Plenty of money was spent during the January transfer window, with established players like Coutinho, Van Dijk, Sanchez, Aubameyang and Laporte all making moves, but in many ways the most eye catching deal of all was a record breaking transfer involving a 16 year-old with fewer than 10 top flight appearances.

Pietro Pellegri left Genoa to join French Champions Monaco for a fee believed to be around 20 million Euros, becoming the most expensive 16 year-old of all time.

The powerful striker first made headlines in December 2016 when he became the joint youngest player to feature in Serie A at the age of 15 years and 280 days. Pellegri scored his first senior goal at the end of that season, becoming the first player born in the 21st Century to score in Serie A.

Leaving his hometown club at such a tender age is a gamble, but Monaco have a fine track record with young forwards and Pellegri will be hoping the move can take his game to the next level in the way it did for fellow youngsters Anthony Martial and Kylian Mbappé who both used their time in the Principality to announce themselves on the World stage.

Physically imposing for his age, Pellegri has earned comparisons to his idol Zlatan Ibrahimović with the way he can bully defenders with his strength and power, and the youngster will be able to learn from one of the best goalscorers around with Radamel Falcao as his captain and teammate.

Fellow Italian Marco Verratti moved to Ligue 1 at an early age and has since established himself as a star at Paris Saint-Germain and a key member of the Italian National Team. Pellegri will be hoping his move to the Stade Louis II can have a similar transformative effect on his career.







Share this article:

One of the criticisms directed towards Paris Saint-Germain in recent seasons is that they haven’t given their young players a chance. This criticism only grew louder following the sale of academy graduate and captain, Mamadou Sakho, to Liverpool in 2013 for £18M.

Since Sakho’s departure PSG went through a period of losing some of their best graduates, including two of France’s hottest prospects, Moussa Dembélé and Kingsley Coman. Since making his debut, Adrien Rabiot, had struggled to get regular minutes. This led to numerous reports linking him away from the Parc des Princes. Goalkeeper Alphonse Areola had to go out on loan last season to Villarreal to get regular playing time.

This season under new manager Unai Emery, Areola has been given a chance, Rabiot has established himself as first choice and recent graduated Presnel Kimpembe is forcing his way into the team. The next academy graduate who could be joining them is midfielder Christopher Nkunku.

Nkunku made his professional debut against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on 8 December 2015, replacing Lucas Moura after 87 minutes. However, he had to wait until 3 March 2016 before he making his league debut against Montpellier. The teenager then went on to make several more first team appearances after impressing Laurent Blanc in PSG’s run to the UEFA Youth League final.

The teenager is similar to Blaise Matuidi in that he is quick, a hard worker and with good upper body strength. Like with Marco Verratti, he has an eye for a pass, fantastic vision and able to unlock defences. He is also a versatile midfielder who can play on the left wing, where he cuts inside and stretches play, and he can also operate in central midfield (which is his natural position).

Emery has utilised Nkunku’s versatility whilst Rabiot and Pastore have been sidelined through injury. The youngster has grasped this opportunity and impressed towards the tail end of 2016 and start of 2017. He should continue to get playing time and is seen as the natural successor to Matuidi.


Share this article:


Luxembourg is not a country we normally associate with producing great talent but finally someone has arrived who has bags of potential, the youngest player ever to be capped by Luxembourg, 16-year-old Vincent Thill, who is attracting interest far beyond the Grand Duchy.

Thill was born in Luxembourg and started his playing career at Fola Esch, Progrès Niederkorn, Rodange and Pétange before crossing the border to join Metz aged 11. In February 2015, he signed a five-year deal with the French club, who achieved promotion to Ligue 1 last season.

Thill’s parents Serge and Nathalie both represented Luxembourg and his eldest brother Sébastien, 22, also forms part of the national team set-up. Meanwhile Olivier, just 19 and the only right-footer of the siblings, is with the Under-21s. Finally there is Marek, who at six already has a pretty useful left foot.

Thill is more a second striker than a playmaker although he can operate anywhere in attack. His proficiency at free-kicks, one of his major strengths, is already quite astonishing. In October 2015 he scored both Luxembourg goals in UEFA European Under-17 Championship qualifying deploying his set-piece repertoire, from 25 metres against Serbia and from 30 against Austria. His coaches emphasise that even though Thill can easily weave past opponents, he always plays in the interest of his team.

Thill has a long way to go before being compared to Lionel Messi but he admits that the Argentinian is his role model and the similarities are clear: small frame, aptitude for dribbling, ball control and a wonderful left foot. Naturally, many at Metz have also likened him to Pjanić, now with Juventus. Olivier Muet, the Metz academy coach stated that “In terms of talent and intelligence using the ball, there are similarities.”

On 25th March 2016, Vincent Thill replaced Luxembourg captain Mario Mutsch 69 minutes into the friendly with Bosnia and Herzegovina to become his nation’s youngest debutant at 16 years and 50 days old. He came on two minutes after Bosnian substitute Pjanić, who in 2008 opted to represent the country of his birth rather than that of his upbringing, Luxembourg. Luc Holtz, Luxembourg coach said “At the moment he’s not on the same planet as our other young players. It’s a pleasure to watch him play. His strength is that he rarely gets beaten in a challenge. The only way to stop him is to commit a foul.”

