Who in the French capital could have envisaged 12 months back at what was to transpire in the summer months and beyond of 2011? It turned out to be the most unpredictable year in the history of Paris Saint-Germain, now looking to reap the rewards of a prosperous 2012.
The club kicked off the year with a 1-1 daw in Marrakech against Wydad Casablanca in order to regain sharpness after the festivities of the winter break. It clearly worked as three days later they trounced Lens 5-1 in the Coupe de France before following it up with a 2-1 over Sochaux in Ligue 1. Disappointment then followed a week later as Olivier Giroud netted the all important winner in the dyeing embers of extra-time to send Montpellier into the final if the Coupe de la Ligue at their expense.
Regardless, that did not dampen spirits and PSG bounced back with three consecutive wins, putting them in good stead for UEFA Champions League qualification. Things were going swimmingly in the Coupe de France too, disposing Championnat National’s FC Martigues 4-1 away from home – in which Guillaume Hoarau got a hat-trick – and then overcoming a stubborn Le Mans 2-0 in extra-time to book a place in the last-four.
That result however led to a dismal March, culminating in elimination from the UEFA Europa League at the expense of Portuguese giants Benfica, and not picking up a single solitary win in the league. In the long run, that period effectively – in part – ruined the club’s aspiration of qualifying for the Champions League, missing out by four points at the end of the season.
Wins over Caen and Olympique Lyonnais stopped the rot, just in time for the semi-final of the Coupe de France away to Angers where Antoine Kombouare’s men ran out 3-1 victors to set up a glamour tie with champions elect Lille at the Stade de France.
In front of 80,000 strong, the match itself was a rather tentative affair, with very few chances. The game was settled in the 89th minute by a bizarre goal via Ludovic Obraniak’s freekick that sailed over the head of goalkeeper Gregory Coupet who seemingly thought it was going out of play – breaking Parisian hearts and sending Les Dogues’ travelling support into raptures. Even Coupet’s penalty save in injury time from Yohanne Cabaye was not enough to redeem himself in a disappointing night for the capital – except for those who travelled to see Rudi Garcia’s men.
The club failed to register a win for the remainder of the season after that, missing out on the Champions League and having to bite their lip as Lille secured the league title on their own stomping ground. Nevertheless, the improvement from the season before was vast. Kombouare had steered the club to its best league finish for seven years, installing a real sense of pride for the supporters along with another season in the Europa League.
Off the pitch, what was to transpire in the summer transformed the club and the landscape of French football forever. Qatar Sports Investment acquired a 70% stake in the club for €50m, pledging to change the future of the club forever. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi said upon the deal; “We will work over the coming years to make PSG a great team and a strong brand on the international scene, one that will make all the fans proud. I am excited to see the Parisians come to enjoy family games and support their team. I know that PSG have recorded a large increase in season tickets, a sign that we made the right decision.”
Sebastien Bazin, the president of former majority shareholders Colony Capital knew he made the right decision by leaving the club in the hands of the Qataris, saying; “It is a great moment. I am convinced that I have left PSG in good hands”.
Leonardo was prised from his position as Internazionale Coach to become the new director of football and set about luring some of the continent’s finest talent. Jeremy Menez came back to his homeland from AS Roma, Salvatore Sirigu arrived from Sicily, Mohamed Sissoko departed Turin and Diego Lugano left Turkish shores for a move to the French capital. Some of the country’s best young talent such as Kevin Gameiro and Blaise Matuidi also joined the new revolution as too Milan Bisevac to reunite with Kombouare, who he worked under at Valenciennes and goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez who arrived on a free.
The best however was saved till last as the club pipped a host of Europe’s giants to capture the signing of one of Serie A’s finest young players, Javier Pastore, for an eye watering €42m – a French record transfer surpassing the fee paid for Nicolas Anelka (€33.5m) back in 2000. On a rain sodden night prior to the opening game of the season at home to Lorient, the Argentine was presented to his new supporters who believed from then on in the ambition of the new owners was not false. Lorient obviously did not read the script and stunned the Parc des Princes with a 1-0 victory thanks to Julien Quercia.
That defeat turned out to be a blessing in disguise, sparking the team into life. Although new blood was being integrated into the XI by Kombouare, such as Gameiro, Matuidi, Menez and of course Pastore, the team went on an incredible run of 10 games unbeaten in all competitions, propelling them to the summit of Ligue 1 in the process. A valiant 3-0 win away to title rivals Montpellier and a 2-0 victory in a frenetic encounter with Olympique Lyonnais in particular remonstrated that the club is once again ready to compete at the forefront of French football.
A turn in fortune occurred with elimination from the Coupe de la Ligue and Europa League, heaping the pressure – unfairly it has to be said – on Coach Antoine Komboure who was dismissed, a day after the team battled for a 1-0 win in Saint Etienne, crowing them winter champions. His future had been up in the air for much of the season with QSI looking for a marquee name (as 1970 PSG discussed here) to give the club global appeal.
That man has turned out to be Carlo Ancelotti who was appointed Coach last Friday. A multiple time European Cup winner with the task in hand of completing the good work carried out by his predecessor and deliver silverware, but most importantly to QSI – for their long term outlook – Champions League football.
It has been an incredible 2011 for the club, one of fantasy. With QSI now getting their feet well and truly under the table and setting up plans for a prosperous future , then anything is possible for the club in becoming a juggernaut on the continent.
Here is to a fruitful and exciting 2012 under Monsieur Ancelotti.