x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Optimism amid despair for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1

Montpellier are looking good for the Ligue 1 title but the long term signs are still good for Carlo Ancelotti's men.

Paris Saint-Germain's Argentinian midfielder Javier Pastore (L) vies for the ball with Caen's French midfielder Gregory Proment (R) during the French L1 football match between Caen and PSG on March 17, 2012 at the Michel D'Ornano Stadium in Caen. AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU
Paris Saint-Germain's Argentinian midfielder Javier Pastore (L) vies for the ball with Caen's French midfielder Gregory Proment (R) during the French L1 football match between Caen and PSG on March 17, 2012 at the Michel D'Ornano Stadium in Caen. AFP PHOTO / CHARLY TRIBALLEAU

The Montpellier fans seethed injustice during last Sunday's key title match against Lille, the reigning champions. The surprise league leaders had seen several decisions go against them and they were certain who was at fault, with the whole stadium accusing "Paris" of "buying" the referee.

The provincial mistrust of the capital and their biggest club evaporated with a 94th-minute winner which keeps Montpellier three points clear of Paris Saint-Germain going into tomorrow's final Ligue 1 games.

Montpellier, operating on the league's 13th largest playing budget, need only to avoid defeat at already relegated Auxerre to become champions for the first time in their history. PSG, who play away at 14th-placed Lorient are the only team who can stop them.

Montpellier are favourites with Zinedine Zidane saying: "If Montpellier are champions at the end of the season, they will heartily deserve it."

If they do win, it's expected to be a one off.

"Everyone knows that PSG will win the league season after season, they are a war machine who will spend far more than anybody else," said Montpellier's outspoken president Louis Nicollin recently.

He wants to stop his playmaker Younes Belhanda moving north to the Parc des Prince in the close season. Sadly for Montpellier, money usually talks and Paris have been far richer than any other French club since the Qatar Investment Authority became the main shareholder in 2011 and then took complete control a year later in a deal which valued the whole club at just €100 million (Dh480m).

The potential for a relatively low cost was clear; Paris is Europe's second biggest city and boasts only one major football club.

PSG have enjoyed average crowds of over 40,000 for the last decade in their 48,712 capacity home, yet they have been perennial underachievers domestically and barely made a mark in European competition and are ranked 46th by Uefa.

The new owners set about changing that and spent €108m on new players this season, more than any club in the world. Despite France having five different champions in the last five years, PSG were clear favourites to win the league this year, but Montpellier's rise has thrown a temporary spanner in the works.

PSG's big name signing, the €39.8m Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore, has done well. As has the French international winger Jeremy Menez who lines up in a front three which includes the sublime Brazilian Nene, but their defence has leaked more goals than Brest in 16th place.

Better was expected and despite the attacking football played by their popular coach Antoine Kombouare, he was dismissed after PSG crashed out of the Europa League and French Cup in December. Kombouare could feel aggrieved as PSG were three points clear at the top of the table, but his position had been in doubt after PSG failed to make the Champions League the previous season.

Carlo Ancelotti took charge on December 30 and the Italian, who was previously at Chelsea, took the English coach Paul Clement with him as his assistant.

PSG have allowed their three-point lead to slip to a three-point deficit, but Clement maintains everything is going to plan. "The owners have made it clear there's a big project for the future here," he said. "It's a new challenge for Carlo.

"When he joined Juventus, Milan or Chelsea, they were already big, established clubs. At PSG, the potential is massive. The owners are really passionate and excited about investing and making this club a major force in European football.

"It's a different type of challenge. It's about developing a project and being part of making this club. It's exciting. I know Carlo is really happy."

PSG may miss out on the title, but they have reached next season's Champions League, where they could face Malaga, another team with Qatari owners who have reached the competition for the first time.

Further big name signings are likely at both clubs in the close season as Paris aims to have a football club which finally matches the global status of the city.

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