On the 21st September this season he made his Ligue 1 debut for Metz playing the final 10 minutes in a 3-0 defeat to Bordeaux. The game was already lost at this point and recent returners from injury have pushed him out of the squad but the future is still bright for one so young. Olivier Muet has recently said “The idea is that, ten years from now, all of Europe knows who Vincent Thill is – not to make him a great young player, but a great player full stop. His humility and those around him make him well-balanced. Coaching this kid is a lot of fun.”

About the author – Liam Bailes

Liam has been a football fanatic since the early 1990s and continues to be delighted by the sport today. He follows the 5 bog European leagues as well as the npower championship and major cup competitions both domestically and internationally. He is an FA level 2 coach and loves to be involved with football at every opportunity.


Share this article:


Last season, OGC Nice outperformed all expectations to finish fourth in Ligue 1.

But over the summer, hopes of repeating such success seemed to fade when they lost manager Claude Puel to Southampton and star player Hatem Ben Arfa joined champions Paris Saint Germain on a free transfer.

However, Les Aiglons, under the tutelage of former Borussia Monchengladbach manager Lucien Favre, are once again flying high.

After 11 league games, Nice sit top of the pile, a full six points clear of AS Monaco and PSG and still undefeated.

Here are the key players behind Nice’s remarkable rise to become Ligue 1 title contenders this season.

Mario Balotelli

Italian striker Mario Balotelli was picked up from Liverpool on a free transfer this summer. The former Manchester City and AC Milan star has been as inconsistent as he is enigmatic throughout his career, and after a disappointing spell at Anfield, his move to the Allianz Riviera was seen as a backwards step.

But, credit to Balotelli, he appears to have humbly knuckled down and focused on his performances on the field in France.

Favre has been key in helping the gifted 26-year-old realise his potential on the Côte d’Azur this season, utilising him sparingly and allowing him the freedom to fully express himself.

And Balotelli has rewarded his manager’s faith with seven goals in seven appearances.

Alassane Pléa

Alassane Pléa is a product of the famous Lyon youth academy. The 23-year-old was unable to crack the first-team with l’OL and joined Nice in 2014 after a season on loan with Auxerre.

This season, Pléa has already scored more goals than in any other campaign in his career, despite being only 11 games in. The speedy attacker demonstrated how he has vastly improved his finishing technique by clinically netting a hat-trick against Metz last month, taking his tally for the season to seven.

Pléa has one under-21 appearance under his belt for France and if his current form continues, he’ll be a contender for a call-up to Les Bleus’ senior side, where manager Didier Deschamps will benefit from his ability to play on the right wing or centrally as a striker as much as Nice have this term.

Younés Belhanda

Moroccan international Younés Belhanda is on loan at Nice for the season from Dynamo Kyiv.

The 26-year-old forward was born in France and even represented Les Bleus as under-20 level, before deciding to pledge his allegiance to the country of his parents’ birth.

A skilful attacker capable of playing wide or as a second striker, Belhanda has the ability to unlock the sternest of defences with his flamboyant footwork and eye for a killer pass.

Though not a prolific goal-scorer – he has found the net just once so far this season – Belhanda has contributed three assists and created 12 chances in his eight Ligue 1 games for Nice.

Wylan Cyprien

Attacking midfielder Wylan Cyprien has already bagged five goals and registered two assists so far this season.

Cyprien’s energy, drive and shooting technique has made him a real threat when arriving from deep into attacking zones. In addition to his goal-scoring prowess and creativity, the 21-year-old is also responsible in possession, averaging a Ligue 1 pass completion rate of 88.5 percent.

Nice signed the Guadeloupe-born France under-19 international from Lens this summer and the youngster has already marked himself out as one of the hottest prospects in France.

Jean Michaël Seri

Ivory Coast international Jean Michaël Seri is Nice’s all-round midfield maestro.

Despite standing at just 5ft 5ins, Seri is physically strong and unafraid to engage opposition midfielders in duels, with a 46 percent success rate.

Seri has also completed 73 percent of his dribbles this season. One of the key reasons behind his ability to beat an opponent one-on-one is his phenomenal first touch. The 25-year-old is able to do more with one touch of the ball than most players would even think of attempting with two. When receiving a pass, Seri is able to shield the ball and bring it under his spell while simultaneously drifting past his marker.

But Serie’s skills really come to the fore when analysing his creativity. The former Paços Ferreira midfielder has laid on an incredible six assists so far this season while also contributing one goal. And despite his propensity to play ambitious vertical passes, he still manages to maintain a 90 percent pass completion rate.

Paul Baysse

Former Bordeaux centre-back Paul Baysse is Nice’s captain and on-field leader.

The 28-year-old defender moved to the Allianz Riviera permanently this summer after a successful loan spell from St. Etienne last season.

Baysse uses his experience to great effect at the heart of the Nice defence. His anticipation has seen him average 7.4 clearances and make 2.1 interceptions per game this term.

The Talence-born player has shown his versatility this season by adapting to play in Favre’s back three system, while being equally as comfortable when the Ligue 1 side have switched to a back four. It is testament to his leadership skills that he has remained as Nice’s chief defensive organiser despite the signing of the more experienced Danté in the summer.

Baysse is also unafraid to resort to the dark arts to gain an advantage. When Lyon visited the Allianz Riviera last month, the Nice skipper successfully wound up l’OM star Nabil Fekir to the point that the France forward retaliated and got himself sent off. Nice went on to win 2-0.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


It may not be the most glamorous position on the field, with strikers and attacking midfielders often stealing the glory, but no good side is complete without a top-class goalkeeper.

