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Jul 18, 2012

France in shock as PSG go galactic

In the end, it was Zlatan who made it happen. After the nearly-but-not-quite moments of David Beckham, Carlos Tevez and Alexandre Pato, Paris Saint-Germain have finally snared the global superstar that Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) have craved since becoming the club's majority shareholder last summer.

While AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi was confessing at an Il Popolo della Liberta (PdL) party meeting last Thursday that he'd "sold Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva to PSG", it seemed premature. We'd been here before. Brazilian defender Silva probably greeted the news with a weary feeling of plus ça change, having visited the French capital last month and shaken hands on a deal worth €9 million (£7 million) for each of the next five years, only for Berlusconi to have a change of heart and pull the plug.

It always felt like Ibrahimovic would be the key. Which, of course, is just the way he likes it to be. Silva's move - for an initial €42 million (£33 million) - was confirmed on Saturday night with the minimum of fuss, reflective of a dependable character who will get the job done. Yet even if Silva's signing is perhaps more significant in plain footballing terms - we are, after all, talking about the best central defender in the game today - it is the arrival of his team-mate in Paris that will truly thrill fans and neutrals.

Ibrahimovic's arrival has shown just how far QSI are prepared to go to succeed. They haven't flinched over days of tricky negotiation, with Ibrahimovic finally agreeing to an annual sum estimated at more than €14 million (£11 million) net, a tasty bump on the €12 million (£9.5 million) he banked per year at the San Siro.

It has sent shockwaves throughout French society. Henri Bedimo, left-back for champions Montpellier, spoke for many when he shrugged last week that this season's title race is "all over". Meanwhile, Minister for Health and Sport Roselyne Bachelot declared herself "angry and almost disgusted to see these absolutely incredible salaries while some of our little clubs fight like dogs to survive".

Presumably governmental objections will not extend to refusing the hefty tax revenue coming their way. To leave Ibrahimovic with the above take-home figure, PSG will pick up a yearly tab of around €30 million (£23.6 million). It's hard to criticise the player for squeezing a pay rise from a move he did little to solicit, if only to compensate him for the inconvenience of moving his family from Italy, his second home.

To receive such an astronomical contract with his 31st birthday on the horizon in October will be a source of personal satisfaction. Ibrahimovic still relishes the role of street hustler, something he made abundantly clear throughout his recent autobiography. While PSG sweated over clinching their galactico this weekend, Ibrahimovic was sunning himself in the Balearics, at the holiday villa of former teammate Pippo Inzaghi. It is not difficult to imagine him enjoying the moment.

He is right in recognising his own value, as reactions from the PSG camp recognise. The normally sanguine Leonardo stood in front of the Parc des Princes on Monday night and praised "a player who can change everything", while midfielder Momo Sissoko gleefully described him to Le Parisien last week as "the best forward in the world" and the prospect of playing with him as "mad".

It remains to be seen if all of Sissoko's teammates will react as enthusiastically. Ibrahimovic will earn more than ten times the salary of Christophe Jallet, described last week by Carlo Ancelotti as "the best right-back in France". Even more pertinently, PSG's marquee name will earn more than three times what Javier Pastore - last summer's jaw-dropping acquisition - does, with the Argentinian's contract worth €4.2 million (£3.3 million) per year. The next challenge for the management is to keep all the stars happy.

It must be agreed, however, that Ibrahimovic's arrival is a game changer. Whereas the signings of his fellow Serie A alumni Thiago Motta and Ezequiel Lavezzi may have been a big step up in terms of the squad's intrinsic quality, the Swede's arrival represents that extra bit of glamour and worldwide recognition that the club has so desired.

Along with Lavezzi and Silva's arrivals it also gives QSI, and Leonardo, complete vindication in firing Antoine Kombouare last Christmas and installing Ancelotti in his stead. It is not a huge leap of the imagination to argue that the removal of popular former player Kombouare from the helm cost PSG the league in 2011-12, given that they were three points clear at the top of the table when he was dismissed. Yet in terms of the bigger picture, the concession of that title to Montpellier will surely be written off as collateral damage.

QSI's plan isn't really about winning Ligue 1, although PSG are already hot favourites given their own reinforcements, Lille's loss of Eden Hazard and the transfer market torpor at hard-up giants Lyon and Marseille. It's about cracking Europe, and about extending a truly global reach.

Debonair president Nasser Al-Khelaifi's vision is rapidly coming together. Dario Canovi, the agent of January signing Motta, this week told France Football last week that PSG has become "a priority destination" in the last year. "Obviously, it (means) getting a good contract," he admitted. "I think, however, that the club's ambitions - particularly in the Champions League - together with the persuasiveness of Leonardo and the presence of Ancelotti, make the difference. That was the case for Thiago Motta, who signed despite a net salary loss. Without forgetting, of course, the attraction of the city of lights..."

Now the city has one of the brightest lights of all. "Paris now has one more reason to be considered a city of beauty with Ibra's arrival," Zlatan's agent Mino Raiola said on Tuesday with typical brio. Yet it is the brutality of reinforcing their side with two world-class talents and simultaneously ripping out the heart of a side they hope to rival (a seven-time European champion, no less) that tells us what we need to know about PSG. They are not hanging around in their bid for world domination.

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