Is PSG’s supremacy slowly killing French football?
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PSG has captured the French title with eight games left in the season, confirming their dominance in the Ligue 1 for a fourth-straight year. This success has brought accolades and global visibility, but could it ruin French professional football?
Paris Saint-Germain racked up 25 wins in their first 30 games this season, only notching one loss during that stretch. They clinched the Ligue 1 crown on March 13 with a 0-9 drubbing of Troyes. The game marked the biggest away victory in the league’s history, and capped the fastest-ever title triumph.
When the champagne corks popped last Sunday, PSG enjoyed a whopping 25 point lead on second-place Monaco, a gap that is all but certain to widen as the season goes through mostly meaningless motions for the next two months.
The club’s unabashed demolition of opponents this year was best personified by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. After helping PSG seal the title with four goals against Troyes, and in view of a contract renegotiation, the star striker suggested the French capital should swap out the Eiffel Tower for a statue to his glory.
“If they replace the Eiffel Tower with a statue of me, I will stay at PSG. I can promise that!” the towering Swede who has never been pegged for modesty told BeIN Sports.
Whether Ibrahimovic will return next season is now one of the few suspenseful debates surrounding Ligue 1 and PSG, even as the team continues its quest to claim a first-ever Champions League trophy.
But even if he were to bid adieu to France, Paris would almost unquestionably continue to dominate the French championship, should nothing else change. The club also counts the next highest-scoring striker in the league in the person of Uruguayan Edinson Cavani, and Argentinian striker Angel Di Maria – signed at the start of the season – who is also among the top goal- and assist-makers.
An international all-star cast continues in the back, including the Brazilian combo of Thiago Silva and David Luiz, who have only given up 15 goals in the past 30 games.
The best players money can buy
And if Ibrahimovic decided to try his luck elsewhere, there is also little doubt PSG's Qatari president, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, would find a replacement that other French clubs could only dream of adding to their rosters. Indeed, a €490-million budget affords PSG luxuries that are out of reach for most of its rivals.
With €250-million, Monaco may boast Ligue 1’s second largest budget, but it’s only half the size of PSG’s coffer. GFC Ajaccio brings up the rear when it comes to cash, with a €14-million budget for the 2015-16 season.
“It’s athletic domination, but also financial domination,” said Pierre-Louis Basse, a renowned French sports journalist, who has written extensively about football. “[PSG] can buy the best players from around the world that no one else can compete with.”
Although Basse spends little time covering sports these days, he is among those who think Ligue 1 is being drained of significance as PSG racks up title after title. “It’s a great team, and a beautiful victory, but what’s the point?” Basse told FRANCE 24 in reference to PSG’s fourth-conservative claim on the French title.
“It’s like there were two different championships. There is PSG and there is everyone else. Can you imagine what it’s like to be a team like Bordeaux? In August they already know there is no chance of winning the title,” he said. Basse pointed out that while Paris is not the wealthiest club in Europe, the imbalance in Ligue 1 is far worse than in other countries. “In Spain you have three or four teams that are in the running, even in Germany and the [English] Premier League there is still competition”.
A dynasty unlike others
Football dynasties are nothing new in France. Stade de Reims saw its glory days in the 1950s, while Saint-Étienne dominated most of the 60s and 70s. More recently, Olympique de Marseille took four-consecutive French titles starting in 1989, and Olympique Lyonnais won seven straight in the 2000s.
So could PSG’s current hegemony just be part of cyclical order that sees football’s bragging rights move from one French city to another roughly every decade?
Experts seem to agree that PSG’s preeminence is unprecedented. Stéphane Bitton, a former editor-in-chief with leading French sports daily L’Equipe, said the main difference is the money. Bloated budgets and silverware have always gone hand in hand, but never has the disparity been so great.
The second big difference is the dearth of competition. “It’s the first time in history a team has clinched the title so early in the season,” Bitton pointed out. As a point of comparison, several of the titles Lyon won between 2002 and 2008 were still up for grabs in the last weekend of the season. And even when they clinched Ligue 1 titles, they often lost other national cups to rabid rivals.
Bitton, who admits he is a longtime PSG fan, nevertheless rejects the idea that his team is dragging Ligue 1 into the gutter as it struts up the winners’ podium. “PSG is raising the level of the game in France, and the international press is finally taking notice of the French championship,” he countered.
“Stadiums have never been so full when Paris is playing away, even if the matches themselves have been very one-sided this year,” Bitton said, adding that people who were barely interested in football in the past are turning out in droves for a glimpse of the team’s world-class players.
On the international level, the ex-sports journalist expressed hope that the club will succeed where so many French squads have failed in the past: bring a European title home.
Bitton said that if there was a risk that fans will lose interest in Ligue 1, it was be eclipsed by the widely shared passion for the beautiful game. “Lyon won seven consecutive titles, something PSG is still far from accomplishing. Yet interest in football never diminished,” he said.
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