Here are five of the best young emerging keepers in Europe…

Gianluigi Donnarumma – AC Milan

When given his senior debut by Sinisa Mihajlovic last season, Gianluigi Donnarumma became the youngest goalkeeper in the history of Serie A at the age of 16 years and eight months.

Almost immediately, a new superstar of calcio was born. The teenage quickly established himself as the Rossoneri’s first choice between the posts, keeping the vastly experienced Christian Abbiati out of the team.

Standing at 6ft 5ins tall and blessed with remarkable reflexes for such a large young man, Donnarumma has all of the physical gifts to excel as a top-level goalkeeper.

But perhaps the now-17-year-old’s most valuable attribute is his temperament. Ever since making his Serie A bow back in October 2015, Donnarumma has carried himself with the poise and unawed demeanour of a seasoned veteran.

The Milan stopper, who wears the number 99 to reflect the year of his birth, demonstrated his value to the team in the closing stages of their season opener against Torino at the San Siro. Milan were hanging on to a slender 3-2 lead when the away side were awarded a penalty in stoppage time. It was the first time in his fledgling career that Donnarumma had faced a spot kick. But with the coolness of a much more experienced keeper, he made a superb diving save to deny Andrea Belotti and seal the three points for his team.

In just 41 appearances for Milan, Donnarumma has already kept 15 clean sheets. So far this season, he is averaging 2.91 saves per game and has a 100 percent success rate when coming to claim crosses.

This is the kind of form that led to him becoming the Azzurri’s youngster ever goalkeeper when making his debut in a friendly against France in August.

Alban Lafont – Toulouse

In France, 17-year-old Toulouse goalkeeper Alban Lafont has been earning rave reviews.

The teenager became the youngest keeper in Ligue 1 history when he made his first-team debut at the age of 16 years and 10 months last November. At 6ft 4ins, Lafont has all of the physical tools to thrive in his position despite his tender years, and has represented France at under-18 level.

Born in Burkina Faso, Lafont moved to France when he was nine. It wasn’t long before the young man’s athletic gifts were noticed and, after receiving a host of offers from clubs all over the country, he elected to join Toulouse’s youth academy.

With the team shipping goals and struggling at the bottom of the table, Lafont’s introduction to the first team coincided with Toulouse’s turnaround. His debut came in a 2-0 win over high flying Nice; it was Les Pitchouns’ first clean sheet of the campaign.

In the 14 games before his debut, Toulouse had conceded 29 goals; the subsequent 24 matches with Lafont between the sticks they allowed 27 goals. And this season he has been in equally superlative form, with his performance in the 2-0 win over champions PSG in September particularly impressive.

Former Lyon goalkeeper Gregory Coupet believes the key to Lafont’s success is his maturity: “He is a smart goalkeeper who reads the game well. It is possible to feel that. He brings a lot of confidence despite his young age.” It also helps that he is playing behind his good friend Issa Diop. The 19-year-old centre-back was a team-mate of Lafont’s at youth level and the pair have now both become key players for Toulouse.

Jordan Pickford – Sunderland

There are few reasons for optimism for Sunderland fans at the moment. Davis Moyes’s team are bottom of the Premier League having taken just two points from their first 10 games.

But the emergence of young goalkeeper Jordan Pickford is providing a small ray of hope in these dark times for the Black Cats.

The 22-year-old England under 21-international has spent the last four years gathering first-team experience through a series of loan spells in the lower divisions.

Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End have all benefited from the burgeoning talent of Pickford in recent seasons.

The youngster made his Sunderland debut in December 2015 in an FA Cup defeat to Arsenal. When he made his maiden Premier League appearance against Tottenham Hotspur nine days later, it meant that he had appeared in all of the top four divisions in England by the age of 21.

An injury to regular first-choice keeper Vito Mannone handed Pickford the chance to impress at the Stadium of Light earlier this season. Although Sunderland continue to struggle, the number 13’s stock has risen.

Were it not for Pickford’s average of 3.38 saves per game and 100 percent claim success this season, Sunderland could be in an even worse position.

Joël Drommel – FC Twente

FC Twente’s 19-year-old goalkeeper Joël Drommel made his first-team debut against the mighty Ajax in a 2-2 draw December of last year.

The youngster, who is a product of Twente’s own youth academy, went on to make 15 appearances for the Dutch club last season.

This term, Drommel has been back-up to the more experienced Nick Marsman, but there is no rush for the talented stopper to be thrust into regular senior action as he only turns 20 this month.

Much like Donnarumma and Lafont, Drommel cuts an imposing figure for one so young, standing at 6ft 4ins. His decision-making ability and reliability when collecting crosses marks the youngster out as having a level of maturity beyond his years.

Though yet to appear for the Netherlands at under-21 level, the Bussum-born teenager was called up to the Jong Oranje squad last season.

Raúl Gudiño – FC Porto

Mexican goalkeeper Raúl Gudiño signed for FC Porto from Guadalajara in his homeland for $1.5 million in the summer of 2015, following a successful 10-month loan spell with the Dragões.

Gudiño is yet to make his first-team debut for Porto, but he does have Primeira Liga experience thanks to spending last season on loan with União da Madeira.

The 6ft 5ins 20-year-old is renowned for his lightning-quick reflexes and shot stopping ability.

