Tomorrow night Paris Saint-Germain roll up to Celtic Park.
So what better time than now to have a look at our illustrious guests.
Formed in 1970 they are only 47 years old.
Strange to think that only 3 months after we had lost in the 1970 European Cup final to Feyenoord and were regarded as one of the power houses of European club football, that tomorrow nights opposition were only just coming into existence.
They were originally concocted via merging Paris FC – who themselves had only come into being the previous year – and lower league Stade Saint-Germain to form the club we know now. They were originally based in the latter half of the partnerships home town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which is a wealthy suburb of the French capital situated about 12 miles north of the city centre and played at the Stade Municipal Georges Lefèvre ground.
By 1972 Paris FC was reborn as a separate entity from PSG after the city’s mayor refused to lend any support to a non-Parisian based club.
As a result, Paris FC retained the right to the combined entity’s professional and 1st division status as well as all of the full-time players.
Meanwhile, PSG were allowed to keep all of the amateur players and were relegated to the old 3rd division of the French footballing pyramid.
The following year though PSG’s fledgling misfortunes began to turn when they were taken over by fashion designer Daniel Hechter and installed legendary former French football star Just Fontaine as their manager. Under his guidance, they gained back to back promotions to the top flight from the 3rd tier via finishing runners up in the western regional league in 72/73′ and the following year finishing runners up again this time in Group B of the 2nd tier.
As you can probably tell the make-up of the various different tiers below the top one in French football was a pretty convoluted set-up back in the 70’s.
Ironically as PSG was climbing up the leagues, Paris FC was tumbling down them and as a result, PSG took ownership of Paris FC’s former stadium the Parc des Princes upon their entrance into the top flight. It remains their home to this day with their training facilities still based in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Stade Municipal Georges Lefèvre still acts as the home ground for their academy teams.
On the field, things continued to progress throughout the 1970’s with star players such as Argentinian internationalist Carlos Bianchi signed in 1977 and off it Hechter sold his controlling share in the club to multi-millionaire businessman Francis Borelli in 1978 after getting himself banned from football for life by the French Football Federation following a double ticketing scandal at the Parc des Princes.
Borelli would steward PSG to significant success throughout the 80s, capturing back to back Coup de France trophies in 82′ & 83′ as well as hiring and firing 10 different managers in the process. Undoubtedly though his best appointment was that of Gérard Houllier who led the Red-and-Blues to the 1985-86 season French Ligue 1 championship, their first ever top flight league title. Houllier meanwhile would go onto gain significant success with Liverpool in the early 2000’s.
At that time the Parisian club was a dynamic side and boasted such talents as Yugoslavian internationalist attacking midfielder Safet Suši, goal scoring winger Dominique Rocheteau as well as defensive midfielder Luis Fernández.
Both Rocheteau and Fernández were regular starters in the sublime Michel Platini captained French national side of the 80’s that finished 4th and 3rd respectively at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups as well as winning the 1984 UEFA European Championships on home soil.
At that time the Parisian club was a dynamic side and boasted such talents as Yugoslavian internationalist attacking midfielder Safet Suši, goal scoring winger Dominique Rocheteau as well as defensive midfielder Luis Fernández. Both Rocheteau and Fernández were regular starters in the sublime Michel Platini captained French national side of the 1980’s that finished 4th and 3rd respectively at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups as well as winning the 1984 UEFA European Championships on home soil.
Borelli was bought out by broadcasters Canal+ in the early 90s and bankrolled by the premium cable subscription service the club became an established European force. From 1991 until 1998, under the tutelage of originally Portugal’s Artur Jorge, followed by their ex-midfielder Fernández and then Brazil’s Ricardo they won three French Cups, two French League Cups, two French League 1 titles and the UEFA Cup Winners Cup.
It was of course during their successful 1995–96 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup campaign that we encountered them for the one and only time in club competition before tomorrow night’s game.
Having re-entered European football after an uncustomary one season absence as a result of capturing the 1995 Scottish Cup there was a pretty euphoric sense of optimism around the European adventure at Celtic. We were back at Celtic Park, had added German internationalist Andreas Thom to the squad for a club record fee to partner the already impressive Dutch striker Pierre Van Hooijdonk and were playing a brand of confident free flowing football not seen in the east end of Glasgow for some years.
Georgia’s Dinamo Batumi were swept aside easily 7-2 on aggregate in the first round and as we headed to Paris expectations were high.
The match wasn’t shown on TV so in order to watch it, you either had to take a flight out to the French capital and hope for the best in regards to getting a ticket or you could show up at Celtic Park where Fergus McCann was trialing a big screen on the pitch beam back service.
Needless to say, the beam back didn’t work out too well with smoke emitting from beneath it at half-time causing confused men in hi-vis jackets and overalls to run around in distress before eventually getting it working again.
Fergus never tried that one again.
On the field, Celtic, cheered on by a large travelling support, were largely outplayed and were lucky to escape with only a 1-0 defeat courtesy of a second half Youri Djorkaeff strike. Big Pierre had a chance to score with a header but fluffed it. He later blamed the floodlights getting in his eyes. A likely story.
In the home leg, we had little luck and not much of the ball either.
PSG put on a master class and hammered us 3-0.
