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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

PSG, all-conquering in France, still no nearer to pledge of winning Champions League 'within five years'

  • 7-1 win over closest challengers Monaco on Sunday saw PSG reclaim Ligue 1 title
  • Face Caen in French Cup semi-final as Unai Emery's side chase a domestic treble
  • French club's finances subject of Uefa FFP investigation
Paris Saint-Germain players celebrate after beating rivals Monaco 7-1 at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Victory saw PSG crowned Ligue 1 champions. AFP
Paris Saint-Germain players celebrate after beating rivals Monaco 7-1 at the Parc des Princes in Paris. Victory saw PSG crowned Ligue 1 champions. AFP

Barely a quarter of the match had passed when Paris Saint-Germain scored their fourth goal on Sunday. This to wrap up the Ligue 1 title; this against the reigning champions, Monaco, who are on course to finish as France’s runners-up. It was no so much a question of snatching the main prize back as a leisurely repossession, the holders opening the front door to cordially invite the bailiffs in and offering them a cup of tea while they took back what belonged to them.

So it was that PSG claimed their fifth French championnat in six years, two weeks after they had beaten Monaco 3-1 in the League Cup final. On Wednesday, they have a French Cup semi-final against Caen, and if they win that, they will meet lower-division opposition in the final: a domestic treble is very much on the cards, and the main part of it has a been a waltz. The eventual scoreline on Sunday at the Parc des Princes was 7-1, the rout of Monaco achieved without their star player, the injured Neymar.

At 17 points clear at the top with five games to go, it looks, once again, all too easy for PSG to lord it over the rest of French football, and there is a growing irony about the club – approaching the seventh anniversary of their takeover by ambitious, wealthy investors from Qatar – racking up these one-sided thrashings. With every one of the seven goals that were put past Monaco on Sunday, you could almost imagine talented players watching from abroad thinking: "Hmm, there’s another reason not to join PSG."

It is a little contradictory, but the relationship between PSG’s dominance of their own domestic environment and the seasonal failure to go beyond the last eight of the Uefa Champions League – the club’s owners set winning that competition "within five years" as their target when they bought in to PSG in 2011 – is now explicit. PSG left-back Yuri Berchiche spelled it out at the weekend. “The weekend opponents of PSG aren’t strong enough,” the Spaniard told Le Journal du Dimanche. “It is useful to have hard tests at weekends. You look at Spain, and there’s a closer match between Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid that means they are better prepared when it comes to the big games in Europe.”

The evidence is compelling. Barcelona and Real Madrid have eliminated PSG from the Champions League at the last-16 stage the past two seasons. And the only Ligue 1 semi-finalists in that competition since 2011 have been not PSG but Monaco, last year – after which PSG promptly signed on loan the player, Kylian Mbappe, who had galvanised Monaco during their surge through the knockout stages.

So Mbappe on Sunday collected his second Ligue 1 title in 12 months. He turns 20 in December and in June will formalise his move that could rise to €180 million (Dh819m), having spent the current season at PSG on loan, a delaying device designed to set the mammoth fee into a distinct financial year from the €222 million (Dh1 billion) PSG paid Barcelona for Neymar last July.

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More on PSG:

Analysis: Uefa's FFP inquiry threatens to 'undermine' PSG's ambitions on and off the pitch

aUefa face 'difficult challenge' over handling of PSG's alleged financial violations, say analysts

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These two hefty outgoings keep the PSG bills rising ever higher and the budgetary distance between PSG and the likes of Monaco, Marseille and Lyon ever wider. Talents, such as Mbappe, from all those clubs may look at PSG, and its salaries, with envy, but they too acknowledge that what Berchiche says has some truth: what you learn as a PSG player is limited by the shortcomings of those who share the domestic classroom.

But every champion should be hailed. Sunday’s festival of goals took PSG beyond 100 for the league campaign. Edinson Cavani hit his 25th Ligue 1 goal. Afterwards, manager Unai Emery accepted the congratulations while preparing for his inevitable departure. Emery was recruited to upgrade the club as a European force, his success with Sevilla in the Europa League a recommendation, but he has failed to replicate it in Europe's premier competition. He looks likely to be replaced by Thomas Tuchel, young, German and formerly of Borussia Dortmund.

The new man will be the fifth in charge since the 2011 takeover. He will inherit domestic champions, perhaps treble-winners, and some issues. PSG’s adherence to Uefa’s Financial Fair Play guidelines, which attempt to balance income with spending, is under scrutiny. Neymar is said to be frustrated at the confines of Ligue 1, and, for all the expenditure – more than €1.5bn under the current ownership – on playing and training resources, there are gaps in the make-up of the squad, particularly in central midfield.

“I have seen the club grow stronger and stronger,” said Javier Pastore, who at the beginning of the bold refit of PSG, seven years ago, became French football’s record signing, at just shy of €40m. Hyperinflation at the club has left him as little more than a footnote, but he was still saying the right things at the celebrations of his fifth Ligue 1 title: “One day, this club will win the Champions League.”

FFP EXPLAINED

What is Financial Fair Play?
Introduced in 2011 by Uefa, European football’s governing body, it demands that clubs live within their means. Chiefly, spend within their income and not make substantial losses.

What the rules dictate? 
The second phase of its implementation limits losses to €30 million (Dh136m) over three seasons. Extra expenditure is permitted for investment in sustainable areas (youth academies, stadium development, etc). Money provided by owners is not viewed as income. Revenue from “related parties” to those owners is assessed by Uefa's “financial control body” to be sure it is a fair value, or in line with market prices.

What are the penalties? 
There are a number of punishments, including fines, a loss of prize money or having to reduce squad size for European competition – as happened to PSG in 2014. There is even the threat of a competition ban, which could in theory lead to PSG’s suspension from the Uefa Champions League.