Gudiño was named the CONCACAF Young Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013 for his performances with Mexico at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and has appeared five times for EL Tricolor at under-23 level.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midland’s based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB


Share this article:


AS Monaco are looking like serious contenders for the Ligue 1 title this season. The Principality club has already thumped reigning champions Paris Saint Germain this term, laying down their marker and signalling that they are serious about claiming their first top division crown since 2000.

Manager Leonardo Jardim has done a remarkable job of constructing a solid side despite the yearly upheaval of having his best players sold and a new cast of charges thrust upon him.

The recent 4-0 defeat to league leaders Nice was a setback, but Monaco remain level with PSG, and just one point behind off top spot.

Here are the key players behind Monaco’s title charge.

Bernardo Silva

The 22-year-old Portuguese attacking midfielder was robbed of the chance to demonstrate his skills on the international stage this summer, when injury ruled him out of taking part in his nation’s triumphant Euro 2016 campaign.

But the former Benfica player has not let that disappointment hold him back at the start of the new season, and is currently enjoying the form of his life, acting as the premier creative source for Monaco, drifting in the space behind central striker Radamel Falcao.

The diminutive schemer has netted twice so far this season, including a stunning strike at Wembley Stadium in the Champions League against Tottenham Hotspur.

Able to play on either flank or centrally as a number 10,  Bernardo Silva’s versatility is key to his unpredictability; the fact that, regardless of his starting position, he is comfortable drifting into any zone within the attacking third of the pitch, makes him a nightmare for opposing defenders.


It was a summer of intense transfer speculation for Brazilian full-back-cum-midfielder Fabinho. Manchester United were continually linked with making a €30 million move for the former Rio Ave player. And when Monaco signed full-back Djibril Sidibé from Lille, it seemed as though a replacement had already been found.

But no transfer materialised for Fabinho, and, instead of signalling a move away from the club, Sidibé’s arrival brought about a switch of position for the one-time Real Madrid loanee.

Moving from his customary right-back role into the centre of midfield – a position that he had previously played in on occasion – Fabinho has been a revelation. With his athleticism and physicality, the 22-year-old has brought a new level of stability to the centre of the side.

And with five goals and one assist to his name already this season, the deadly penalty taker has become a threat from open play too, completing 1.2 dribbles per game and averaging just 1.3 shots per goal.

And to put an end to any speculation over his future, Fabinho penned a new long-term contract with the Stade Louis II side recently.

Kamil Glik

Signed from Torino this summer for €11 million plus €4 million in add-ons, 28-year-old Polish defender Kamil Glik is shaping up to be one of the bargains of the last transfer window.

Last season, Glik formed a formidable partnership with Nikola Maksimovic – who has since joined Napoli – in Serie A, and Monaco swooped to sign the no-nonsense centre-back, who was on the books of Real Madrid a decade ago.

Glik has settled straight into life in Ligue 1, needing no adjustment period at all, and he has already shown himself to be a vital part of his new side. In his six league games to date for Monaco, Glik has averaged 2.5 interceptions per match, and a staggering 5.5 clearances.

He has also proven to be more comfortable on the ball than he gets credit for, with an average of nearly 40 passes per game, at a completion rate of 82 percent.

Thomas Lemar

France under-21 international Thomas Lemar was on the wish-list of several elite clubs this summer, with Barcelona among those rumoured to be interested.

But Monaco managed to hold onto the man they signed from Caen in 2015, and the decision to do so has been rewarded with some exceptional performances and stunning goals.

Lemar shot to prominence last season, making 26 Ligue 1 appearances for Monaco and scoring five goals. But the left sided midfielder has taken his game to a new level this season, demonstrating greater consistency and showing the type of maturity which means Jardim can rely on the youngster to carry his share of the creative and goal-scoring burden.

Two goals from three Ligue 1 appearances already this season, as well as a rocket of a strike against Spurs in the Champions League, could mean that Lemar will soon be knocking on the door of the senior France team.

Blessed with a thunderous left foot, Lemar resists the temptation to shoot on sight. His conversion rate of scoring from every 2.6 shots he takes shows that he is mature enough to know when to shoot and when to pass. Plus, his 87.5 percent pass completion rate is further evidence of his responsibility in possession.

In addition to these key players, Monaco also have a rejuvenated Falcao leading the line and captaining the team, having rediscovered his goal-scoring touch after a disastrous two seasons in the Premier League. They have the ever-dependable Joao Moutinho conducting play in central midfield, and Jardim can also call on the wildcard of 17-year-old future superstar Kylian Mbappé if he needs further inspiration to unlock a defence.

With all of this in their favour, Monaco are serious contenders this season.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is  a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications.

Twitter:  @RyanBaldiEFB



Share this article:


They are very much the perennial powerhouse of French football. Backed by vast swathes of cash and host to some of the continent’s best footballers, Paris Saint Germain are truly a force to be reckoned with throughout Europe. However, with manager Laurent Blanc leaving, to be replaced by former Sevilla manager Unai Emery, changes will undoubtedly take place at the Parc des Princes.

The sales of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Manchester United and Lucas Digne to Barcelona can be forgotten about in light of Emery’s new acquisitions, with the likes of Krychowiak, the rejuvenated Hatem Ben Arfa, and Belgium’s star right-back Thomas Meunier, as well as the purchase of promising attacking midfielder Giovanni Lo Celso. Naturally, this will lead to a change in approach at the Parisian club.

Emery is lucky to have a squad with so many different options and solutions. In-depth strength is one of PSG’s greatest assets – the choice of so many different, excellent footballers to supplement the team.

