In this inaugural edition of weekly column Two Points Lost, Lucas Howe looks into PSG’s chances this season having failed under new Qatari investors last time out, and warns the fans should be prepared for another disappointing campaign.
High-level football is one of the most flourishing businesses around – with clubs frequently splashing hundreds of millions on players, the firing of under-contract managers, and new facilities, among other ventures. But the football “business” is quickly being taken over by the football hobby*. With bored billionaires wanting to test their waters in the world of football, many have taken over football clubs with various results.
In England, the teams that dominate the top places tend to be more financially capable. But is there a complete correlation between money and success? Manchester City are a cash-saturated team who have recently gained success because of this huge financial backing following Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the North West club. However, this success grew over a three-year spell with their first real success coming when they picked up the FA Cup in the 2010/2011 season. Since then, City have gone onto win the biggest price in English football: the Premier League trophy. When you consider the continuous heavy investment (City have spent over £580m since the takeover – equating to over £290m per trophy won thus far), this progress is slow and the trophies that they have arguably bought have been somewhat expensive. The reasoning behind this patient progression could be attributed to the fact that England’s clubs are, for the most part, relatively wealthy and most can out-muscle the vast majority of their European counterparts. This is what has made the English Premier League such an attractive destination for the modern, mercenary footballer. So with this in mind, it would be a fair notion to posit that heavy investment in a club within a league with slightly more modest spending habits would bring far more rapid success.
The Spanish league, when you ignore Real Madrid and Barcelona, is a financially damaged league. The two main teams consume the vast majority of incoming TV money and leave the other teams to fall by the wayside. Malaga were previously a club constantly flirting with relegation – that was until they were taken over prior to the 2010/2011 season and supplied with sacks of oil-money by Qatari businessman Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani. Since the takeover, they’ve seen a rapid growth – going from seventeenth to eleventh and last season obtaining Champions League qualification after finishing a club-record fourth position. The rate of this growth is more than likely down to the fact that the club had stretched away from the majority of other debt-ridden Spanish teams. The Andalucían outfit have spent £95m in the last three-seasons – which represents huge investment compared to other Spanish clubs. Malaga CF have proven that investment can take relatively obscure clubs, to something verging on superstardom.
Unfortunately, this new era in Malaga’s history has since been soured. They have since been forced to sell some of their star players including Santi Cazorla and Salomon Rondon as the Qatari backers have reportedly failed to pay the wages of many players. With the club back up for sale, the Malaga CF scenario shows that teams should be wary of their investors. Putting so much trust in foreign investment can bite you back.
Following their takeover by the Qatari Investment Authority in 2011 French club, Paris St Germain, began their recruitment of exciting players from all around the world – the acquisition of the much sought-after Javier Pastore catching the eye in particular. After missing out on the French Ligue 1 title last season to comparable minnows Montpellier Herault, who incidentally finished 14th the season before (that would be the equivalent of Stoke City winning the Premier League this season) the Parisian outfit have flexed their financial muscle and have signed some of Europe’s biggest names, including Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi, among others. Of course modern-day football is full of “mercenaries”, players simply looking for their next big pay-day, and so with that the more money a team has access to the better players they can attract. But with all these newly recruited superstars, is success almost guaranteed?
The French Ligue 1 is one of Europe’s major domestic competitions, but the teams within it rely more heavily on their academies to build teams and to eventually create revenue by selling these players. This is because money is not as disposable as it is in other major leagues (England and more recently Russia especially). So with this fact, one would have to assume that once a team gets injected full of money they should break away and begin to dominate the league. But despite all this new money, and signing a host of world-footballing superstars, Paris St Germain have had a stuttering start to the season: winning twice and drawing three times in their first five games (despite having a relatively easy start including Ajaccio, Lorient and a Hazard-less Lille). Title rivals Marseille are yet to drop a point, while Lyon remain unbeaten. However, it’s early days in the season but PSG supremo Carlo Ancelotti still has his work cut out. A convincing win in the Champions League this week will help, but with big investment comes big ambitions – from both the fans and the board.
Ancelotti has experience in dealing with wealthy owners during his time at Chelsea, but this project is different. Chelsea were title-contenders year-in year-out, and their fans expected nothing less. At PSG, the Italian has taken over the reins from Antoine Kombouaré who could only guide the Parisian team to a second place finish: something considered a failure. Because in England, the financial domination of Chelsea was often not a match for the success and lure of Manchester United, Arsenal or the once-great Liverpool, the second place finishes were disappointing but not considered a huge failure. PSG are a team who are now one of the richest clubs in the world, and a long way from the nearest competitors in France. Completely overshadowing their counterparts in the financial stakes, the fans will be happy with nothing less than the league title.
But why has this start been so tame? Most of the summer strengthening coming in the attacking positions, and so because it takes time to gel a team, that acts as reasoning behind their relatively modest 6 goals from 5 games. From their performances thus far, the key problem has been a lack of creative cohesion in the attacking third – and committing too many men forward to let in sloppy goals (notably two against Lorient in their first game).
Carlo Ancelotti hasn’t managed his team well in the first few games. Of course, to spend so much money on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ancelotti was forced to start the Swedish striker. Added to this that PSG somewhat lacked a good big-man up top, this tactical switch-up makes more than a lot of sense. The diminutive Kévin Gameiro was the mostly used striker last year, but was outscored by Javier Pastore and the now bit-part play Nenê who scored 13 and 16 goals respectively. Pastore still features frequently, but Nenê, who was arguably PSG’s best player last campaign, has been demoted to a latter part sub. This has definitely shown in their performances. The Brazilian’s tricky wing-play was effective against the attacking and excitable wing-back play of the French league. With Ezequiel Lavezzi more interested in cutting-in and increasing his own goal tally and Nenê’s play being slightly less selfish – aiding eleven assists last season – PSG have been without the creative and selfless play of their wingers. The reinstatement of Nenê to the PSG starting eleven could be Ancelotti’s saving grace – but is he willing to drop any of his ultra-expensive players to do so.
The money injected into PSG should bring them every success the domestic French competitions can offer, and they should really be looking at hitting the final stages of the Champions League – but will it come before the Qatari investors get frustrated? Ancelotti has a lot to do. The results are starting to come in, but for me, this season looks like it belongs to Élie Baup’s Marseille team. The team from the south of France have managed to keep hold of their main players (Loïc Rémy, in particular) and this will be a huge factor in seeing them improve on their tenth-place finish last time out. They have started the season in record-breaking form, winning five consecutive games and look nowhere near emerging from second gear as yet. Lyon, a team that recently dominated the French league, have also had a convincing start – only dropping two points. So I predict the Parisians will be frustrated by these two teams this season.
If I was a PSG fan this campaign, I would prepare myself for disappointment in Ligue 1 once more. A Champions League quarterfinal appearance, and domestic silverware should be the target for the Parisian outfit this year – and their fans should accept that this project might not gather results immediately. In the coming years, I expect PSG to truly dominate French football and, in time, monopolise the league and thus suck the life out of French football as a whole by replacing their usually French-dominated with too many foreign stars (see domestic English football, as well as the national team, as reference).
*Rather hobbies than businesses because billionaire backers are happy to let their clubs lose revenue year-on-year. The want is only for success, rather than financial stability. Compare Tottenham Hotspur (football business running at profits) to a team like Manchester City (running on losses).
Follow Lucas on Twitter @lucas_howe