Buying Glory: 5 Years into the PSG Experiment

Written by Salvatore Bono

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Legend has it that the plan was hatched over lunch in 2010. All the power brokers were present – Nicolas Sarkozy, then-French president, Michel Platini, then-French president of UEFA, and Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar. The venue wasn’t shabby either. It was the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the President of France.

There was another person present – Sebastien Bazin, former firefighter, French businessman and owner of PSG.

The gilded rooms of the palace probably influenced the meeting. By the time lunch was over, a deal had been brokered and PSG had new owners. The cash was in.

PSG’s new owner was the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). QIA is Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund with over $170 billion assets under management.  PSG now had an endless war chest.

PSG’s new cast was impressive but expensive.  From 2011 to present, PSG has spent north of $450 million on transfers. Their current talisman, Uruguayan Edinson Cavani cost around $70 million. It was clear that money was not an issue.

After splashing cash and bringing in the best of the best, the glory came – at least domestically. Since 2012, they have been a dominant force in France, winning consecutive Ligue 1, Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue titles. However, their main goal, the Champions League, has been elusive

Has PSG’s 5-Year-Plan Worked?

Every successful business has a 5-year-plan. The “startup” culture which entrepreneurs have crafted demands it. The same would go for soccer. When owners invest in a team, within the first 5 years they expect good returns.

Financial firm Deloitte values the club to have taken in over $578 million this year in revenue, making them the 13th richest soccer team in the world.

What is different here is that while the books look good, the glory is missing.

Following their exit from Champions League in May, CEO Al-Khelaifi told the press: “Honestly, I think we failed this season despite trophies at a national level. We did not meet our European target, so it’s a bad season.”

This season marks five years since Qatar Sports Investments and Al-Khelaifi took over as owners.

French Soccer, Italian Style with Qatar Finances

Paris Saint-Germain are a relatively young team in terms of European football. Founded in 1970, they have won their domestic league 6 times. Before the influx of cash, they has only won it twice.

Their 2011-2012 season spending spree was unprecedented in the history of the 84-year-old league. Instead of beginning with players, the new owner started with the front office. The team appointed former A.C. Milan and Inter manager Leonardo as club director. Leonardo then called nearly everyone in his contacts to get them interested in joining the team.

On December 30, 2011, they sacked manager Antoine Kombouaré. Kombouaré was a nice guy and a decent coach but he didn’t have the world-class resume that the new PSG needed. Instead, they brought in the freshly-fired Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian, who brought A.C. Milan to 2 Champions League titles and a Serie A title and who won the Premiership with Chelsea and F.A. Cup, was now onto a new adventure in Paris.

During that January transfer window, the mainly Frenchmen fielded PSG began getting a whole new look. Leonardo and Ancelotti, no strangers to the Italian game, began ransacking Serie A clubs for players -star players, fringe players, it didn’t matter.

They brought in Frenchmen Jeremy Menez from Roma, Palermo’s Javier Pastore and Salvatore Sirigu, Inter’s Thiago Motta, Mohamed Sissoko from Juventus. They also took in Maxwell from Barcelona and Alex from Chelsea. They were only getting started.

By the summer of 2012, the two men’s onslaught on Serie A’s talent had intensified. They took Napoli’s Lavezzi, Milan’s Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic and rising Italian midfielder, who some say is the next Andrea Pirlo – Marco Verratti from Pescara.

This was a force unlike anything assembled in Europe and they still were not done. During the January 2013 transfer window, Ancelotti personally called newly retired L.A. Galaxy star David Beckham and told him to finish his career in Europe and in Champions League. Beckham went to the fashion capital and began to bend it one last time again with his former Milan manager.

PSG won the league and made it to the Champions League quarterfinals losing to Barcelona on aggregate.

Blanc’s Champions League Blanks

By the summer of 2013, the project began to show cracks. Leonardo resigned from his position as director, Ancelotti left to manage Real Madrid, and former France national team manager Laurent Blanc was brought in to guide the club to victory.

Prior to PSG, Blanc had managed Bordeaux from 2007 to 2010 bringing them 1 title before taking the reigns of Les Bleus.

He kept Ancelotti’s squad where they dominated the league in his first year but like his predecessor, lost to Barcelona in the quarterfinals in Champions League. Blanc also let guys like Menez and Alex head to Italy and join A.C. Milan while he also let go of rising star Kingsley Coman who went to Juventus and became an understudy for Paul Pogba. Coman is currently back with Ancelotti at Bayern Munich.

Last season it was the same song and dance – winning the league and failing to advance past the quarterfinals of Champions League after being beaten by Manchester City.

By the summer of 2016, the current front office had enough and sacked Blanc. They hired former Sevilla manager Unai Emery to take his place.

Problèmes De Le Parisien

After an interesting start to this year’s Ligue 1 campaign, PSG are surprisingly not at the top, OGC Nice are, followed by PSG rivals AS Monaco. They stumbled to Arsenal 1-1 in the opening round of Champions League group stage and are without their biggest gun – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who opted not to renew his contract this summer.

Other players such as Salvatore Sirigu, David Luiz, Ezequiel Lavezzi have also jumped ship within the last year. Captain Thiago Silva apparently wants out, as well as playmaker Blaise Matuidi who was on the verge of joining Juventus this summer. Their star striker, Edison Cavani also seems to be tempted by a move to the Premiership should things not go the way the club has planned.

The club did try to bring in Neymar this summer in a move that would have made Paul Pogba’s look like a welfare check should it have gone through.The French champions offered the Barcelona forward a tax-free $1.2 million-a-week contract ($1.2m), a private jet and a chain of hotels to join the club. However, the star Brazilian opted to stay with the MSN of Barcelona after winning his gold medal in Rio at the Olympics.

In the last 5 years, they have had 3 different managers with 3 different styles. This lack of consistency is inconsistent with past winners of the Champions League. While other teams have added to their squads summer after summer, PSG has struggled. As strange as it may sound, the team with a seemingly endless supply of Middle Eastern money has fittingly become underdogs.

With not much being brought in over the transfer market, Emery continues to have a lot of work ahead of him.  January could hold the key to everyone’s future when the transfer window opens up. In the meantime, the expensive PSG experiment to find the panacea to the Champions League continues.

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