In defence, for example, the prospect of an imminent David Luiz departure is unlikely to cause excessive fear, with the knowledge that Thiago Silva and Marquinhos are a formidable pair in the centre. Furthermore, rumours of Matuidi leaving are not going to be met with terror from the PSG camp, with new boy Krychowiak as well as Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti, a capable and powerful midfielder.

Emery favours midfield domination, so the aforementioned operators should have a major part to play ahead of the oncoming campaign. A high-energy, pressing-play approach is likely, explaining why hard-working individuals like Ben Arfa and Krychowiak will be so vital. Favouring the 4-2-3-1 formation, Emery expects his side to be fluid and quick, especially in the middle, which could lead to Javier Pastore dropping deep to enhance his creative role.

With Lucas Moura and Angel di Maria on the wings, the usual brand of trickery and pace on the flanks will be upheld. Presumably flanking Edinson Cavani as a central striker, the duo will provide the perfect solution to getting the most out of their Uruguayan forward.

Despite the departure of one of their most foremost stars in Ibrahimovic, and the seemingly imminent sale of Matuidi, and perhaps that of David Luiz, Lucas Moura and Edinson Cavani, PSG look, as always, capable of running riot in Ligue 1 and the Champions League this year.

Emery likes his players to be aerially-proficient, which goes to highlight Cavani’s importance in this team. While the presence of Ben Arfa, Lucas and Di Maria will assure goals, Cavani’s involvement is key. A recognised goalscorer, the talismanic striker mustered 19 Ligue 1 goals last season, despite playing, arguably, second fiddle to the preferred Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Should they keep their Uruguayan attacker, there’s little doubt that PSG’s three-pronged attack will be every bit as threatening as last season.

They ought to replicate last season’s success. Winning the Coupe de France, the Coupe de la Ligue and Ligue 1, as well as reaching the quarter-final stage of the Champions League is no mean feat, but the fact remains that they are a supreme footballing force in France; better than any other side in the same division. The club’s owners will be expecting another trophy haul to reward their investments, and Emery will surely be seeking – with some confidence – to do this.

About the author- Tomos Knox

Tomos is a football writer whose work mainly focuses on the Premier League, International and European football in general. He is an avid football fan and first turned to football blogging in 2014, and has since been published by the likes of The Guardian and FourFourTwo. He was shortlisted for ‘Young Blogger of the year’ in 2014 at the football blogging awards. You can follow Tomos here:

twitter: @TomosKnox


Share this article:


Having taken Ligue 1 by storm since making his professional debut in November, Ousmane Dembélé has been catching the eye of scouts from a host of Europe’s top clubs.

Considered the latest — and perhaps most naturally gifted – attacking player to emerge from the French production line, the 18-year-old Stade Rennais prodigy has already been lined up for a summer move to Borussia Dortmund, if German newspaper Bild is to be believed.

Dembélé’s agent moved quickly to deny the rumours of a Bundesliga switch, but it’s easy to see why BVB — or any top club for that matter — would want to snatch this young star away from the Stade de la Route-de-Lorient.

Since making his first-team debut against Bordeaux on 22 November last year – a game in which he also scored – Dembélé has amassed an impressive tally of 12 goals and five assists from 23 Ligue 1 appearances. In doing so, Dembélé has become the youngest player in the history of the French top division to reach double figures in terms of goals scored.

What sets Dembélé apart is his incredible pace and dribbling ability; dribbling skills that are further augmented by the fact that, although nominally right-footed, the France under-21 international is extremely comfortable using his weaker foot. This ambidextrousness allows Dembélé to change direction quickly and comfortably, making him an unpredictable proposition for opposing defenders.

Dembélé’s ability to effectively use either foot has also made him a versatile attacking weapon for Rennes. Indeed, in his 19 Ligue 1 starts he has played on the left of the attack five times, eight times on the right and six times as a central number 10-type attacking playmaker.

Despite a willingness to operate anywhere across the forward line, Dembélé certainly appears to prefer a central role. This notion is evidenced by his productivity in the position: seven of his eight goals have come while playing as a central attacking midfielder, along with averaging a rating of 8.5 when playing through the middle.

To add to his positional versatility, Dembélé also possesses a diverse skill-set. The aforementioned dribbling skills are complimented by an assuredness in front of goal when presented with a chance. A sound striker of the ball from distance with either foot with an acute eye for a killer pass – all goes toward justifying the hype that has surrounded the young man.

In March, Dembélé registered his first professional hat-trick in a 4-1 victory over Nantes. His broad tool-box of attributes was again on full display. His first goal was a toe-poked shot from 18-yards out after a poorly cleared free-kick; a long distance free-kick which bounced in off the post gave Dembélé his second; and the treble was completed by a dribble from the half-way line, before cutting inside to beat his marker and finish neatly past the goalkeeper.

Were it not for the fact that France already boast an enviable array of attacking talent in his position – the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, Dimitri Payet, Kingsley Coman and Hatem Ben Arfa – Dembélé would likely have already made his senior international debut, and be a strong contender to be included in his country’s squad for EURO 2016. As it stands, the youngster remains one for the future for France boss Didier Deschamps, but it surely won’t be long before we see Dembélé tearing apart defences for Les Bleus.

Read all about another Les Bleus star, Kinglsey Coman.

Whether or not Dembélé is set for a summer switch away from Ligue 1 remains to be seen. But purely from a style perspective, the Dortmund link makes perfect sense.

