FOX Soccer Exclusive
PSG latest to try buying success
“Is he worth €42m?” asked the headline of Tuesday’s edition of French sports daily L’Equipe, lingering over a picture of Javier Pastore, Palermo’s feted Argentina playmaker, deliriously mentioned in the same breath as Lionel Messi and set to arrive at Paris Saint-Germain this week for the aforementioned mind-boggling figure (US $60 million). The purchase of a controlling 70 percent stake in PSG by Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) had already sent tremors through French football in the 10 weeks since the deal came to light, but Pastore’s soon-to-be-completed signing is a game changer.
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Whether the 22-year-old really is value for money is almost a moot point. The fact is that by paying a fee almost twice as much as the previous highest spent by a French club on a single player, PSG have signaled that it intends not just to crack Ligue 1 but Europe - and that nobody in France has the financial power to compete.
Leading the charge, following a protracted round of negotiations to secure his arrival is Leonardo, the club’s new sporting director. He ticks all the right boxes for the new PSG - an urbane, charming and stylish polyglot, he also has a historical link with the club, having thrilled the Parc des Princes as a midfield player for a solitary season in 1996-97, before decamping to Milan. Despite spells coaching both Milan clubs, the Brazilian is a different proposition at an administrative level. He has the respect, contacts and silver tongue to elevate PSG above the rest of the nouveaux riches.
In an interview with France Football this week, Rangers’ Algerian defender Madjid Bougherra recounted how he had been close to joining the revolution at the Parc des Princes.
“They put the project in front of me,” he said, “and I said ‘yes’ straight away. They asked me to wait for the arrival of Leonardo (to be confirmed). Alas, two people threw a spanner in the works…”
It’s a situation strongly reminiscent of a well-worn anecdote that accompanied Scott Parker’s aborted move from Charlton to Chelsea in 2003 (before he eventually signed in 2004). Then-Blues boss Claudio Ranieri set up a £6 million deal and the midfielder reportedly bought himself a top-of-the-range sports car to celebrate - only for the Roman Abramovich takeover to go through and the new big cheese to deem that Parker wasn’t enough of a high-profile acquisition for the new regime.
It is reasonable to assume that one of those “two people” to scupper the Bougherra deal was Nasser Al-Khelaifi, QSI’s representative in Paris and the president of the club’s supervisory council. Al-Khelaifi is the perfect frontman; young (37 years old), intelligent and engaging, and a sports nut. He is the president of Al-Jazeera Sports, the rights holder for Ligue 1 in the Middle East - and as of July, the holder of the rights to two live games per week in France. Al-Khelaifi’s desire to tap into France’s considerable north African Arab market is widely thought to have been behind his desire to snare QPR’s Moroccan starlet Adel Taarabt as QSI’s first major signing for the club.
Other big signings have been snared with ruthless efficiency. Following the €11 million ($15.5 million) signing of France striker Kevin Gameiro, €30 million up front ($42.5 million) was spent in less than a week to recruit Jeremy Menez (Roma), Mohamed Sissoko (Juventus) and Salvatore Sirigu (Palermo), plus the Ligue 1 duo of Blaise Matuidi and Milan Bisevac. Pastore apart, the signings have been quite pragmatic, with Menez and Matuidi recruited to directly replace the experienced Ludovic Giuly and Claude Makelele respectively, and Bisevac is (wisely retained) coach Antoine Kombouare’s trusted on-field leader from his time at Valenciennes.
Nevertheless Kombouare - a player in PSG’s last championship-winning side, back in 1994 - faces starting the season with a 75 percent new side after molding a spirited side which finished fourth last season, narrowly missing out on the final Champions League qualifying spot to Lyon. Money raises profile and creates excitement, but rarely does it provide certainty.
Ironically, it could be said that stability is the one element that Paris Saint-Germain have been in serious lack of. Previous owner and French media behemoth Canal Plus has previously tried, and failed, to coax the potential out of the PSG. President Robin Leproux made significant strides last season to confront the issues of violence and unrest that have affected the stadium for years (which partly explains PSG’s near-€20 million loss last season), but he was dispensed with in mid-July.
This cloud on the horizon has been recognized by a very small number of PSG fans, with some 150 congregating outside the gates of the Camp des Loges to protest on the first day of training, carrying banners with slogans such as ‘Uncertainty? No thanks!’ and ‘The Parc is nothing without its history.’ On a sporting level, seven-time champion Lyon’s past and present incarnations are both a fable of hope and a parable of warning for this new project.
With significant investment from cinema chain Pathe, Lyon climbed to the top of the tree, but more recently spent over €100 million on players in two summers – and ended with no silverware to show for it. Newly-humbled president Jean-Michel Aulas is now having to make stark economies and can only look on while PSG splash the cash.
With Lyon having tried and failed to buy back hegemony in recent years, many experienced participants in Ligue 1 are doubtful whether the tactic can work instantly, even coupled with the unique attraction of Paris.
“Manchester City did the same thing and it didn’t work for the first two or three years,” said former PSG defender David Rozenhal this week, now with champion Lille. “Honestly, I’m not sure how it’ll work out. Paris has recruited a lot of players of great quality but I prefer a team that plays with great quality in terms of its spirit.”
It’s something that the wiser heads in the squad at the Parc are well aware of. “The team’s almost done,” said new captain Mamadou Sakho this week. “Now we need to create a proper atmosphere in the camp.” The dynamics of the layered relationship between Al-Khelaifi, Leonardo and the often-confrontational Kombouare will present some challenges, and success is by no means guaranteed. But Paris is Paris – and whatever happens, this will be a spectacular show.