PARIS (Reuters) - Paris St Germain clinched their first French league title since 1994 on Sunday thanks to heavy investment from Qatar as they proved that money spent on the right players can buy success.
With Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) having spent over 200 million euros (168.9 million pounds) on transfers since taking over two years ago, the French league title was their initial target.
Despite Olympique Marseille’s resilience, PSG had a fairly comfortable ride based on a defence marshalled by the impressive Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s brilliance up front.
The Sweden striker scored 27 Ligue 1 goals, a tally last reached by France’s Jean-Pierre Papin in 1991-92.
PSG could have been more impressive but under Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti they have turned into a counter-attacking side who failed to play eye-catching football despite the presence of Argentine gem Javier Pastore in the midfield.
Although they produced a few top-notch performances, PSG often struggled against lowly sides, prompting sporting director Leonardo to say his team were built for Europe - not the French league.
A run to the Champions League quarter-finals supported that stance even if they did not really surpass expectations.
They took Barcelona to the brink of defeat but were eliminated by virtue of the away goals rule, having drawn 2-2 at home before taking the lead but drawing 1-1 at the Nou Camp.
Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate defeat by Bayern Munich in the semi-finals put that result into perspective.
“Dream Bigger”, says the club’s slogan.
So they brought former England captain David Beckham to the club on a short-term deal in January, adding glamour off the pitch rather than really strengthening the team on it.
Always the dedicated professional, Beckham produced decent performances, and PSG pledged to donate his salary to charity looking to boost their image as a popular club.
However, it did not work out that way as Beckham’s image suffered when he was shown a straight red card in an ill-tempered game at Evian Thonon Gaillard last month.
He was not the only one with PSG showing their ugly side as they picked up nine red cards, more than any other Ligue 1 team and more than all the other major European league leaders.
PSG’s bad behaviour surfaced again on May 5 when Leonardo bumped into referee Alexandre Castro in the tunnel after a 1-1 draw with Valenciennes, during which Thiago Silva was sent off for putting his hand on the match official.
Leonardo was provisionally suspended while Thiago Silva was handed a two-match ban.
However, despite those disciplinary problems, PSG clinched the title with a 1-0 win at Olympique Lyon thanks to a Jeremy Menez goal to end a 19-year wait for the trophy.
Former PSG players who won the 1994 title and lifted the 1996 European Cup winners’ Cup believe the club is on the right track despite their teething problems under new owners.
“When Canal Plus bought PSG (in the early 1990s), they invested a lot of money to attract great players and we became a great team,” former France keeper Bernard Lama told Reuters.
“It is a bit what the Qataris have done,” added Lama, who is convinced that “they can be stronger than we were.”
“PSG is pulling French football higher,” former PSG midfielder Vincent Guerin told Reuters.
“The project continues, we have recruited good players this year and we will be stronger next season,” said Pastore, who has not pledged his future to the club.
Ancelotti must also decide whether to stay at PSG amid speculation he may join Real Madrid to replace Jose Mourinho if the Portuguese leaves the Bernabeu at the end of the season.
The Italian’s departure could prompt some of the club’s top players, uncertain about who might take over, to leave as well.
PSG would then have to start their project all over again.
($1 = 0.7709 euros)
Additional reporting by Olivier Guillemain; Editing by Ken Ferris