Thomas Tuchel’s men are a team who, though comfortable in possession, thrive on rapid transitions from defence to attack. The pace and ball-carrying ability of Dembélé makes him a perfect match for the Black and Yellows.

A parallel could also be drawn between Dembélé and another former Ligue 1 stand-out, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. When Aubameyang joined Dortmund from Saint Etienne in 2013, he was utilised primarily as a right-winger by then BVB boss Jürgen Klopp. But when Robert Lewandowski joined rivals Bayern Munich on a Bosman in 2014, Klopp gave Aubameyang the opportunity to replace the departing Polish international as Dortmund’s primary central striker. Aubameyang has since gone on to become one of the hottest goal-scorers on the continent, terrorising defences with his blistering pace and ever-improving finishing.

Whether at Dortmund or elsewhere, it is not too difficult to imagine Dembélé’s career taking a similar trajectory. Already a more skilled dribbler than Aubameyang, and with pace to burn, the Rennes player’s confidence in front of goal could see him leading the line at some stage.

Meanwhile, Dembélé will continue to learn his trade as a position-shifting attacker, sharpening his tools before honing in on one set position. And if he does indeed end up joining Dortmund – much will depend on whether rumours of a €100m move away from Signal Iduna Park for Aubameyang are true – his versatility will mean he is able to slot in comfortably in several positions.

Wherever Dembélé plays next season, hopefully he will be given the time to iron out the deficiencies in his game, without being under too much pressure to perform every week. The areas in which the 18-year-old’s game is lacking – understanding of defensive responsibility and decision making – are common in most players of his age. Given the time to mature, the young Frenchman promises to have a bright future

“I saw Cristiano Ronaldo come to Manchester United at the same age, and Ousmane has some of the characteristics that remind me of a young Ronaldo,” Said Rennes presidential advisor and former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre, when speaking to France Football. “I’m going to go out on a limb, but he could win the Ballon d’Or.”

High praise for and high expectations for Dembélé, but the young player has all the skills to back it up.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB



Share this article:


This weekend Zlatan Ibrahimović scored four goals to help PSG seal the Ligue 1 title after a 9-0 demolition of Troyes. It’s the Parisians 4th league title in a row and it looks like that run will continue into the foreseeable future. It was also Zlatan’s 13th title in the past 15 seasons. This is a remarkable achievement and this success has come at 6 different clubs. In terms of domestic competition, simply put, there has been no more successful player than Zlatan since the term of the millennium.

Although he failed to win the Allsvenskan in his teenage years with Malmö, his first league title came at the age of 20 when Ajax won the 2001-02 Eredivisie. Another Eredivisie title followed in 2003-04 before he joined Juventus after the Euros. He went on to win two consecutive Serie A titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 but the Italians were later stripped of these due to their involvement in the match-fixing scandal. Juventus were relegated to Serie B due to their involvement and Zlatan transferred to Inter.

Developing youth players in Soccer Manager Multiplayer (Worlds) is key

Inter emerged as the new powerhouse of Italian football after the match-fixing scandal and Zlatan went on to win three consecutive titles prior to transferring to Spanish giants Barcelona in 2009. The Swede only stayed in Catalonia for one season before returning to Italy on loan in 2010. However, in his one season in La Liga he won yet another title.

In his first season back in Italy he helped Milan secure their first Serie A title in 7 years. This was Zlatan’s eight domestic title in a row. He then joined the club on a permanent transfer but 2011-12 ended with no league medal for the first time in 9 years. Zlatan than joined PSG and helped them to end their 19 year drought as the Parisians won the 2012-13 Ligue 1 title. PSG followed up this success with two further titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and have just wrapped up their fourth consecutive title with 8 games to spare.

The Swede is out of contract this Summer and said jokingly that he would only stay if the club replace the Eiffel Tower with a statue of him. This isn’t likely to happen and it looks like the serial title winner has made his mind up and will leave the French capital in the coming months.


Share this article:


Ten games into the Ligue 1 campaign, AS Monaco are firmly ensconced in mid-table with 14 points from a possible 30.

Les Monegasques finished third in Le Championnat on the final day of last season, earning a UEFA Champions League playoff berth, but Leonardo Jardim’s men currently find themselves seven points behind Angers SCO and SM Caen and a similar feat looks unlikely for the moment.

Following last Friday’s 1-1 home draw with last season’s runners-up Olympique Lyonnais, the principality outfit are still searching for their first home win in Ligue 1 this term.

Monaco, it appears, are struggling to cope with the heavy number of changes made to the squad over the summer.

This is not completely new. Last season, ASM were in a similar mid-table position until they embarked upon a strong run of form in early December that carried them across all competitions until EA Guingamp ended it in February of this year.

Last summer, like this, Monaco made significant changes to their playing staff. However, despite losing recognisable figures like James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao, Jardim had a strong core to work with when he arrived at Stade Louis II.

This time around, Les Monegasques moved on six established members of the group and a seventh first team regular from the past few seasons in Lucas Ocampos.

Anthony Martial, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Aymen Abdennour, Layvin Kurzawa, Yannick Ferreira Carrasco and Dimitar Berbatov all filed out of the exit door, along with a number of others, for just over €150 million.

No fewer than 14 players were acquired to replace those departed. Among those, Ivan Cavaleiro, Adama Traore, Rony Lopes, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and Stephan El Shaarawy all came in for around €80 million. Approximately half of what the club earned.