I was in attendance that night and it was a stark reminder that though we were gradually becoming pretty formidable domestically we were still miles off being a force on the continent. In fairness though that PSG team was a great side. It boasted the talents of goalkeeper Bernard Lama, Alain Roche, Paul Le Guen (insert smiley face), Daniel Bravo, Vincent Guérin, the aforementioned Djorkaeff, strikers Bruno N’Gotty and Patrice Loko as well as Brazilian World Cup winner Rai. Not only did they win the competition that year but reached the final again the following season only to come up short against Bobby Robson’s Ronaldo inspired Barcelona team.
In many ways, we were actually lucky to face that PSG side and not the one that came before it. In the previous 3 years, they had reached the semi finals of all 3 major European competitions, including the Champions League semi finals the season before. In their ranks at that time was David Ginola who went onto star at Newcastle Utd and George Weah, one of the most outstanding attacking players I’ve ever seen who had been sold to AC Milan in the summer of 95′ for about £6 million.
That was about as good as it got for PSG.
In 2001 they signed Ronaldinho from Grêmio who played alongside Jay-Jay Okochaand and striker Nicolas Anelka in an exciting side but they never reached their potential and eventually lost the mesmeric Brazilian for €30million in the summer of 2003 to Barcelona where he became a footballing icon. Various managers came and went including the returning Luis Fernández who couldn’t repeat his mid 90’s success and Paul Le Guen who picked up the reigns after his doomed period at Ibrox came to an end.
But then came one of the most significant moves in the history of not only PSG but indeed of world football when the club was acquired by the Oryx Qatar Sports Investments group, a closed shareholding organization founded in 2005 and domiciled in Doha, Qatar.
To all intents and purposes, they are financially backed by the oil rich Qatari monarchy.
Their chairman is former tennis-pro Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who is also the Chief Executive Officer of beIN Media Group and under his guidance, the club has in the past 6 years won 12 domestic trophies as well as 4 league championships all of which came back to back. Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti began the sequence of title wins before departing for Real Madrid in 2013 and the bulk of the subsequent success has been achieved under manager Laurent Blanc who vacated the hot seat for Spanish coach Unai Emery to take over last summer.
Despite winning all 3 domestic knockout trophies in his maiden year Emery was unable to guide his charges to a 5th consecutive title, missing out in 2nd place to a young, vibrant Monaco team last season who remain their biggest obstacle to all out domestic dominance, though probably Emery’s biggest failure was throwing away a 4-0 home, first leg win against Barcelona in the last 16 of last season’s Champions League when they were stunningly defeated 6-1 at the Nou Camp.
Somehow Emery has been able to avoid the chop despite losing out in the only two competitions that really matter to the Paris giants.
He will, of course, be in the dugout tomorrow night.
On the field, he will be overseeing a team assembled for hundreds of millions of pounds.
PSG have of course been, to say the least, flashing the cash in recent years and not more so than this summer when they smashed the world transfer record fee by paying Barcelona a reputed £198 million for Brazilian star Neymar. They have also brought in 18-year-old sensation Kylian Mbappé from rivals Monaco for a season long loan with a guarantee to buy. Mbappé scored 26 goals in 44 games last season, helping Monaco win the Ligue 1 title and reach the Champions League semi-finals in the process.
The fee for him is rumoured to be in the region of £160 million.
It goes without saying, you’re not exactly going on loan to someone if they make a guarantee of purchase at the end of it. It’s really just a way of PSG trying to get round breaching financial fair play rulings, something that they have likely done already via the fee they paid for Neymar alone.
Over the past 7 seasons, Qatar Sports Investments have financed PSG to the tune of a quite staggering £855 million in the transfer market. In the opposite direction, a mere £175 has come in via player sales. So the net spend has been an eye watering £680 million approximately on players.
You have to laugh at claims the reason they are flying over with the youth team and are only arriving 24hrs in advance of the match is so as to save money.
At least they have a sense of humour.
Of course, the Neymar deal has taken the already insane transfer market to a new level of lunacy, so much so that even Barcelona, whose own finances have seen them in hot water and under various investigations in the past decade, have demanded an investigation and complained that they can’t compete.
Whilst my heart hardly bleeds for Barca, whose real gripe is that there’s a cat in the alley even fatter than them now, it does rather put into perspective where we are now in the grand scheme of things financially.
Our record transfer outlay on a single player remains tied on the £6 million we spent in the summer of 2000 on Chris Sutton and again 12 months later on John Hartson.
Whilst PSG blitz their transfer record season on season ours has remained frozen in ice for the past 16 years.
Any expectations we were going to break it this summer ended in disappointment.
Though let’s be honest would a £7 million or £10million player for that matter really make much of a difference against a team with an estimated market value of three-quarters of a billion pounds? Probably not.
Of course, the aforementioned Neymar and Mbappé aren’t the only two we have to worry about.
There’s also the small matter of Marquinhos, Brazil captain Thiago Silva, Layvin Kurzawa, Dani Alves, Thiago Motta, Marco Veratti, Javier Pastore, Julian Draxler, Lucas, goal machine Edison Cavani………..you get the picture.
No matter which way you slice it the club’s decision to go with a ‘David vs Goliath’ theme in the build up to advertise the match is more than apt.
Our lions will really need to roar and then some tomorrow night if we are to stand a chance.