, the one we are working for every day, remains to win the Champions League”. So Blanc simply has to keep his team improving.
Speaking on satellite sports channel beIN Sport, the coach was candid when he said that regenerating the group for the next campaign was a priority, with up to five current players being moved on.
“There are some who will leave PSG in the summer,” he said. “They just don’t know it yet.”
With Blanc confirming that he expects to sign two attacking players, neither Edinson Cavani nor Ezequiel Lavezzi will be feeling too sure of themselves just now, while fringe players, such as Adrien Rabiot, look likely to be shown the door.
Money is clearly no object, but can a club like PSG grow to the level it truly needs to when the level of domestic competition is weak? The team lost just three league games all season: to Guingamp, Bastia and Bordeaux. All of those defeats were much more like bad days at the office than losses to teams of equal stature, and it is entirely conceivable that PSG could go through a whole season unbeaten in domestic competition.
A league isn’t a league unless there’s real competition and right now France doesn’t seem to be coming up with anything credible to halt the PSG bandwagon. Not so long ago it seemed
as if Russian roubles might allow Monaco to provide some real competition. But the sale of James Rodriguez to Real Madrid and the loan of Radamel Falcao to Manchester United suggested that a serious attempt was not really being made. And, let’s face it, Monaco have very little chance of being a sustainable powerhouse when the base level of support for the team simply isn’t there. Money can buy you a lot, such as a third-place Ligue 1 finish and a quarter-final slot in the Champions League, but it can’t buy Monaco that big-club feel.
Elsewhere Marseille have potential, but both the club and the city’s – how shall we put this? – “difficult” reputation makes it a less enticing investment proposition. Lyon? They did great things on the pitch in finishing second, but their stated policy is to keep things tight at the bank, so again, it’s hard to see a serious challenge coming from them.
Elsewhere, there is little opposition. Saint-Etienne have the tradition and the fan base, but they have zero financial clout just now. Lille have aspirations to move up to bigger things, but their magnificent new stadium has yet to witness a team worthy of it.
Talking of new stadiums, one of the three teams to beat PSG in season 2014-15, Bordeaux, ended their campaign in a spanking new arena, inspiringly called the Nouveau Stade Bordeaux. Under coach, the former France defender Willy Sagnol, Les Girondins finished in a creditable sixth place, but were never a serious threat to Paris.
So what does all this mean for Ligue 1 next season? Well, it’s genuinely hard to see anything but PSG followed by the rest. The Parisians have the financial firepower to blow pretty much anyone out of the water on the European stage, never mind in France. And even then, which clubs have more allure? Probably only Barcelona and Real Madrid can offer more glamour and more glory. PSG look like they have everything in place to win the Champions League sooner rather than later.
Their Achilles heel? It has to be the lack of genuine domestic competition. England has three or four clubs who will have serious ambitions of winning the title next season. Spain has arguably the two best teams in the world battling it out for supremacy. Do domestic championships that lack real cutting-edge competition hinder clubs when they step up to take
on the very best that Europe has to offer? Maybe so, but the PSG top brass will take heart from looking at Germany, where Bayern Munich were runaway champions by a whopping 10 points from Wolfsburg. Yet there’s little doubt that Pep Guardiola’s boys are eating at Europe’s top table.
Who will the Qatari megabucks lure to the French capital, especially now that it looks like those infamous UEFA Financial Fairplay rules are about to be relaxed?
A number of names have been bandied about, but frankly they’re the usual suspects all the top outfits currently covet.
Paul Pogba at Juventus is one obvious name and Blanc has already gone public about his admiration for the midfielder. Kevin De Bruyne from Wolfsburg is another. Angel Di Maria has also been mentioned, despite his poor campaign at Manchester United. And out-of-favour Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, too. Perhaps of this group, only Pogba would set the hearts of the PSG faithful racing, but with all the money the club can wave about, it would be foolish not to expect some exciting new arrivals to depress the rest of Ligue 1 next season.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
With 27 league goals to his name, eight more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Lyon powerhouse demonstrated what a lethal finisher he is. At 24 years of age he’s surely one of the most coveted new stars in Europe.
NEWCOMER OF THE SEASON
He started the season as a fringe player, and ended it with 13 goals and nine assists. French boss Didier Deschamps was impressed enough to hand the 21-year-old his first senior cap, against Brazil in March.
COACH OF THE SEASON
After bagging four trophies it couldn’t be anyone else but Blanc. But a special mention goes to
Lyon boss Hubert Fournier, who led his side to a very creditable second place finish in his first season in charge.
It was no surprise that Paris Saint-Germain made it to the Final at the Stade de France. But it was a shock that they made such hard work of second division Auxerre.
An Edinson Cavani header after 54 minutes proved the only goal of a fairly turgid affair.
Two of last season’s promoted teams, Metz and Lens, headed straight back through the Ligue 1 trap door. They were joined by Evian, who finished the campaign five points behind 17th-placed Toulouse.
Angers, Gazelec GFC Ajaccio and Troyes.
PSG and Lyon enter the Champions League group stage, while third-placed Monaco play in the third qualifying round. Marseille (fourth) go into the Europa League group stage, while Saint-Etienne (fifth) and Bordeaux (sixth) will play in the third qualifying round.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
Anthony Lopes (Lyon); Fabinho (Monaco), Thiago Silva (PSG), Aymen Abdennour (Monaco), Maxwell (PSG); Javier Pastore (PSG), Marco Verratti (PSG), Dimitri Payet (Marseille); Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG), Nabil Fekir (Lyon)
SIX KEY MATCHES
Sunday 5 October, 2014
Gameday 9 sees Champions PSG draw their sixth game of the season, leaving them seven points behind Marseilles in third place.
Sunday 26 October, 2014
League leaders Marseilles’ eight-game winning run comes to an end with a 1-0 home defeat against Lyon.
Sunday 26 October, 2014
Poor Guingamp suffer the indignity of a 2-7 home defeat to Nice, whose Brazilian striker Carlos Eduardo scores five times!
Sunday December 14, 2014
Little Guingamp bring to an end PSG’s run of 30 league games without defeat – dating back to the spring – with a 1-0 win.
Sunday January 11, 2015
Lyon take over as league leaders after a 3-0 win over Toulouse.
Saturday 16 May, 2015
PSG retain their league crown with a 2-1 away win at Montpellier.
By Howard Johnson