It has been the most successful season in Paris Saint-Germain’s history. Three trophies, back to back league titles and all led by a coach who was practically QSI’s last choice to replace Carlo Ancelotti who sought pastures new with perhaps the next European champions, Real Madrid.
This has been a definitive campaign in the QSI project which has seen the team endure domestic dominance in the sense that three of the four titles now reside at the Parc des Princes. The perfect curtain opener last August was the 2-1 victory over Bordeaux in the Trophee des Champions, against Laurent Blanc’s former club in Gabon. What preceded that was a record breaking season that can be looked back on with enormous satisfaction for everyone affiliated with Les Parisiens. There has been a minor bump or two along the way but even the fiercest critic cannot dispute just how much the club has come on again. Ancelotti, a man I perceive as the best coach in world football, left a short but definitive legacy. Blanc may have his critics (primarily for the defeat in Europe) but he has continued the sterling work that was done from the beginning of 2012 to last summer. All in all, it has been a a superb 2013/2014 campaign for the champions.
Many of my readers as well as those who follow me on Twitter know just how much of a staunch defender I am of Laurent Blanc. I said upon his arrival that although it may have been a last resort appointment, it could turn out to be a shrewd one. Thankfully I can say I was right. Blanc’s reputation was never in question however the lack of enthusiasm over his tenure as French national team coach seemed to act as an underwhelming feeling to his appointment.
There is no denying that the capture of the TDC was a good step for Blanc. Getting that piece of silverware and continuing that winning feeling from the season prior was important. But, two opening draws to the campaign against Montpellier and Ajaccio had the jury out, even before we had reached the end of August. It was a shame for Blanc, his position was seen as a stop-gap for the club looking to appoint a more marquee name the following summer – despite LB penning a two-year contract. The persistent talk of Arsene Wenger lingered and credit to Blanc, he conducted himself superbly in pressers when asked.
The 2-1 win away to Nantes got the ball rolling. 15 wins out of 18 ensued that with the other three being draws. 47 goals were scored during that run as well which emphasises just how emphatic we have been in front of goal. Having the best attack in the league is no fluke. Blanc’s ideology to play attractive football is a reason for that. The team has been much more pleasing on the eye than under Ancelotti. Carlo was more inclined to use a 4-4-2 during the latter part of his tenure but LB reverted back to 4-3-3 even if it meant putting the most expensive player in the club’s history Edinson Cavani out wide of the front trio.
Sometimes under Ancelotti the play was a little static at times with no real high intensity but with Blanc’s teams he remonstrated to his players to start quickly, particularly at home. It was a flaw we had for some time as we tended to start a lot of games as if they were a chess match. The higher intensity under LB was very noticeable in the first-half of the season and that was good to see. It gave the side more vigour, a fear factor by being ruthless. This has dampened down in recent months, primarily due to the disappointment in Europe against Chelsea where Blanc has been criticised.
His decision making in that second-leg defeat in London was scrutinised by the French media. Not seeking an away goal proved costly as the team opted to sit back. It went against Blanc’s ethos of playing the correct way but his over cautious nature resulted in the team being knocked out. In hindsight, we should have gone for the jugular. We were comfortable in the opening 30 minutes at Stamford Bridge but we never penetrated Petr Cech’s goal.
But as I have said countless times, you cannot disregard the fantastic work done by the man on one result. He, the team and the club learnt valuable lessons that night which hopefully will stand in good stead for the future.
The spine of a team is what defines a great side. Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta and Zlatan Ibrahimovic define ours. It is no coincidence that the three of them are our most important players. The skipper TS has had a funny campaign to be honest. He has had his fair share of injury niggles that have not hindered his season but have certainly not helped. I believe the season prior is where he was at his best but he did suffer a hamstring injury in the 1-1 draw with Monaco last September that put him out for a while. By all means, this side needs Thiago Silva. In my opinion he is the best centre back in the world. He is the skipper, a leader. Everything you want in a player to represent Paris Saint-Germain. Has he been a standout performer? Yes. Better than last season? I would say no but nevertheless, a sterling campaign all the same.
Ibrahimovic? What more is there to say? At the start of the campaign with Cavani coming in, many had their doubts that Ibra would not match his debut season, let alone eclipse it. His future was shrouded in doubt for the majority of last summer when ‘El Matador’ made his way from Naples. How would they co-exist? Can PSG play them in a 4-4-2? Will they get on? All hypothetical questions that were relevant at the time. But, the two of them, even with Cavani playing out of position, struck an immediate relationship. Cavani netted 18 goals in all competitions, with 13 coming in his last 12 up till the 2-1 win at home against Saint-Etienne last December. That was a staggering return when you consider that he was playing out of position and with Ibra netting 22 in that period as well. In total, both have accumulated 65 goals between them.
