After a decade of failure, PSG are on the brink of European glory
Project Paris has not come cheap for Qatar Sports Investments. At the last count, Paris Saint-Germain‘s owners had spent more than £820 million in transfer fees, recruited some of the world’s most high-profile players and coaches and endured nothing but failure in the Champions League every season since buying the club in 2011.
But after cruising to a 3-0 semifinal victory against RB Leipzig on Tuesday, when superstar forwards Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both rose to the occasion with outstanding performances, PSG are now just 90 minutes from realising the dream of their ambitious and supremely wealthy owners by winning the Champions League and making all of the investment and heartache (and maybe even those financial fair play punishments dished out by UEFA) worth every bit of it.
No team has been built to win the Champions League quite like PSG, not even Manchester City, whose Abu Dhabi owners have spent more than £1 billion on players since taking ownership of the club in 2008 and have yet to enjoy the satisfaction of even reaching the final. City have had to overcome stiff competition to earn success in England before even thinking about the Champions League, but PSG have become so utterly dominant in France since the Qatari takeover — they have won seven of the past eight Ligue 1 titles — that domestic commitments have become little more than preparatory competitions for the one that really matters.
PSG did not lavish a world-record €222m on Neymar in 2017 to maintain their grip on French football. Similarly, the €180m spent on Mbappe was not designed simply to weaken AS Monaco and diminish the biggest threat to the club’s dominance of Ligue 1. Every signing and appointment since the world changed for PSG nine years ago has been done with Champions League success in mind.
David Beckham was signed briefly in 2013 to boost PSG’s global image following the earlier arrivals of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, who will make his farewell appearance in Sunday’s final against Bayern Munich or French rivals Lyon. Multiple Champions League-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti was hired right at the outset of the Qatari project to turn PSG into a European powerhouse, while the likes of Angel Di Maria, Edinson Cavani, Marco Verratti and even Gianluigi Buffon were brought in to give the team experience and quality at the highest level.
None of it seemed to make any difference. Year after year, PSG fell short in the Champions League, so much so that the clash with Leipzig was the club’s first semifinal since a defeat against AC Milan in 1995.
After the humiliating round-of-16 second-leg defeats against Barcelona (6-1) and Manchester United (3-1), in 2017 and 2019 respectively, it seemed as though PSG were cursed to fail. But Thomas Tuchel’s team have now taken the club to new heights by reaching the final in a season when the odds appeared to be stacked against them like never before.
With the COVID-19 pandemic leading to the cancellation of the Ligue 1 season, PSG arrived in Lisbon for the final eight mini-tournament having played just one competitive game since March — the Coupe de la Ligue final victory against Lyon last month. How could they compete against Europe’s elite having been forced to sit and watch as all of their rivals returned to action in their own domestic leagues?
But having beaten Atalanta with a dramatic late fight back in the quarterfinal last week, PSG looked fit, sharp and unbeatable against Leipzig in Benfica’s Estadio da Luz. Neymar and Mbappe repeatedly pulled apart the Leipzig defence, with Di Maria also causing havoc in attack for the French champions. At the back, Silva organised a rock solid PSG defence alongside Marquinhos, whose headed goal set the team on their way to the victory before further goals from Di Maria and Juan Bernat.
On this performance, PSG showed that they have the attacking threat to hurt Bayern, if the favourites overcome Lyon to reach the final. And if they meet Lyon, PSG will know they have more than enough to beat the seventh-best team in France.
But after so many millions have been pumped into the squad, PSG should be precisely where they are right now: counting down to a Champions League final.
They will not be popular finalists due to the manner of their rise, which saw them fined €60m by UEFA in 2014 for breaching financial fair play regulations, and many will regard it as proof that money buys success if they lift the European Cup on Sunday. But PSG and their owners will leave that debate to others. For them, Sunday is the opportunity to plant their flag on the summit of a mountain that they have continually failed to scale.
Only one French club — Marseille — has won the Champions League, but PSG are now just 90 minutes away from emulating their great rivals and doing it themselves.