Taking into account the high volume of transfer activity in and out of the principality outfit this summer, Jardim is doing well to keep Monaco in a similar position to the one they were in last season.

They still have a chance to push towards the upper reaches of Ligue 1 like they did over the second half of the last campaign.

The Portuguese tactician has been frustrated by the high turnover of his squad and bemoaned the lack of experience available to him after ASM recorded just their second win of the season, a 1-0 victory away at top flight newcomers Gazelec Ajaccio, last month.

“We are happy to win but all these young players are going to be the death of me,” said the 41-year-old after a Fabinho penalty had sealed the points for his team. “Our youngsters in midfield and attack missed a lot of chances.”

“Our objective is to play good football but it’s not easy,” Jardim continued. “These young players have come from small clubs, where they are not used to playing with pressure to finish towards the top of the table. But our job is to work with them and help them progress.”

Since it became obvious to Monaco president Dmitry Rybolovlev that UEFA’s financial fair play (FFP) was going to prove too difficult an obstacle to navigate, the Cote d’Azur club have changed direction completely.

Through a combination of a limited local fanbase that struggles to fill an already small stadium and their failure to find wealthy sponsors, Les Monegasques realised they could not bring in enough commercial revenue to sustain such a lavish project.

Because of that reality exacerbating the nuisance of FFP, ASM had to restructure their project and make some drastic moves. At first, it looked as if the club was a failed venture, but now there seems to be a plan in place.

Monaco have moved away from high-profile, big money signings, like Ligue 1 rivals Paris Saint-Germain, moving instead towards low cost, high potential acquisitions like the ones mentioned by Jardim after the Gazelec win.

In essence, Monaco have become Le Championnat’s answer to Portuguese transfer masters FC Porto. That policy, much to Jardim’s frustration, is not likely to change anytime soon either.

That business model, often relying heavily on cheap, well-scouted South American talent with enormous potential is something that Portuguese sides like Porto, SL Benfica and Sporting Clube de Portugal arguably copied from Lyon in the early 2000’s.

However, the Portuguese giants perfected it, leaving OL to concentrate largely on French domestic talent. Porto proved the best of the bunch at it and they have since turned it into an art form.

After selling Danilo to Real Madrid, Jackson Martinez to Atletico, Alex Sandro to Juventus and a number of other players this year, Porto have now made close to an estimated €700 million in transfers since 2004.

Dragoes have also learned how to balance that constant turnover with spells of domestic dominance.

There is a long way to go before Monaco equal Porto’s massive transfer revenue, but the seven-time French champions have clearly identified that model and are actively trying to replicate it. The domestic success part, with a juggernaut like PSG already on the scene, will be harder to emulate.

Adding to the Portuguese flavour in Monaco’s Porto-esque project is the fact that Portuguese transfer guru Luis Campos is overseeing it, as well as coach Jardim.

Gone are the days of Falcao, Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho joining the club in attention grabbing, big money moves.

Buy low, sell high, something said that is often associated with Porto, is now starting to be said of Monaco too. No player is unsellable at Stade Louis II; perhaps best demonstrated by Kurzawa’s PSG move, something Vasilyev chalked up to the player’s desire to move to the capital.

“We wanted to keep the player,” the Russian told RMC Radio after Monaco’s Champions League exit at the hands of Valencia. “We talked to him a few times, but he had decided — he really wanted to go to Paris.”

“It’s his choice. We wanted to keep him — but if a player wants to leave and a club makes us a very good offer, we do it. I can confirm that it’s for a very significant amount.”

Otherwise, why would Monaco sell to a Ligue 1 rival and arguably the only side (perhaps with exception of Lyon) who can beat them to the title?

Following ASM’s Champions League playoff defeat over two legs to Spanish side Valencia CF back in August, vice-president Vadim Vasilyev claimed that his club did not need to sell their most valuable and coveted stars.

Yet, less than one week later, Kurzawa had joined PSG, Abdennour had been snared by Valencia and Martial had departed for Manchester United.

Those transfers alone garnered Monaco almost €100 million, with Martial the cherry on a well-layered cake considering how his fee could grow significantly in the future.

There is still more talent to cash in on too. Les Monegasques have the likes of Falcao to shift permanently, while Fabinho and Bernardo Silva could be the next to go for big money.

Considering the latter pair’s ability, it should bring the club some of the most significant fees seen so far in the project’s short lifespan. There is also Portugal international Moutinho, who should still attract a fairly sizeable amount, despite Monaco’s keenness to get rid of him.

Spending their hard-earned money more frugally than before does not mean Les Monegasques cannot excite people with their dealings still. For example, El Shaarawy’s acquisition still captured the imagination of many.

Such an existence will keep the principality outfit competitive in Ligue 1, continually qualifying for the Champions League, or at least the UEFA Europa League.

With PSG set to continue their dominance of Le Championnat for the foreseeable future, that is a good niche for ASM to carve out for themselves, especially for when Les Parisiens’ Qatari owners decide to call it a day at Parc des Princes.

Assuming that Monaco continue along their current road, they will be well positioned when that day in the capital finally comes.

About the author – Jonathan Johnson

Ligue 1 and French football journalist. Covering PSG in English. Work is published regularly on @EPSNFC, @br_uk, @YahooSportUK and @beINSPORTUSA.

twitter: @Jon_LeGossip


Share this article:


When David Luiz completed his £50 million move to Paris Saint-Germain from Chelsea in the summer of 2014, the default reaction in England was to scoff. The Brazilian centre-back developed a reputation as something of a liability during his three years in the Premier League, derided as too instinctive and flamboyant to play in the heart of the backline.