Thiago Motta for me however is player of the season. I wrote a piece on him two weeks ago where I go into more detail but he has probably played his best football during his whole career this year. Putting all those injury woes behind him that plagued his time at the Parc, his role in the middle of Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti is so vital to the balance of the side. Nothing flash, just simple but yet so effective. He will be going to the World Cup this summer with Italy where he can be a star for the Azzurri in a low-key manner. He has an intelligent football brain that is overlooked. With a PSG team littered with big names, he never gets the adulation he deserves. I think he has been absolutely outstanding.
There have been plenty of these this season. The 2-1 win away to Marseille at the Velodrome where we fought back from a goal down to win is definitely up there. Blanc made the slightest change in that game that shifted the dynamic in our favour. With Motta sent off, he brought on young Adrien Rabiot for Ezequiel Lavezzi and the Frenchman was fantastic, as was the team. With 10-men we were able to dig in deep and end up winning despite being behind as well. Blanc deserved enormous praise for that victory.
The performances in the Champions League made Europe sit up and take notice. We were not in the strongest group by any means but you can only beat what is put out in front of you. The standing ovation Zlatan received in Anderlecht after one of the most domineering performances you will see from a player in Europe was spine tingling. Four goals blitzed the Belgians away but their watching public showed utter class by applauding the big Swede off the pitch when he was substituted. That was a special moment for football as a whole.
Also on Zlatan, his insane scorpion kick goal against Bastia which won goal of the season last Sunday was a definite high. Just the audacity to score a goal like that with pure ease again emphasised just how special this man is.
The number of records broken by this side must be noted. Winning eight consecutive games in the league, breaking the previous record of six was impressive. However, beating Olympique Lyonnais’ points tally of 84 which lasted for eight years is unprecedented. With 86 and perhaps another three to come against Montpellier, this record should not be scoffed at. It is a testament to just how dominant the team has been in France and again Blanc deserves credit. Even last week he remonstrated to his players that beating the points tally record was vital.
Of course, the Coupe de la Ligue victory over Lyon at the Stade de France last month was an ever so sweet feeling. The first domestic cup in four years.
And of course, the retention of the Ligue 1 title – the first time the club has ever been able to do this. It is a monumental step in the history of the club which is a baby in comparison to most at 44 years of age. But this will certainly stand the test of time.
If we are going to point out lows, there are very few. I have gone into the Champions League defeat so I will leave that be. The defeat to Montpellier in the Coupe de France back in January was also an opportunity missed. We should have done more to try and ensure that did not happen. There was a real chance to do a clean sweep of domestic silverware and with no disrespect to eventual winners Guingamp – an unbelievable achievement by the minnows – you cannot help but think PSG should have at least got to the latter rounds. At least!
As far as players go, Jeremy Menez’s time at PSG is over. He has been an afterthought in many respects this season, making a handful of appearances with most coming via the bench. His relationship with Laurent Blanc has been cold but as we all know Menez’s attitude can be a little off putting. He has the talent, there is no question. It just is not shown anywhere near enough. The best we seen of him was in his debut campaign. We have seen flashes since, but nothing dually noted. He will be off in the coming weeks with Italy or Monaco his likeliest destination.
Financial Fair Play & The Immediate Future:
It has been mooted in the media for weeks but yesterday UEFA finally shed light on the sanctions in which the club face after breaching Financial Fair Play. The key elements are:
- The club has been fined €60m with €40m to be returned to PSG if the club abide to their punishment.
- The squad for the UEFA Champions League season of 2014/2015 has been reduced from 25 to 21. This can be overturned in the following season if the club again abides to the rules set in place.
- The club cannot exceed player expenses (wages) which in essence means the club will have to sell in order to buy.
- Also there is a cap on the expenditure of player transfers (coming in ).
- PSG undertakes to report a maximum break-even deficit of €30m for the financial year ending in 2015 and no break-even deficit for the financial year ending in 2016. UEFA say in this context the contract between PSG and the Qatar Tourism Authority has been carefully considered and a fair value, significantly below that submitted by the club, has been assigned.
So the repercussions here are not great by any means. The club responded with a strong statement emphasising the good work they have done with the PSG Foundation as well improving the infrastructure around the club. But there will be no appeal.
It certainly alters the plans for this summer. With a limited squad for the Champions League the emphasis needs to be on bringing in home grown talent in order to abide to the squad ruling. Any such plans to pay over the odds are now a no go, with some players having to leave in order to come in. This is just going to lead to a summer of intense speculation.
There will be a title party tonight at the Parc des Princes and rightfully so. It has been a fantastic season with records broken, cups won, an admirable run in Europe and most importantly, retaining L’Hexagoal.
10 PSG players will now go off to represent their countries in the FIFA World Cup, another feat to be proud of, bearing in mind there was zero in the 2010 edition in South Africa. Another sign of how far the club has come.
The challenge now for the club is riding out these FFP rulings to ensure the team is competitive still on all fronts next season. Domestically, this will have no bearing but in Europe it might. Laurent Blanc, Nasser Al-Khelaifi and the new Sporting Director (who may be Leonardo, who knows?) will need to strategize over the coming weeks as to where the club goes.