In 1994, Paris Saint-Germain became champions of France. The capital side had delivered their second domestic title – eight years after winning their first-ever league trophy. But if eight years had seemed a long time to wait, fans would have wait a while longer for the hat-trick.
On Sunday 12 May 2013, a Jérémy Ménez goal at the Stade de Gerland gave PSG a 1-0 win over Lyon. It was a huge victory, and not just because PSG had finally defeated les Gones at the Gerland for the first time since 2005; it gave les Parisiens their third league title, after 19 years of hurt. Carlo Ancelotti’s side had also exacted neat revenge on Lyon, for 10 years earlier in 2003, les Gones had clinched the title following a 1-0 victory at PSG’s Parc des Princes.
Revenge aside, PSG’s third title triumph was important because it finally handed the club’s ambitious owners, Qatar Sports Investments, their first piece of silverware since taking over in 2011. And the domestic crown was certainly part of QSI’s long-term plan for the club. When the Qataris arrived in Paris, they outlined their aim to achieve success in both Europe and in France by investing millions of Euros into the squad.
Naturally, such investment meant Ancelotti and his players were under huge pressure to win the league this season – and in some style too. PSG’s title loss to Montpellier last year simply added to the team’s burden this time around. And events in recent weeks exemplified just how much pressure the team was under.
In late April, PSG recorded a 1-0 win at Evian, but it was far from a straightforward victory. Ancelotti’s side had no fewer than three players sent off in an ill-tempered end to the game. First, Marco Verratti was sent off in the 81st minute, before the referee showed substitute David Beckham a straight red card for a lunge on Youssef Adnane – just six minutes after coming on.
As tempers flared, PSG assistant coach Claude Makelele was then ordered to the stands for remonstrating with officials. Then goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu and Evian striker Saber Khelifa received red cards after the final whistle following a mass brawl.
The fracas led to questions over the PSG’s discipline at a time when the team needed to focus on clinching the championship. Moreover, the subsequent suspensions would weaken the team; fans feared that players such as Sirigu would be banned for up to eight games.
Luckily for the club, the LFP’s disciplinary committee handed out two-game bans each for Sirigu and Verratti, while Beckham received a one-match ban. PSG assistant sporting director Olivier Letang, on the other hand, was forced to accept a one-month ban for his part in stopping Sirigu from returning to the pitch to receive his red card.
Even so the suspensions meant that PSG were missing several players in their next match, at home to Valenciennes. Coupled with other results going their way, a win could have given them the title – but in yet another contentious game, Ancelotti’s side could only draw 1-1. Referee Alexandre Castro at the heart of the controversy, after he harshly dismissed captain Thiago Silva in the first half for raising his hands to Castro’s chest.
Several of the players confronted the referee after the match but things took another ugly turn when sporting director Leonardo was caught on camera appearing to barge Castro in the tunnel. Club president Nasser Al-Khelaïfi hauled the Brazilian away, and even though Leonardo later claimed he had been pushed into Castro, the league’s disciplinary commission decided to suspend him from all official functions pending further investigation.
Once again, questions were raised about club discipline. And with Marseille’s win cutting the gap at the top to just four points, now PSG had to try to win the league at Lyon. So the pressure was certainly on at the Gerland. But this time, Ménez’s strike ensured les Parisiens delivered.
When the referee blew the final whistle in Lyon, the look on several of the PSG players’ faces showed relief as well as joy. And it was understandable considering the events the team had experienced. After all, the 2012/13 campaign had been a challenging one for the club. PSG were expected to win the league comfortably and make a mark in the Champions League.
While possessing players such as Ligue Un’s top scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic was vital in achieving these aims, Ancelotti has also been key. When the Italian arrived in late December 2011, he had the difficult job of developing a team already leading the league into a title-winning side that could get results in style. After failing to capture the trophy last season, the former Chelsea and AC Milan coach has now answered his critics.
However, it seems that Ancelotti may not stay around in Paris. He confirmed at Ligue 1′s end-of-season awards – where he was named the league’s best coach alongside Saint-Etienne’s Christophe Galtier – that he had asked to leave PSG, and was awaiting the club’s response. President Nasser Al-Khelaïfi responded by saying that it was “not possible” to let the Real Madrid target go because he was still under contract with PSG. However, with Real Madrid confirming that Jose Mourinho will leave the Santiago Bernabéu, it could just be a matter of time before Ancelotti departs the Parc des Princes.
To lose a coach of Ancelotti’s calibre will undoubtedly be disappointing for many PSG fans. But would Ancelotti’s departure also mean a departure for some of the club’s players such as Ibrahimovic, Silva and Verratti – some of who joined the club because of Ancelotti?
According to Leonardo, no. The sporting director confirmed this week that neither Ibrahimovic nor Silva will leave this year – regardless of what happens with Ancelotti. And if PSG are to let the Italian go to Madrid, reports in the Spanish press have suggested that the club will ask for players such as Ángel Di María, Pepe and Fabio Coentrao in return.
However, the issue that still remains is who will replace him in the Parc des Princes dugout. With Mourinho set to join Chelsea and Arsène Wenger confirming his desire to stay at Arsenal, PSG look unlikely to secure any of their preferred managerial replacements this summer. Other names that have been mentioned in the French press in recent days include Rafael Benítez, Fabio Capello, Roberto Mancini, and even Leonardo himself.
At a time when PSG fans should be celebrating the capture of their third league title, they are instead facing uncertainty – if only temporary: Ancelotti’s future could be decided as early as next Monday, with his replacement being announced in the coming weeks.
But whoever coaches PSG next season will be under huge pressure to build on this season’s successes. QSI will expect the new manager to lead the team through the Champions League, going at least one better than their quarter-final this season – while also successfully defending the league title, something that no team has been able to do for the past six years.
Fans will simply hope that regardless of who manages their team next season, they do not have to wait another 19 years for PSG to reign again.