Paris Saint-Germain need Champions League success to justify big spending

Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery walks onto the training field to prepare the team for the crunch clash with Real Madrid. (Reuters)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Paris Saint-Germain need Champions League success to justify big spending

LONDON: The league is theirs, as it always seemed it would be once they had reacted to last season’s slip-up by arranging the two most expensive transfers of all time. But league successes barely register any more. Such is PSG’s dominance that the league, although they have only won it six times in their history, no longer brings fulfilment; all it offers is the potential for an embarrassment like last season’s. For them, as for so many of the super-clubs, the Champions League is the only competition that counts.
They’re averaging over three goals per game in the French league and they broke the goalscoring record for the group stage, banging in 25 goals in their six games but the truth is none of that really matters either. Perhaps PSG don’t have to win the Champions League this season, but after a summer of astonishing investment there certainly needs to be a good performance in the competition, and that means not going out in the last 16, even if they have been drawn against the defending champions, Real Madrid.
The pressure is extraordinary, on Neymar in particular. This is the year in which he is expected to redeem the failure of the last World Cup and lead Brazil to glory in Russia, but it’s also a year in which PSG’s owners need him to offer at least some evidence that he will provide a return on their spending. Such is the interest in Brazil that Wednesday’s judging in the carnival in Rio de Janeiro has been moved earlier to make sure everybody is finished in time to watch the game.
Behind it all lies a huge irony, the strange sense that all the investment PSG have made in order to become a European force might actually count against them. This is a problem the former Liverpool midfielder Igor Biscan identified during his time at Dinamo Zagreb a decade ago, when they were midway through a run off 11 straight Croatian championship successes.
His team, he explained, won easily almost every week. The defenders’ job became about delivering good balls to the forward; they forgot how to defend. Everybody, meanwhile, forgot how to fight. What that meant was that as soon as Dinamo came up against any sort of resistance, as they did in Europe, even against a team of players less talented than them, they struggled to impose themselves and their soft center was exposed. That problem is now afflicting teams in leagues much more highly rated than Croatia’s.
Might Bayern have won the Champions League under Pep Guardiola with greater case-hardening at home? Might Juventus be more effective if they didn’t keep dominating Serie A? PSG have only to think back to last season’s last 16 tie against Barcelona to be aware of their own vulnerability. When they were on top, in the home leg, they found Barca, almost equally unused to defending, acquiescent and won 4-0. At the Camp Nou, though, they were so frozen by the prospect of a side actually attacking them that they let in four goals in the final seven minutes.
The tie as a whole was thrilling but it also served as a warning about the dangers of the financial disparities in modern football. Good teams, frankly, shouldn’t buckle as Barca did in Paris and they certainly shouldn’t capitulate as PSG did in Barcelona. It’s not even an issue of having good defenders: PSG could buy as many as they wanted.
Their back four as it stands — Dani Alves, Marquinhos, Thiago Silva and Layvin Kuzawa, with Thomas Meunier, Presnel Kimpembe and Yuri as back up — is perfectly serviceable (with perhaps slight doubts about Dani Alves’ continued ability to get up and down the flank). The issue, though, is one of practice. It doesn’t matter how strong you are — if you don’t use a muscle it will get flabby.
PSG are not the only side facing that problem, but they are perhaps the club most obviously afflicted. And it is brought into sharper relief by the sense that they need European success. Splash out all that money and if you don’t start producing, you soon look pretty silly.


London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

Updated 16 August 2018
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London clash between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad a chance to showcase Saudi football to the world, says SAFF

  • Super Cup final in UK capital can boost Saudi football's image around the world, claims SAFF official
  • SAFF defends number of foreign players allowed to play in Saudi Pro League claiming they help raise the standard.

LONDON: Saturday’s Super Cup final between Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad in London will not just be a great experience for the players, but also a chance to showcase the best of Saudi Arabian football on an international stage ahead of what should be a season to remember.
That is according to Luai Al-Subaiey, the General Secretary of the Saudi Arabia Football Federation (SAFF)ahead of the cup clash at Loftus Road, the home of Queen’s Park Rangers. The match is the traditional season curtain-raiser that features the champions and the winners of the King’s Cup. And with holding fixtures overseas a growing trend in modern football, Al-Subaiey told Arab News the decision to play the match in London was a no-brainer.
“Club teams from one country playing in another country is commonplace,” Al-Subaiey said.
“Teams from the English, German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese leagues played in the US this summer. The Spanish Super Cup was played in Morocco last week.
“We do it because it is good for our players to gather more international experience, to learn what it’s like to play in large overseas stadia, and of course, there is a large Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern population living and working in London, (roughly) 300,000 people there.”
Al-Subaiey and Co. are confident that a great game in London this Saturday will be a springboard to a great season to come, especially with leading clubs in the country active in the international transfer market.
With eight overseas players allowed in Saudi Arabian teams in the upcoming Saudi Pro League season, there have been concerns that opportunities for local talent could be reduced. Al-Subaiey, however, believes that importing quality players can only be a good thing.
“Foreign players in the Saudi League will help improve the quality of football,” he said.
“But it also needs to be managed and balanced with the need to nourish domestic talent and provide our homegrown players with a pathway to the top.”
International stars such as Omar Abdulrahman have a part to play in the development of the Saudi Pro League and its ambition to be one of the leading leagues in the world. The United Arab Emirates playmaker joined Al-Hilal earlier in August in a season-long loan deal worth a reported $15 million — the second highest in football history.
As well as Abdulrahman, Al-Hilal have signed Peruvian international Andre Carrillo, who scored at the World Cup this summer, as well as former Barcelona defender Alberto Botia. Al-Nassr have bought Nigerian international Ahmed Musa from Leicester City and Nordin Amrabat from Watford.
“Has Wayne Rooney added something to DC United and the MLS? Has Omar Abdulrahman added to Al-Hilal? Of course, additions like these improve the quality of football,” Al-Subaiey said. “For the fans, these players bring excitement, and for the clubs and their league, these players bring a higher profile and greater attention — but there is something deeper too.”
For the official, what the best players bring is attitude and the utmost professionalism.
“Central to high performance sport is the right mindset. People like Rooney and Abdulrahman bring a great work ethic and possess great skills — but they also possess a professional mindset. And the young players who will work with them will see this, experience this — and learn from this.”
If all goes according to plan Saudi Arabia will qualify for the 2022 World Cup and perhaps even
progress to the second round for the first time since 1994. In Russia the Green Falcons started off with a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of the hosts in the opening game in Moscow. The team tightened up before losing narrowly to Uruguay, and then going on to beat Egypt 2-1 in the final game.
“We were absolutely delighted to be at the World Cup,” Al-Subaiey said.
“As you can tell with teams like Italy, Holland and the USA not qualifying and teams like Germany and Argentina not progressing (far in the tournament), the standard of play in international football is very high.
“Our particular group was quite challenging, and our initial game against host Russia, one of the biggest surprises of the World Group, was a difficult first match. Our final game, our win against Egypt, was a World Cup high point for our team. It was a match our young players and our national program can build on.”