PSG makes state­ment with Ney­mar sign­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SA­MUEL PETREQUIN

PARIS — For many years, Paris Saint-Ger­main was syn­ony­mous with huge un­der-achieve­ment on the field, overt racism in the stands and fan vi­o­lence out­side the sta­dium.

By sign­ing Ney­mar for a world record trans­fer fee, PSG and its wealthy Qatari own­ers have defini­tively closed that chap­ter of the club’s his­tory.

Out goes the old im­age of work­ing-class Paris, and in comes a new era where glitz, glam­our and money count for ev­ery­thing.

To se­cure the ser­vices of the Barcelona for­ward, PSG splashed 222 mil­lion eu­ros ($262 mil­lion US) — dou­ble the pre­vi­ous world record trans­fer of 105 mil­lion eu­ros (then $116 mil­lion) paid last year by Manch­ester United for France mid­fielder Paul Pogba.

Yet that level of spend­ing, though breath­tak­ing, is not as sur­pris­ing as it first seems.

Since Qatar Sports In­vest­ments took over PSG in 2011 with the aim of turn­ing it into a world-class club, the own­ers have made it clear they are will­ing to spend big.

In the sum­mer of 2011, QSI sig­nalled its in­ten­tions by sign­ing Javier Pa­s­tore for 42 mil­lion eu­ros from Ital­ian club Palermo. The spree that fol­lowed in­cluded Thi­ago Motta (11.5 mil­lion eu­ros), Thi­ago Silva (42 mil­lion), Zlatan Ibrahi­movic (21 mil­lion), Eze­quiel Lavezzi (29 mil­lion), Marco Ver­ratti (12 mil­lion), Lu­cas Moura (40 mil­lion), Edin­son Ca­vani (64.5 mil­lion) and An­gel Di Maria (63). That’s a whop­ping 325 mil­lion eu­ros ($385 mil­lion).

While the will­ing­ness to shat­ter the world trans­fer record is clear enough, Ney­mar’s ar­rival is harder to un­der­stand from a sport­ing stand­point.

Fol­low­ing Ibrahi­movic’s de­par­ture to Manch­ester United last sum­mer, Ca­vani thrived as PSG’s main striker — fin­ish­ing the sea­son as the French league’s top scorer and bag­ging a re­mark­able 49 goals in 50 games across all com­pe­ti­tions.

With Ney­mar join­ing coach Unai Emery’s sys­tem, it re­mains to be seen whether Ca­vani will be able to re­pro­duce those im­pres­sive fig­ures, es­pe­cially if the Brazil for­ward, who can play on both wings, is used in a more cen­tral po­si­tion.

Ney­mar’s ar­rival has also left many ob­servers won­der­ing why the club hasn’t in­vested in other po­si­tions, since PSG’s at­tack­ing force was clearly not a prob­lem last sea­son.

A pair of top-class de­fen­sive mid­field­ers to help pro­tect a shaky back four that con­ceded six goals to Ney­mar’s for­mer team dur­ing a dis­mal Cham­pi­ons League night last sea­son would seem to be a far more press­ing need.

How­ever, as a pub­lic re­la­tions ex­er­cise, hir­ing Ney­mar def­i­nitely has a lot of ben­e­fits.

The Brazil­ian’s ar­rival will help club pres­i­dent Nasser Al-Khe­laifi in his ef­forts to pro­mote the slick im­age of a fash­ion­able club that is de­ter­mined to suc­ceed on the world stage.

Off the pitch, QSI has helped to rid the Parc des Princes sta­dium of its most vi­o­lent sup­port­ers and has brought sport­ing sta­bil­ity as well as top qual­ity play­ers to PSG.

Those im­prove­ments have come at a cost for the team’s fans, who have seen the price of sea­son tick­ets dou­ble over the past six years, with hold­ers be­ing asked to pay ex­tra to watch Cham­pi­ons League matches.

A num­ber of protests have been held in re­cent sea­sons by long­stand­ing sup­port­ers who sus­pect the club of try­ing to at­tract a wealth­ier de­mo­graphic to the Parc des Princes.

The team lis­tened to, and the grad­ual re­turn of PSG’s hard-core fans last sea­son has greatly im­proved the match-day at­mos­phere.

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