July 18th, 2012 – Parisian club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) sent shockwaves not only throughout France, but the entire football world. They acquired Thiago Silva (arguably the best defender currently playing) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (one of the most outspoken strikers existing today).
Focusing on Ibrahimovic for a moment lets take a look at a potential reason that led to him moving to Paris. Ibrahimovic’s former clubs had included Malmo (where he started off his career), Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona & AC Milan. Apart from Malmo, all of his previous clubs have done very well at both domestic and European level.
But why PSG, who to date have only 2 Ligue 1 titles (1985-86 and 1993-94) and one UEFA Cup Winners Cup (1996)? We refuse to count winning the UEFA Intertoto Cup as an accomplishment.
In order to answer this question, we need to focus on the pre-existing behind-the-pitch scenes at PSG. Colony Capital, then owners of the club, were being prudent in the market maintaining the club’s stability when other French clubs were running out of cash in hand. The owners had one thing in mind. To turn PSG into, not just a French but, a European powerhouse. And to do so, they invited potential investors to buy selected percentage of shares. In 2011, Qatar’s sovereign wealth funded by the government in the form of Qatar Investment Authority, looked at this potential and jumped into the growing trend of rich Arabs buying European clubs. This future investment, in which, Qatari Investment Authority acted as majority shareholders, led to the start of a new era for the club, an era that would be the envy of its rivals in France.
The club, immediately, went through a restructuring phase, starting with the appointment of Leonardo, a former Brazilian international but more popularly a former PSG player (albeit for one season before going to AC Milan) as the Director of Football. Experienced players like Makelele and Coupet retired, while fringe players like Sammy Traore, Ludovic Guily and Jeremy Clement were all let go off.
New swarm of talent did make its way through to the club. Italian GK Sirigu arrived from Palermo to give Areola time to develop. Uruguayan defender, Lugano was brought in to strengthen the defense, while Matuidi and Sissoko came in to provide stability in the midfield. Gameiro and Menez joined the magnificent Nene to add depth in the Leonardo’s offensive line-up.
However, the club was missing that one important element in the squad. A playmaker that would orchestrate the team was needed. This is where Leonardo’s influence in Italy and South America came into play. Despite heavy interest from Chelsea, PSG had managed to bring in Palermo’s Argentinean star Javier Pastore, for a staggering €43 million. They capped off their summer spending at €108 million, the second highest in world football in 2011, only behind by Manchester City.
Midway through the 11/12 season, as PSG enjoyed their position at the top of the table, manager Antoine Kombouaré was replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. This appointment, without any doubt, had Leonardo’s influence written all over it (having finished his career under Ancelotti during his time at AC Milan). Subsquently, Ancelotti began using his power and knowledge to target and eventually sign players such as Maxwell (Barcelona), Alex (Chelsea) and Thiago Motta (Inter Milan). PSG ended the season second to surprise winners Montpellier.
Buoyed with confidence and wholehearted backing from the club’s Qatari owners (something Kombouare couldn’t say he had), Ancelotti introduced the club in the transfer market with a bang. Argentinean striker Ezequiel Lavezzi, who was also targeted by Manchester City, was immediately snapped up from Napoli, an acquisition that was seen as a statement of intent from PSG. In the following month, PSG managed to pull out the two most stunning transfers of this summer in the form of AC Milan pair – Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
So coming back to the question. Why did an established player of Ibrahimovic’s caliber do what he did? The reason leads to AC Milan, their troubled finances and their need to sell. On the other hand, PSG with their never-ending cash flow and relentless need to build on a strong reputation, were in need of players that could take it to the next level.
The fact that these players will be receiving hefty paychecks is pretty clear. It might not come across as such especially as these players explain the situation to the media. The important word that stands out is the “project” that the club is undertaking.
Looking at Manchester City as an example; many tagged Robinho and most importantly, Tevez as a “mercenary” for leaving cross-town rivals Manchester United, yet this tag was not given to Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli or James Milner for leaving their respective clubs. The reason is because they were not the “first” big name player to go to Man City. The shots were already being fired with Robinho in the firing range. But the ones that followed, had an excuse to join in and that excuse was the great “project” that they wanted to be a part of.
Ancelotti has been very clever is his signings so far, as he targets players from Serie A. He is bringing in those he is generally familiar with which reduces the time needed for a manager to understand a player’s role in his squad. And with success demanded instantly in modern football, Ancelotti cannot afford that risk based on the time-frame that would be given.
With this incredibly talented group of individuals, the question of efficiency comes into play. They will be efficient, as this strong collated outfit can provide many effective combinations, only as long as they work well together.
Goal Keepers – Salvatore Sirigu & Alphonse Areola
Sirigu is still young for his age, however in his first season with the club, he proved to be matured and mentally strong. With Areola waiting in the wings; this unit is well placed for PSG to continue for the coming seasons.
Defense – Diego Lugano, Christophe Jallet, Thiago Silva, Alex. Mamadou Sakho & Maxwell
The combination of either Silva/Lugano/Alex or Sakho will give balance, strength and intelligence to the back four. Both fullback, Jallet and Maxwell feel more comfortable in the offensive end which will be critical, if PSG are to play to their full potential. In order for them to provide the width needed, they will need effective cover that could take over at times.
Defensive Midfield – Thiago Motta, Mohamed Sissoko & Blaise Matuidi
This, by far is the most important part of the squad. Not only do they hold the midfield with constant movement but will also provide solid protection for both the fullbacks. Should Matuidi get a chance in the starting eleven, look forward to his penetrative passes into dangerous areas in the attacking end.
Attacking Midfield – Jeremy Menez, Javier Pastore & Nene
This fear-provoking attacking trio will no doubt run riot on the defenders. With a solid defensive support behind them, along with the likelihood of the two fullbacks stretching the play, it will be interesting to see how Nene and Menez cut inside and combine with Pastore.
Strikers – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi & Kévin Gameiro
The new striking partnership of PSG will certainly be a menace. Zlatan with his strong holding play, his flick through headers and more importantly, his intelligent positioning combined with the speed and finishing prowess of Lavezzi and Gameiro will prove lethal for the club.
The cohesion within the team is much debated. Can these superstars play well together? Are there too many individuals?
In midfield, Motta has had time to acclimatize himself to his new surroundings and required someone alongside who maintained a strong work ethic. Either Matuidi or Sissoko can provide that. Pastore and Lavezzi know each other, not only from their time in Serie A but also from their time together in the national side. Ibrahimovic had paired with many great attackers during his career and has been part of many different styles of play. The new PSG is being built for him to be successful.
All in all it has been exciting, and somewhat frightening to see PSG mold into what they are now. A force to be reckoned with. At least in French football if not Europe. Will this display of spending result in a third title for PSG? Could possibly be based on what we had seen at Manchester City. One thing is for sure, if they do not, expect another summer of high profile transfers to take place
London based Zaheer Shah is a free-lance football writer and a student of Football at the Southampton Solent University, pursuing his goal of working as a scouting and match analyst.