The annual pageant of under-performance that is Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League has visited again, triggering sniggers across Europe. For the fifth time in the past seven seasons, the shiny bauble-vistas from the French capital have crashed out before the quarter-final stage, the dream of continental conquest further away than ever.
For Qatar Sports Investments, who have poured more than £1bn into transfers since purchasing the club in 2012, the lack of return must be exasperating. One Champions League final appearance in 2020 – when they were again beaten by their midweek conquerors Bayern Munich – is pitiful.
Sure, there have been eight French titles and 12 domestic cups but the Champions League is what the entire project – to use football’s word of the moment – is all about and for PSG’s desert-based owners this has become Project Mirage. They have tried it with French coaches like the current incumbent Christophe Galtier and overseas ones but the outcome is always the same. Embarrassing shortfall.
How can this be, Nasser Al-Khelaifi must be thinking, when his plaything has the two most expensive players in history and arguably the greatest player ever, in the side? Hearteningly, it turns out that lavishing hundreds of millions of pounds on the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar does not automatically buy a club success.
The World Cup offered an instructive insight into the Qatari mentality. During the tournament, an exhibition was running at the Doha Film Institute which threw up a nondescript walk through the history of Qatar film, television and theatre with some old equipment, posters and what-have-you. It was an underwhelming experience but it was free so no harm done.
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Just before the exit, tucked away in a corner, out of nowhere suddenly appeared an eye-popping array of treasures. There was Marlon Brando’s script for The Godfather, Judy Garland’s dress from The Wizard of Oz, Kate Winslet’s from Titanic and a 1942 Oscar for best screenplay for Citizen Kane – priceless pieces thrown together almost as an after-thought.
Qatar had the money so they had bought the best of the best – they just did not know what to do with it. PSG – Pointless Star Gazing if you like – has been a similar story.
Football is not just a game of collectables. You can buy Messi, Mbappe and Neymar if you have the wherewithal but without the financially unquantifiable elements of squad balance, camaraderie and cohesion – and in PSG’s case a domestic league that properly prepares them for the rigours of Europe – the mix often stubbornly refuses to rise.
That is the endless fascination of team sport. It is never an exact science. Personalities, egos and environments can all conspire to ruin the best-laid plans. The Qataris are not the first, not will they be the last rich men to discover its frustrations.
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Except, really they should have learned by now. There will be a price to pay for the latest flop – Galtier is surely on the well-worn gangplank and sporting director Luis Campos may follow him out. But this is shifting the deckchairs on Ms Winslet’s doomed ship. The whole enterprise in Paris needs ripping up.
Start from the bottom instead of the top. The Paris suburbs are some of the most fertile football breeding grounds in the world. Maybe looking closer to home is not quite so glamorous but they have tried buying glitzy and glinting and it hasn’t worked.
Until they rethink their entire strategy and move away from being international autograph hunters, PSG are destined to remain the butt of European football’s jokes.
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