To Paris With Love: A Revolution at PSG

This column by Eric Giardini. Proof once again that he does, in fact, write for TSG.

Messi is to Michael Jordan as Pastore is to Magic Johnson

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.

Leonardo proves you can return to where you came from...

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.

Gamiero was the first pin to drop...

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.

What's wrong with PSG?

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.

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dth on 2011/08/15 at 9:07 AM

    PSG has a history of big-money owners investing big and failing; time will tell whether the Qataris are more successful than the French tycoons who preceded them. The interesting angle this time is that the Qataris have simultaneously invested in PSG and Ligue 1 as a whole, as al Jazeera has picked up their broadcasting rights. Somewhere, Maxime le Pen is figuring out how to pick up votes from this.

    I’ve actually been to Parc des Princes to see a Paris game versus Caen. Paris lost on a misplayed backpass; I was vaguely frightened for my life. Parc des Princes mixes what might be called the “prawn sandwich” bunch in England with the ultras of virtually everywhere else, which made for an interesting situation. Of course, I imagine that big money will eventually price out the ultras, so it won’t last too much longer.


    • Posted by dth on 2011/08/15 at 9:09 AM

      But of course, in classic Parisian fashion, even the ultras are intellectuals–several sections name themselves after literary characters, including Gavroche, a street urchin from Les Miserables.


    • Posted by kaya on 2011/08/15 at 3:37 PM

      As the author thought it was interesting that PSG did a lot of Serie A poaching, I figured it was at least partially due to the investment in Ligue 1 as a whole. I think the idea is not just to make PSG a big fish in a small pond.
      It seems to me like a not a poor investment decision if you’ve got a spare billion sitting around. EPL is over invested, La Liga is too top heavy and Bundesliga has too many restrictions.


  2. Posted by KickinNames... on 2011/08/15 at 11:45 AM

    This may be the moment to cash in on all those “Pastore futures” TSG has been investing in the past few yrs. Sounds like he’s in an interesting spot in his career and PSG is definitely and unusual career move for a player with his cred.


  3. Posted by crow on 2011/08/15 at 8:09 PM

    So to clarify- who does Matt think is the better player- pastore or shaun wright-phillips?


  4. Posted by crow on 2011/08/15 at 8:15 PM just reported the philly union traded Kyle nakazawa to Borussia Dortmund for Mario gotze. Is this true?


  5. Posted by Alex on 2011/08/15 at 9:24 PM

    Parc deS Princes! 🙂


    • Posted by kaya on 2011/08/15 at 11:00 PM

      hah. you can start correcting TSG’s French spelling AFTER they get the English typos taken care of.


    • Posted by EFG on 2011/08/16 at 6:19 AM

      Thanks for the catch. I’m usually pretty good with my spelling on here, haha.


  6. Posted by MikeMidd on 2011/08/16 at 5:29 PM

    Nice piece about PSG – good to see some analysis about the other big spenders of the summer (since we’ve seen enough about Man U and Man City in the media to reach the point of saturation). Wish we were seeing more on this in the U.S., because it’s a bigger story than I think it is getting credit for.

    The biggest question on Pastore remains unanswered: “why PSG?” Did Palermo dictate the club, based on money? Was Chelsea (or others) unwilling to match PSG on Pastore’s wages, which led him to Paris? Was this about playing time, or not facing Premiership competition?

    Some other long-term questions ahead for PSG:

    First, how do you develop young players like Pastore and prepare them for (anticipated) European competition, since Ligue 1 is generally not thought to provide the strongest competition? Is there a system in place to let them grow, become stronger (skills, physically, creatively, etc.), or will PSG be subjected to the “win now” mentality that we’ve seen from some big spending owners. Not sure a kid like Pastore is ready for that yet.

    Second, how will the club take the money/new players/attention and turn it into a global brand? There is a huge opportunity here to be “the club” for the French-speaking world – a great way to build connections in Africa. I haven’t heard much about how they plan to market PSG, both in Paris and beyond. Will we see a partnership with Air France, or a Peugeot PSG edition, or outreach in the United States and Latin America and Asia? I’m curious to see how they do it.


    • Posted by EFG on 2011/08/16 at 8:12 PM

      These are all great questions and I only have my best estimates for answers.

      Regarding why PSG over Chelsea: I think it would be naive to think that wages did not play a role in his decision to go to Paris rather than London. Additionally, he may have preferred living in Paris rather than London. I think the location where someone lives is an often overlooked factor. Finally, I don’t think Pastore’s game, at this point, translates well to England. He’s not a physical player and was able to hold his own in Italy based on his overwhelming speed/skill which he won’t have in England.

      I don’t think that, at least this year, PSG will be under the “win now or else” pressure…at least from the owners. They seem to understand, like the new ownership in Rome (sorry), that it is a process and you can’t just assemble a bunch of players in a team and expect immediate results. I think the goal of qualifying for CL next year is a reasonable one. Plus, they are in the Europa League this year which should provide some good “experience” in competing in Europe, albeit by just dipping a toe instead of jumping head first into the deep end.

      I think the global branding will begin in earnest next offseason. PSG was in the Emirates Cup (main jersey sponsor is Emirates) this past summer and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in another, “bigger” offseason event. World Football Challenge?


  7. […] Sunday: Ligue1:  PSG vs. Valenciennes: Pastore, that is […]


  8. Posted by EFG on 2011/08/30 at 6:26 AM

    Add Uruguay captain Diego Lugano to this list who just completed a move from Fenerbahce…another move I like.


  9. Posted by EFG on 2011/09/13 at 5:57 AM

    Palermo left-back, and Italy international, Federico Balzaretti will be joining PSG next summer according to club President Zamparini. When did Palmero become a feeder club to PSG?


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