PSG benefit from capital gains
Seeing Paris Saint-Germain plastered all over the French media is nothing new, but for once their monopoly of the sports pages has got nothing to do with fan violence, murky transfer dealings or on-pitch underachievement. Instead, the club's takeover by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) has turned them into major players on the European transfer scene and sparked hope among supporters that a return to the glory days of the mid-1990s might be just around the corner.
Buoyed by their new wealth, PSG landed the first significant blow in the Ligue 1 summer transfer window by seeing off interest from Valencia and Lille to sign France striker Kevin Gameiro. With each day yielding a fresh link between PSG and a star from the highest reaches of the football firmament, he is unlikely to be the last new recruit this summer.
QSI's acquisition of a 70% stake in the club was announced at the end of May by Sebastien Bazin, European representative of previous majority shareholders Colony Capital, and the takeover will be finalised next week. The Qataris are yet to make any public pronouncements about their plans, but former Inter Milan boss Leonardo - a fans' favourite during his stint at the club in 1996-97 - is poised to arrive as a sporting director with sweeping authority over player recruitment. The charismatic Brazilian's expected appointment means incumbent president Robin Leproux will see his role seriously diminished, although both he and head coach Antoine Kombouare have been assured by QSI that their jobs are safe.
France's second most popular team (behind Marseille) now find themselves cast as Ligue 1's answer to Manchester City and club presidents across the continent will surely learn to fear the sound of PSG's approaching footsteps when there are unsigned contracts on the table. Lens' Raphael Varane had his head turned by a late offer from the Parc des Princes before ultimately electing to join Real Madrid, while Lille's general manager Frederic Paquet has firmly rebuffed PSG's attempts to hijack Gervinho's proposed move to Arsenal.
A strong, successful side from the capital would unquestionably be a boon for the French championship and the huge financial clout behind QSI means Ligue 1's perennial crisis club are now a much more attractive proposition than they have been for some time.
"The project at PSG could interest me," admitted Roma winger Jeremy Menez, Gameiro's international team-mate, in an interview with France Football last week. "If they have the means and a big team, I could enjoy playing for Paris."
Bolstering PSG's efforts to improve their squad is the fact that many of their domestic transfer targets were at an impressionable age when the club last scaled the heights of the European game. Gameiro, who hails from Senlis, 40km north of Paris, celebrated his ninth birthday the day after PSG lifted the 1996 Cup Winners' Cup and Sochaux's Marvin Martin - another reported transfer target - was also a childhood fan. "I really get the impression that they want to build the biggest club in France," said Gameiro, who arrived from Lorient for an initial fee of €11 million (£9.8m). "Being champions with Paris would be an exceptional adventure to experience."
Despite all the optimism, however, there is also apprehension. UEFA president Michel Platini was the first to sound the alarm, admitting he was "not a fan" of the QSI takeover and expressing his distaste for clubs who "buy players left, right and centre". While Platini's stance is hardly surprising, given his well-documented views on foreign ownership, of more pressing concern to the club's fans is the destabilising impact that hasty recruitment could have on the current squad.
League champions in 1994, Champions League semi-finalists a year later and Cup Winners' Cup finalists again in 1997, PSG have had to content themselves with domestic cup successes over the last decade, but the 2010-11 season was one of their best in recent memory. A fourth-place finish represented their highest placing since 2004 and they almost retained their Coupe de France crown in a closely fought final with Lille.
Average attendances fell (from 33,169 in 2009-10 to 26,947), largely due to Leproux's successful anti-hooliganism crackdown, but the football on offer at the Parc was attractive. Defensive rock Mamadou Sakho, 21, was elected Ligue 1's young player of the year and Brazilian forward Nene dazzled following his switch from Monaco. The improved performances of Clement Chantome, meanwhile, suggest Claude Makelele's retirement will not be felt too keenly.
Paris have gradually begun to enjoy the fruits of belated investment in their long-neglected academy programme as well. Famed for having let players such as Alou Diarra, Patrice Evra and Abou Diaby slip through the net, PSG last season became the first team to win the national championships at both Under-17 and U-19 level in the same year. Highly rated youngsters like Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and the magnificently christened Neeskens Kebano will not hang around for long if they find their route to the first XI barred by a posse of megastar signings.
Amid rumours that Leonardo will have €150 million (£134m) at his disposal for transfer fees alone, Paris's next moves in the transfer market will give some indication as to the new owners' intentions. Seeking to add depth to a squad that ran out of steam in the run-in, Kombouare has already pinpointed tried and tested Ligue 1 performers such as Valenciennes centre-back Milan Bisevac and Saint-Etienne's Dimitri Payet, but they are not the kind of marquee signings that will establish PSG as a global brand.
Samuel Eto'o, Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Pastore are among the more seductive names to be linked with the club since the takeover, while there is also speculation that Leonardo will arrive accompanied by an up-and-coming Brazilian talent such as the elegant Santos playmaker Ganso or, more probably, Sao Paulo's 18-year-old attacking midfielder Lucas.
Leproux insists PSG's objective for next season remains a top-three finish, and Champions League qualification, but Gameiro says he already has his eyes on the title. Either way, one thing is certain: PSG are unlikely to slip off the sports pages any time soon.