PSG project on path to Champions League impact, but what next?
Holly Thackeray | February 21, 2016
With Ligue 1 domination complete, and one foot in the Champions League quarter-finals, Coral ask how French juggernaut PSG’s project can progress once further continental impact is achieved…
Ligue 1 mission accomplished
So far this season, the Parisian outfit have cantered to a Ligue 1 lead and, it would be fair to say, their domination of the French domestic football scene is, for the moment, complete.
Closest competitors Monaco are currently a humongous 26 points behind in the title race, making PSG’s lead realistically unassailable, barring spectacular collapse, hence their odds-on 2/5 status with Coral to take the trophy.
The capital club have captured Ligue 1 for three consecutive seasons in a row, and also added their ninth Coupe de France trophy to complete a French domestic quadruple last term, but the champions clearly now have their eyes on the biggest club prize of all.
Just like Chelsea before their 2012 European glory, and now eager Manchester City, nouveau riche clubs always seem to bear the Champions League monkey on their backs most heavily, as if securing the continental cup finally grants them access to belong among the true elite.
Champions League a tough target
It is true to an extent, as being crowned European champions, and consigning the coveted silverware to your trophy cabinet, is certainly a player-pull in the short-term and looks good in the history books.
And though the hunger for recognition and success is understandable, PSG have already put an unmistakable stamp on Europe, breaking up a succession of Spanish and English clubs plus Bayern Munich having the monopoly at knock-out stages.
Now Paris, not Lyon or Marseille, is the home of French football fever; meaning the City of Lights, or the City of Love, is now the sport’s metropolis.
Just ask Chelsea or Man City, however, and those clubs will certainly attest that the Champions League is toughest to net.
Having already beaten the Blues 2-1 in the first leg of the last 16, Laurent Blanc’s boys are this season 10/1 to finally go all the way but, aside from a return in London, the better-equipped Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid will all still stand in their way.
Best chance to bring European glory home?
Since the takeover in 2011, there have been three quarter-final Champions League exits, twice to continental nemesis Barcelona and once to Chelsea, in which there is little shame.
Still, PSG keep chipping away at the tournament and, surely, if they stay in the mix, something finally has to give.
This season, after three recent thwarted attempts, is arguably their best chance. With the experience of testing themselves against the very top, finally putting aside arguments that a weak Ligue 1 leaves them unprepared, PSG are no longer the new kids on the block.
The main reason this season could prove their most successful to strike is, however, the form of leading man and arguably the Parisian’s best modern-era buy: Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Easily the most talented player in France, this Swedish superstar striker, now 34, has never failed to net 30 goals or over across all competitions for Les Rouge-et-Bleu in any season.
Now seemingly in his final stint with the club, and potentially set to leave in summer as a free agent, acrobatic and outspoken Ibrahimovic will no doubt be more motivated than ever to end by handing PSG the one title both player and club are yet to collect.
Unless, of course, you believe the Swede, who saw both former sides Barca and Inter Milan lift the trophy aloft after he left, carries a Champions League curse…
If you find yourself of a superstitious nature, then, you may prefer PSG with Ibrahimovic, already on 30 goals, at 9/2 to just make the final.
Should the French giants see their Champions League target achieved this season, or in the next few shots, or at least become regulars in the final four – then what next?
No longer seen as a retirement home for footballers, with the MLS and Chinese Super League clinching that mantle, PSG have proven they are a club offering much more than a money pit stop.
Ibrahimovic, Angel Di Maria, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Edinson Cavani and Marco Verratti are names on the roster any team would envy, and it would be tough to find a stronger spine across Europe.
But, if winning Ligue 1 becomes a novelty and a European medal is bagged, how can PSG keep their protagonists stimulated and motivated on a regular basis?
France has a chance to build
The answer may not lie with PSG themselves, but the rest of French football. For a long time Lyon ruled the roost but globally became known as a selling club, and failed to make a continental splash big enough to retain stars.
PSG have the finances to keep hold of their heroes, though, and other clubs require investment to follow suit. Monaco have so far come the closest to replicating their Parisian rivals, after initial splurges, but have fallen away following financial issues.
Still, there could be smart spending in their future, if the principality club can cling on to Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and co long enough to build.
Yet, in reality and the face of PSG’s rise to prominence, the likes of Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier and Bordeaux have been swept away, or at the very least become inconsistent in their attempts to challenge.
Who knows what the future holds for French football, but the nation will beneficially be in the spotlight this summer with Euro 2016.
Increased competition could also only improve PSG in the long-run, lest they wish to follow the example of Celtic, who regularly run out winners in a one, or occasionally two horse, title race.
Borussia Dortmund’s emergence to challenge Bayern Munich’s stanglehold has done wonders for Germany in recent years, while interest has peaked in Italy due to Juventus’ wobble. Even much-criticised La Liga has Atletico Madrid trying to upset the established order. France must follow suit.
Youth ranks to provide another level
As for the playing roster, a sprinkling of highly-paid stars could be released or leave in summer, with Ibrahimovic, Thiago Motta, plus full back pair Maxwell and Serge Aurier tipped to leave, with Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi having already exited for China in January.
Of course, PSG and their high wages are in the frame for several superstar-profile targets, to top last summer’s marquee signing of Di Maria, as the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, Antoine Grizemann and Aymeric Laporte have been linked.
The spending does not look to be slowing, with Premier League clubs also wary of raids from France, after what has seemed like seasons of plundering in the opposite direction.
With a depletion expected in attacking ranks, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard looks prime for a Parisian pinch, with the Belgian himself stating: “[It is] difficult to say no to PSG, or to any of the teams capable of winning the Champions League. PSG are now in that category. And for me, winning the Champions League is my main aim.”
As older players seem ready to move on, there should also be space for the Parisians’ youth academy to shine, with a fresh start in the offing.
Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola will return to the Parc des Princes following an impressive loan at Villarreal, to challenge German Kevin Trapp and veteran Salvatore Sirigu for stopper supremacy.
While, highly-rated all-round midfielder Adrien Rabiot should be eyeing potential midfield space eagerly, having waited rather un-patiently in line for a chance.
Jean-Kevin Augustin is another teenage attacking talent jostling for a future with the French champions, alongside forwards Hervin Ongenda and Odsonne Edouard and dynamic midfielder Christian Nkunku, who are also potential future Parisian prodigies.
So, the future looks bright, but keeping it that way may depend on more than just the French champions themselves…