This article is the first installment in a series profiling various Ligue 1 teams for the 2016/17 season.
Utter. Sheer. Complete. Redonkulous. These are all words describing the domination that Paris Saint-Germain slapped down on the rest of Ligue 1 during their 2015/16 reign of terror. After surprisingly having to squeak by Lyon the previous season, PSG switched to a higher gear and never once let up on the throttle. Their 9-0 romp over Troyes on March 13th served as a microcosm for their season. On that day, Zlatan Ibrahimovic slotted four goals and led the team into the record books. (Granted, Troyes was an awful, last-placed team but still…) After that game, the team took a ginormous 25 point lead over second place Monaco and set the record for the earliest clinching of Ligue 1 at 30 games.
But, as is the case with all major European clubs’ superlative relative to the rest of their domestic competitors, PSG had much higher aspirations than just winning the league. Their eyes were fully set on conquering the Champions League- something they had never achieved before, despite coming close every now and then since the 1990s and even more often in more recent years. Sadly for PSG, fate would yet again fail to crown them as Champion of Champions, even after starting a noble tradition of booting Chelsea out of the tournament every year. Alas, in the quarterfinals, PSG were dispatched by the comparably star-powered Manchester City.
The questions for next season are (1) can PSG maintain their blistering success in Ligue 1, and (2) can they make headway versus their Champions League demons? The answer to the first question is an easy “yes”. With an unlimited pipeline of money from the owners, Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), there is no hope for the rest of Ligue 1, barring some sort of mental collapse on the part of PSG.
The second question is more complicated. With major personnel changes made over the current transfer window, it is unclear how PSG’s quality has changed relative to the rest of their Champions League contemporaries. And if it has, are we to assume the Champions League is not largely a crapshoot anyway? Regardless, PSG do not have one of the top two players in the world, and as such, their ultimate dream of glory is even less likely.
After repeatedly failing to win the big one (in only three years of opportunity), QSI fired manager Laurent Blanc, just months after signing him to a two-year extension because… why not? Money’s no object! In his place, they hired perhaps the one man who can prove my theory about major tournaments being a crapshoot wrong: Unai Emery, who has somehow won the Europa League title three years in a row at Sevilla. People tend not to talk about the second-rate Europa League because it is second-rate, but that consistency is an incredible accomplishment in my mind.
But, Blanc is not even the greatest absence to be felt by PSG in this upcoming year. “I came like a king, left like a legend,” tweeted the ageless wonder Zlatan Ibrahimović himself. In true Zlatan-form, his comment is cocky, brazen, and basically true. After four years of helping PSG dominate Ligue 1 and scoring nearly 1 goal per game on average (113 in 122), Zlatan became a free agent and signed with Jose Mourinho’s new supergroup project in Manchester United.
Though he did not win the Champions League with PSG, and is arguably the greatest player ever to not have won it anywhere, when offering an explanation for his departure, Zlatan said, “If I wanted, I could have stayed five more years. There comes a point when you have done everything. Mission accomplished.” Basically, Ligue 1 really was not good enough. After consistently stagnating in the Champions League, there was no challenge left elsewhere.
To give an idea of Zlatan’s impact on his former club, in the 2015/16 season, he led the league in scoring (38 – which was 17 more than the next highest, Lacazette’s 21!), finished second in assists with 13, 5 lower than his teammate Di Maria’s 18 (8 of which were scored by Zlatan!), and according to WhoScored, led Ligue 1 with an 8.29 average rating per game (only two others finished within 0.5 points – both were Zlatan’s teammates, whose scores likely benefitted from Zlatan’s presence).
As PSG embrace themselves for life after the departure of some very important people and find out to what extent they are replaceable, it could be the beginning of a new era. Or it could be this train that will just keep chugging along, fueled by cheap and plentiful Qatari oil and the dubious dealings therein. At any rate, it will be very exciting to see how well PSG adapts during their 2016/17 season…for PSG fans. It will probably be very boring and more of the same for everyone else.
Kit Rating: 6.5 out of 10
PSG’s 2016/17 kit design represents a marked departure from previous years. The vertical strip on the home kit is no longer a block of red, or blocks of red and white, but is rather composed of many miniature stripes, as if emphasizing a new team approach that says, “Individually we are many thin pieces of spaghetti. But together, we are a mighty, unbeatable thick stripe!” Yet, the more understated shades of their typical color scheme allow the team to quietly mourn the departure of the important men of yesteryear who have since moved on. Their solid red away kit, on the other hand, is just wrong. You need to decide if you are going to be a blue team or a red team. None of this loosey goosey mismatch mess.