After FC Lorient held the title favourites PSG to an opening day draw Vaishali Bhardwaj looks at what the other teams around the league have done to try and not be left in the Parisian’s dust.
Four minutes into their first league game of the season against Lorient and Paris Saint-Germain were losing. Ok, so Maxwell had scored an own goal but it was hardly the start to the new campaign that the Parisian’s had wanted against Christian Gourcuff’s modest outfit.
No problem. Carlo Ancelotti’s side would be able to find their way back into the clash. After all, this was PSG. This was the very same club who had snapped up the services of Ezequiel Lavezzi, Marco Verratti and the AC Milan duo of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic over the summer.
The club had spent an estimated €112 million ($137million) over the past few months to bolster their squad and ensure that last season’s failure to clinch the Ligue 1 title did not happen again this term.
But the plan so far wasn’t working. The very same team that had beaten PSG in the opening fixture of the 2011/12 season had left the home fans stunned when Jérémie Aliadière’s strike just before half time gave Lorient a 2-0 lead at the Parc des Princes. For Lorient fans, this was the stuff of dreams.
But their lead would not last long. PSG’s investment finally paid dividends when Ibrahimovic scored in the 64th minute before slotting home a penalty minutes from time to clinch a point for PSG. The game had ended 2-2.
It was hardly the dream start to the season that PSG fans had wanted and it was hardly the result that would provide early evidence for many people’s predictions that PSG would easily win Le Championnat.
Yet it didn’t have to be.
PSG, with their wealthy owners, experienced coach and star–filled squad, may have faltered in their first league outing against Lorient but it does not mean they will fail to win Ligue 1 this season. Even if PSG lost the title last term to a club with a fraction of their wealth in Montpellier, Ancelotti’s team will be victorious this season. Probably anyway.
Some French football enthusiasts have seen the capital club’s wealth in itself and the very fact that they have the ability to buy players such as Ibrahimovic – who proved so decisive against Lorient – as negative.
Some have worried that PSG’s unique situation will end up creating an imbalance in the league. How can other French clubs realistically compete with such financial muscle especially if PSG do not conduct their transfer business within France? In a league that has seen five different champions in the past five years, surely PSG’s wealth might result in a league dominated by one club?
Well yes. And no.
Lorient’s performance against their rich opponent’s showed that sheer hard work, a collective team spirit and the right attitude are good enough to – nearly – cause an upset.
When you consider this and consider the excellent summer transfer dealings by clubs such as Lille and defending champions Montpellier, then competitiveness within Ligue 1 will still remain, although perhaps not to the same degree as last term.
Lille coach Rudi Garcia brought in the likes of Salomon Kalou from Chelsea and Marvin Martin from Sochaux this summer to strengthen his squad. Although Les Dogues sold their star player Eden Hazard to Roberto Di Matteo’s side and may yet still lose Mathieu Debuchy, Lille certainly have the team, the mentality and the experience to push PSG for the title.
Montpellier may have sold last season’s top scorer Olivier Giroud, who moved to Arsenal, and Geoffrey Dernis, who went to Brest, but the club’s signings of Anthony Mounier, Emanuel Herrera, Gaëtan Charbonnier and Toulouse captain Daniel Congré have shown their intent to remain in the hunt for silverware this term.
Other teams such as Nice have been busy in the transfer market too and while clubs such as Lyon and Marseille are financially restricted, Ligue 1 will remain competitive to some degree – for this season at least.
But in the longer term, the consequences of PSG’s ambitious project should be viewed as positive for the league rather than negative.
Following the successful renegotiation of the league’s broadcast rights, PSG have been key in focusing attention on the French league.
The club’s success in luring players, and in particular Ibrahimovic, to the Parc des Princes this summer was significant. After several high-profile footballers such as David Beckham turned down the opportunity to join PSG, the arrival of Ibrahimovic was the signal to the world of a new era in French football.
It was the moment that demonstrated that top players were perhaps now looking at PSG as a club that could seriously challenge for top honours in Europe in the future as well as a club with money.
Perhaps now, other high-profile players will start to seriously think about Ligue 1 as a destination. Perhaps the days of Le Championnat being a feeder league in which the top talent and best players eventually leave for countries such as England are over. Perhaps PSG’s model will encourage wealthy investors to buy other French clubs.
Maybe. What is clear, however, is that the Parisian’s have been instrumental in helping to increase the attention on French football. Their wealth may be the principal reason why the club win Ligue 1 but Lorient’s heroic performance against PSG showed that it will not be so easy for the capital club this term.
And for French football fans that means we are in for one entertaining season.