Pitchside Europe

PSG ‘project’ still on track despite turbulent summer

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For Paris Saint-Germain, the challenge since winning the Ligue 1 title in May has been to cement their position at the pinnacle of French football and to confirm themselves as a credible long-term rival to the very biggest clubs in Europe.

Given the power possessed by their Qatari owners, doing so would appear to be easy, but history has shown the club's veteran supporters that nothing to do with PSG is ever entirely straightforward.

After winning the championship for the first time in 1986, they slumped to seventh the following season and then to 15th. They came back to win the title again in 1994, but failed to retain their crown and had regressed towards mid-table once more by the end of the decade. Indeed, they only ever fleetingly threatened at the top of the table until the takeover of the club by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) in 2011.

Now, the drawn out departure of coach Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid and the circumstances surrounding the resignation of sporting director Leonardo, combined with the dramatic return of Monaco as a force to be reckoned with, have all made the French capital club appear potentially more fragile than seemed possible just a few months ago.

In June, while Monaco were busy splashing the cash on the likes of Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, the champions were left in limbo because of their inability to find a suitable successor to Ancelotti. The appointment of Laurent Blanc, a man who was never QSI's first choice, added to the sensation that the club were at risk of losing their way, and then came Leonardo's decision to walk after being banned from all official functions for 14 months as a punishment for shoving referee Alexandre Castro at the end of the May draw with Valenciennes.

There has also been a nagging worry that Zlatan Ibrahimovic, scorer of 35 goals in all competitions last season, might seek a move elsewhere.

And if he does stay, how will he and Thiago Silva, the two superstar signings of last year who were drawn to the club by the prospect of working under Ancelotti, respond to Blanc?

The appointment of Blanc, who had been a free agent since leaving the France job after Euro 2012, was described by sports daily L'Equipe as a 'Mariage Blanc' - a marriage of convenience - and the suspicion is that, despite signing a two-year deal, he has come in as a stop-gap for one year while PSG wait for preferred targets, notably Arsène Wenger, to become available.

There may be valid reasons to criticise the decision to appoint Blanc, but it shouldn't be forgotten that in his three years at Bordeaux he won the Ligue 1 title, the League Cup and took the team to the Champions League quarter-finals. He also oversaw a run of 23 matches unbeaten while in charge of France.

'Le Président' also won the World Cup and European Championship as a player, although only time will tell if he can impose his authority upon the egos of the dressing room, and if he can impose a style of play that will win over the fans.

"PSG can't win in any old manner," warns Gérard Houllier, the coach of the 1986 title-winning team. "They must win and excite by providing a spectacle. That is essential. Not necessarily in every match, of course, but as often as possible."

His chances of following in the footsteps of Houllier, Artur Jorge and Ancelotti and winning the league at PSG have certainly been helped by the club's activity in the transfer market over the last two weeks.

QSI were never likely to sit back and let Monaco steal the limelight for too long, and they have responded to the principality club's succession of transfer coups by spending €114 million (£98 million) on Roma's Brazilian defender Marquinhos, Lille left-back Lucas Digne and Edinson Cavani from Napoli.

The marquee signing of Cavani was the last bit of business done by Leonardo before his resignation, with the Uruguayan costing €64 million and pocketing a reported €10 million per year for signing up to the PSG 'project'.

"He would not have come if he didn't believe in our project," said president Nasser Al-Khelaifi. "Cavani has not chosen Paris for the money, believe me."

Meanwhile, despite Al-Khelaifi's claims that he wanted Leonardo to stay, the club's image could have been seriously damaged had the controversial Brazilian remained. So, while his departure leaves a gap to be filled, now is the time to move on.

"Nothing can slow us down. We will continue to build our team and our club to become a leading competitor in Europe in the years to come," insists Al-Khelaifi.

Andy Scott

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