If you have read Stefan Szymanski’s ‘Money and Soccer’, you’ll understand one thing. Money and success go hand in hand in football. Now, you may chuck the question that “What about legacy and history in football? Do they not count for anything?” The answer is ‘they do’. But not quite as it was 1-2 decades ago.
In these years, we have seen clubs rise out of obscurity and mediocrity to gain recognition and honours, both domestic and European. There are two clubs that embody the above statement more than any. Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain.
Since 2008, Manchester City has been under the wing of Sheikh Mansour and City Football Group. Ever since then, the Sky Blues have seen a steady rise to the top of the English football chain. They won their first Premier League title in 2012 and subsequent trophies have followed. They are one of Europe’s most elite clubs albeit a little inexperienced but they have become Champions League regulars now.
Much like City, Paris Saint Germain had a takeover of their own with Qatar Sports Investment or simply the state of Qatar is the sole owners of the French club. They have also experienced a huge upturn in domestic achievements whilst also becoming a known entity in Champions League circles.
Now, this should make you question the title. Fair point. Yet, there remain some stark differences which escapes a casual football fan’s eye. Fear not. Elaborations are on the way.
Both teams have achieved a fair amount of domestic dominance and their next goal is the UEFA Champions League. See, the thing is Europe’s elite competition hasn’t exactly been much kind to the clubs that have tried to buy into success overnight. The usual winners of the competition, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Liverpool and others have a rich history and it has taken them years and years of trying and testing to get to the pinnacle of European glory. Something that you feel is missing from the two teams we’re discussing.
Here is the part where I explain why City has trumped PSG in the game of money and football.
Any club is as good as its administration. You can buy the best players and spend truckloads of money but if the club’s vision is not implemented right, success will be hard to come by. To implement this vision for the club you need people who know the game and not just the money making techniques.
The Corporate structure -
In 2012, the City group recruited two people which would turn out to be masterstrokes and they would be responsible for the framework laid out for progress in the coming years. Who are they? Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain. Soriano was Barcelona’s Vice President for 5 years from 2003 to 2008. Begiristain was Director of Football, also at Barcelona, from 2003 to 2010. You have to realize the fact that these two were responsible, in large part, for the golden years Barcelona had, post-2008. City’s double swoop for them meant that only one piece of the jigsaw was left. We’ll get to that.
PSG also appointed Leonardo Araujo as their Director of Football in 2011 and was responsible for all the transfer dealings. His relative inexperience in the DoF position was evident with his approach towards appointing managers and sanctioning deals for players.
PSG went with the experience of Ancelotti but his only Ligue 1 trophy couldn’t save him. Laurent Blanc oversaw a period of success but his inability to win the Champions League meant that Unai Emery was hired in 2016 due to his expertise in Europe with Sevilla. That also backfired and currently, Thomas Tuchel is at the helm.
City had two-thirds of their puzzle pieces but had to wait till they got their final piece. Despite the relative successes of Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, it was Guardiola who the City head honchos wanted. All the setup was done and Pep’s arrival in 2016 meant that City’s three recruits from Barcelona, Soriano, Begiristain along with Guardiola, would guide City in a direction not too dissimilar to that of Barcelona.
Perhaps the biggest distinction there is between the 2 clubs. Both teams have spent upwards of £ 1 billion but it’s City who have made the smarter and wiser investments.
PSG went gung-ho with their transfers since 2011 with players like Pastore and Motta arriving. The following season was marked with statement signings like Thiago Silva, Verratti, Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and Lavezzi. This trend continued with the subsequent purchases of Cavani, Marquinhos, Di Maria, Draxler, David Luiz, and Kurzawa and so on. But what they did in 2017, no one could have fathomed. They shattered the transfer record and bought Barcelona’s golden boy, Neymar for € 222 million! That not being enough, they pulled in a certain Kylian Mbappe (on loan) with the option to buy him next season for € 135 million. While the signings show intent and ambition, they lack sensibility and long term goals were quite visible in each of the transfer windows where they have had a net spend of more than € 100 million almost every year.
One look at City’s current squad will justify my statement below the subheading. Bit by bit, from 2010, City have bought players that have played a massive role in their transformation from also ran in the Premier League to record breaking champions. David Silva (2010), Aguero, (2011), Fernandinho (2013), De Bruyne, Sterling, Otamendi, Delph (2015), Stones, Sane, Gundogan, Zinchenko, Gabriel Jesus (2016), Walker, Mendy, Laporte, Danilo, Ederson, Bernardo Silva (2017). This just shows you how good City has been in terms of transfer strategy. Yes, they have had some disastrous transfers also like Mangala, Bony, and Balotelli and so on but the thing is they have drastically removed that tendency of going for big names. They have just bought what they needed. Their most expensive signing was Riyad Mahrez for € 69 million this season. City has refrained from going into bidding wars with teams and has refused to bend to the demands of clubs trying to coax more money out of them.
See, spending money in football is now a common thing and a necessary thing more than that. You have to spend and acquire the best players and upcoming talent. Otherwise, your rivals will and leave you in the wake. Just a glance at the last two paragraphs show you how different these clubs have been in terms of transfers but it’s City who are reaping the benefits.
Domestic and Europe -
Let’s face it! The Premier League is one of the toughest leagues out there and it’s not an easy job to win it while there are 3 more competitions to play and the teams from the middle and lower end of the table aren’t exactly pushovers. You show complacency and they will hurt you, possibly derail your season. These mid-table teams are well equipped with finances due to the money distribution in the Premier League and they can easily buy quite some reputed players. This makes them a tricky prospect in terms of opposition, thereby making the Premier League a whole different level of challenge. Guardiola himself found out in his first year with Manchester City when he finished 3rd.
But on the other hand, in France’s Ligue 1, things are a bit simpler with PSG being the only dominant force. The other clubs aren’t exactly backed as well as PSG in financial terms. Yes, AS Monaco did cause an upset but look at what happened. Their title-winning team was torn to shreds as other teams kept buying their best players and PSG snatching their crown jewel, Mbappe. This restored PSG’s position as top dog and they are well on their way to another league title without much fuss.
This translates to their continental form. With a tightly contested Premier League, City are always on their toes and have fared better in Europe with one semifinal appearance and a couple of quarterfinal apps. PSG have only managed a few quarter-final apps in that similar time frame. However, PSG’s last 2 exits in 2017 and 2019 tell you something. The absence of big game mentality. They managed to collapse in the 2nd leg against Barca after taking a seemingly insurmountable lead in the first leg. Against Manchester United, a similar thing happened but this wasn’t a United side even close to the quality of Barcelona from 2 years before. An injury-ravaged team with a caretaker manager humbled the Parisians.
In the last 2 season City have shown what a long term strategy can do for a team and they could well be on their way to a quadruple. Yes, it sounds difficult but when a team scores 9, 7, 6 goals in matches for fun, there’s not much else you should be expecting of them. PSG, on the other hand, will have to be content with domestic success, something that is a given. Their short term approach towards every aspect has put a ceiling on their progress and until they make drastic changes right from the boardroom level, it is hard to imagine PSG anything more than Ligue 1 winners who also ran in the Champions League. Maybe they could learn a thing or two from the blue team in Manchester. Maybe then they could succeed where they failed.