It’s nice to know that it’s not just the Premier League whose ceremonial opening game is taken as seriously as it deserves. On Saturday night, Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux played in their version of the Charity Shield, the Trophee de Champions. As you’d expect from what is fundamentally a friendly, the line-ups we patchy and the commitment to performance was even less than that.
With Edinson Cavani and Marquinhos not starting, and with the use of such stellar substitutes as Hervin Ongenda, a five-feet, eight-inches tall eighteen-year-old, it was clear that this was a match being used as practice, and little else. Bordeaux, equally, are adjusting after changes made to their squad, losing Anthony Modeste and Benoit Tremoulinas for 11 million euros, and reinforcing with a 33-year-old Jeremie Brechet and little-known Lucas Orban. Despite taking the lead, the match in Gabon ended with a 96th minute PSG winner for Alex, who one would assume will be sat on his buttocks sooner rather than later now that Marquinhos has been bought.
So, while the match was a friendly, it continued the kind of story we’re used to from PSG. Not hugely impressive given the massive amount of petrodollars they’ve been heaving around with gay [Paris] abandon, but still with such an advantage in resources and talent that victory was almost certainly inevitable. PSG have added again this summer, and were it not for Monaco one would assume that Ligue Un was theirs for as long as they wanted it, and that the focus could be shifted to the Champions League.
There has been one signing to show off the length and girth of their bank account – Edinson Cavani, who didn’t feature in the Trophee match – from Napoli, for 64 million euros. It made sense to reinforce the attacking resources with the exit of Kevin Gameiro to Sevilla, but to spend quite so much money to add to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura seems like the actions of a gratuitously rich club. A younger striker with potential would have been a cleverer use of money, but only if money is limited.
Elsewhere, though, the purchases have been far more reasonable. With a centre back pairing of Thiago Silva and Alex, PSG had a partnership of the best centre back in the world, and Alex. That was fine for Ligue Un, but with the addition of Marquinhos, who has played just 36 league games in Brazil and Italy, they have someone with the potential to become a great for the club. Most importantly, Mamadou Sakho will never have to be played again except in huge emergencies. You would assume these emergencies would be the passing of legislation saying that each club must play a man called, ‘Mamadou Sakho,’ and that changing the name of existing players is ruled out in the small print.
At left-back, they now have Lucas Digne from Lille. Digne has represented France all the way up to the Under-20 level. While Marquinhos might have cost a fancy 35 million euros, Digne came in at a more reasonable 15 million euros. He’s just 20, but is regarded as an excellent prospect, so much so that it was from under the noses of Monaco, who aren’t shy about recruiting the best talent, that PSG bought him. With Digne on board, PSG can now look to a back four of genuine quality, able to phase out both Alex and the limited but reliable Maxwell. Up front, they have as much talent as anyone else, and with Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti in midfield, they are perhaps only a couple of wide players away from one of the best squads in Europe, and able to see off Monaco’s challenge in the coming years.
Because, of course, Monaco are yet another club in an increasingly tedious line of souped-up funsters with money from ‘non-traditional’ sources. Because PSG were taken over when they were in Ligue Un already, they had some players who did not need to be replaced, and who were acclimatised to the requirements. Monaco, however, are a different case. Their squad is a Ligue 2 squad, added to with hysterically expensive signings. While not by design, they recall the Zidanes y Pavones philosophy in the extremes of talents.
Given the average life expectancy of a human is between 50 and 80, depending on your country, genes and lifestyle, it is probably most practical to simply list their signings this summer. Radamel Falcao, Jeremy Toulalan, Joao Moutinho, Anthony Martial, Borja Lopez, Nicolas Isimat-Mirin, Ricardo Carvalho and Eric Abidal have all joined for around 150 million Euros (not each). It is fair to say their owner does not want for money, and now, neither do they. Such are the numbers added to the squad that in a recent friendly at Leicester, they were able to substitute every player who started the match (though 15 players have also left, including those on loan). The quality is obvious, and on the same day PSG struggled against Bordeaux, Monaco humped Spurs 5-2. Of course, there is little point judging a team on its non-competitive results, but with the squad they now have, they are plainly just a couple of transfer windows away from the Champions League. While Falcao and Moutinho are obviously superb, the winger Lucas Ocampos set up two goals, and scored another, and might be the most exciting of all the players in their first Ligue Un campaign.
The only limiting factor, it appears, is the manager. Monaco are untroubled by tax, and can offer footballers the type of easy glamour that footballers, on the whole, appear to enjoy. They can offer the Champions League either next season or almost certainly the season after. But they also have Claudio Ranieri as a manager. He seems affable, but he doesn’t seem exceptionally talented. As coach, he appears able to construct the foundations of a team, and then let Jose Mourinho take over and actually win things. That might be unfair, but there’s no great evidence to suggest why that is.
Of course, with both these clubs, the players and managers talk about just what amazing projects they are, and how the fans are incredibly important, and that, really, no, please let me re-emphasise just how much the charm of the project has seduced me into dedicating my life to this club. It’s plainly the money that is doing it, and very little else. To suggest otherwise is insulting sophistry. While it has skewed the French league, it is not without benefits. Ultimately, PSG needed a relaunch, and it would never have happened with the previous infrastructure. Monaco was falling apart in Ligue 2, its performances matching the crowd size rather than its history. The economic crisis was going to have its effect on clubs like Lyon, Lille and Bordeaux, with almost no money spent this year. In a couple of years, it will get as boring as the Scottish Premier League, but for now the novelty maintains interest.