Philip Bargiel assesses the case for the desperate need of a challenger to emerge from Ligue 1 to challenge PSG if the league is going to continue to experience growth.
As the years go by I become less and less enchanted by what is supposed to be the biggest game of the season in the Ligue 1 calendar. I didn’t even try going to the game nor was I envying friends who were. As a former ultra, I could be forgiven for being nostalgic of the good old days but since the Qatari takeover there is a sincere lack of passion about Paris Saint-Germain versus Marseille.
Now the atmosphere around the Parc des Princes before a classico (yes, we call it le classico, why the media started calling it Le Classique recently I have no idea – or rather I dread to think what the real reason is) is one of even more fake rivalry between two sets of fans who don’t really have any reason to hate each other.
Going back two decades, players could not stand each other. If a handful of players from both sides were called up for the French national team they would struggle to play alongside each other. It went even further when players such as Fabrice Fiorèse switched from PSG to OM and scored a couple of goals at the Parc des Princes for Marseille. The rivalry was real, the passion was immense and the matches were competitive.
But this piece does not endeavour to explain the ins and outs of the je t’aime moi non plus paradigm between two fine cities (in truth, Parisians find Marseille and the Côte d’Azur in general quite lovely and most do take the trip down south during the summer and no the Parisian cars are not always wrecked) but instead, I wish to explain how distant PSG has become from the club it used to be (a desperate under-achiever albeit a likeable one). It is now a club able to challenge the Bayerns, Real Madrids (confirmation in a few weeks) and Barcelonas of today. That must mean spectacle week in week out right?
Let’s start with a continental remark.
In the Champions League, PSG has generally speaking, been breezing through the group stage phase. So far during this campaign they won 3-0 win at Donetsk – a place other French sides would be more than happy to come out of with a draw – and in truth they did not play very well.
PSG now tends to be playing each whole season in a two-legged tie against a European giant (and usually fails most likely at the hands of one of the aforementioned three). Still the players get the business done and generally show good spirit but invariably fall short because this “just wasn’t their year” (for the record, I don’t think this season is their year either).
The rest of French football gives a paltry illustration of the deep difference in quality and mentality that prevails between PSG and every other club. In the Champions’ League, France realistically only get two sides into the Champions League group stage, as the last time the third best French team succeeded in a CL play-off was Lille in the 2012/13 season and already then, the gap in quality was crystal clear: PSG finished top of its group with 5 wins from 6 while both Lille and Montpellier finished bottom of their groups with 1 win in 12 games!
Since then, we have only had two Ligue 1 sides in each of the Champions League group stages.
Then we have the Europa League. It is very uncommon to have more than one French side making it to the knock-out stage of this competition. Of course the argument of playing too many games is valid and taken upon by many leagues across the continent.
It is true that the prospect of going all the way in Europe’s not so glorious competition does not fill most chairmen with glee. On that topic, I can understand French sides not taking it seriously (even though we all enjoyed Guingamp’s heroics last season).
Let’s now talk about PSG’s local dominance.
Domestically, the problem is even bigger for French football as PSG are almost already champions with less than 10 games played (again without playing well). The manner of the victory over Marseille was so poor that it made you wonder whether the players wanted to be there.
Even the fact that Ibrahimovic leapfrogged Pauleta in the PSG all-time goalscoring ranking was a bit of media frenzy over nothing (make no mistake, historical PSG fans will always have the Portuguese over the Swede as he was there during the tough days of home defeats to Caen and Lorient).
The media did not want to admit it so it is left to the more independent journalists (us) to make the bold statement: those PSG players couldn’t care less about the classico. They know the league is won, they know the domestic cups will most likely be won and they know that this dominance is becoming a normality.
Just like Bayern, PSG are not responsible for the league’s lack of competition at the top. It is not PSG’s fault that Nabil Fekir twisted his cruciate ligaments to put a huge dampen on Lyon’s season. It is not PSG’s fault that Margarita Louis-Dreyfus preferred to let Bielsa go and sell the club’s best players for quite a bit of cash instead of building on an excellent season.
It is not PSG’s fault that Monaco’s strategy is to buy cheap and sell high. In a nutshell it is not PSG’s fault that they have the ambition to win the Champions’ League and that the other 19 sides’ ambition is to have an even budget come June.
If you have been reading the French papers over the last few days, you might have noticed that it is rumoured that Louis-Dreyfus wants to sell. You would have thought that now would be perfect timing, the longer Marseille’s season goes on, sadly, the more likely that interest will wane.
A powerful Marseille however would basically transform Ligue 1 from a dull, Bundesliga-esque monopoly to a fascinating two-horse race à la Barca and Real. What do we have to lose? People are already diving all over the place…