Much of the criticism was fair: Luiz had a habit of making costly errors at Chelsea and, despite his undisputed natural ability, had been relegated to the substitutes’ bench by manager Jose Mourinho because he was perceived as too much of a risk.

There was, however, also a sense that Luiz was simply an unnatural fit with the English game, his manner of defending seen as incompatible with the values traditionally expounded on these shores. It was an issue highlighted by pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher in 2013, the pair suggesting that much of the criticism of Luiz in England came because his interpretation of the centre-back position – including playing on the front-foot, aggressively pushing up the pitch and a willingness to defend against a striker one-on-one – was so different to theirs and their countrymen’s.

£50 million is clearly an enormous fee – particularly for a defender – but Luiz has shown since making the move to PSG that he has a lot to offer. For a club owned by the extraordinary wealthy Qatar Sports Investments, moreover, such a sum is relatively insignificant.

Luiz was highly impressive last term, putting a disappointing World Cup behind him as PSG won their third consecutive Ligue 1 title and also reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the third year in a row. It is in the latter competition that Laurent Blanc’s side will be most tested this season: PSG are already five points clear at the top of the table in France’s top flight and will therefore be focusing the majority of their efforts on reaching the last four of Europe’s principal tournament for the first time.

In Ligue 1, though, Luiz has added an important dimension to the Parisians’ play. It was in evidence in the first Classique of the season with Marseille before the international break, when Luiz helped PSG secure a narrow 2-1 win.

Marseille were bold in their approach at the Parc des Princes, sending men forward to attack the hosts and deservedly taking the lead through Michy Batshuayi. Like many of PSG’s opponents this year, they pressed in midfield, looking to disrupt Thiago Motta, Blaise Matuidi and Marco Verratti in the engine room.

Michel’s outfit, however, were generally unwilling to close down too high up the pitch, which meant PSG’s centre-halves Luiz and Thiago Silva enjoyed plenty of time on the ball. It was here that Luiz’s ability in possession came into its own, with the 28-year-old assuming a playmaking role from the middle of his team’s defence.

Luiz’s vision is therefore vital for PSG, with his range of passing enabling the aforementioned midfielders to assume positions higher up the field and avoid dropping too deep and becoming ineffective. The Brazilian’s willingness to step into midfield and carry the ball forward also offers his side another attacking source from deep; with PSG usually utterly dominant in Ligue 1 encounters, furthermore, Blanc need not worry about Luiz coming under too much pressure defensively.

Whether or not the 1998 World Cup winner is concerned about Luiz’s position as a centre-back in the Champions League remains to be seen. A clash with Real Madrid next Wednesday, for example, would likely have seen Luiz challenged defensively by the likes of Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo had he not picked up a knee injury last week.

Domestically, however, Luiz has added a great deal to Blanc’s PSG. The former Chelsea man’s proactive and optimistic approach to defending was never likely to go down well in England but, over in the French capital, where PSG control most games and are tasked with breaking down compact and defensive units on an almost weekly basis, his superb technique and ability to pass and dribble with the ball solves more problems than it causes.

Formational shifts away from two strikers to one in the last couple of decades have seen the centre-back as a deep-lying playmaker become a more common phenomenon: with one defender marking the opposition forward, his partner is theoretically freer to focus on distributing the ball from the back. Louis van Gaal’s decision to field midfielder Daley Blind in the backline this year is likely motivated by such thinking, so too Barcelona’s redeployment of Javier Mascherano in their defence and Pep Guardiola’s use of Javi Martinez in the same role at Bayern Munich.

It is a function that Luiz is fulfilling in Paris, too. It may not have been Neville and Carragher’s favoured style of defending, but it is serving the Ligue 1 leaders extremely well at present.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


Share this article:


A club that oozes prestige and charisma, from a city that effortlessly exudes poetic beauty, romance and illusion, Paris Saint-Germain are the modern glamour club of France. But those unaware of PSG’s history will be shocked to know that the club is only 44 years old; a baby amongst the older, experienced statesmen of French football today. Their rapid and unbridled success is perhaps the most significant success story in modern European football as they continue their march to the pinnacle of the continental game. Excitement, beauty and drama symbolise and encapsulate the city, and the football team is no exception.

It was in 1904 that PSG began life in humble beginnings of the regional division d’Honneur de la Ligue de Paris as small omnisport outfit Baptisé Stade Saint-Germain. It would take a further 50 years for the club to make any impression on the world of football, let alone within the confines of the French capital. In 1957, the club won the DH Ligue de Paris to claim a place in the Championnat de France Amateurs. At the time, it was the French equivalent of the third division.

It wasn’t until the end of the 1960s that the Saint-Germain-based club began their flittering first footsteps towards glory. In 1969, the club reached the quarter-finals of the French Cup but were edged out by a Marseille team boasting Cameroon legend Joseph Yegba Maya. It was an encounter that had driven the Parisian public out of hiding as they played to a crowd of just over 14,500 spectators. It was also the early stages of the two behemoths’ bitter rivalry.

Despite their growth, the success couldn’t mask the fact that Paris still didn’t boast a renowned team. Other major cities across L’hexagone had successful and historically prestigious clubs such as Nantes, Bordeaux, Saint-Étienne and Marseille. The lack of Parisian-based teams was all too apparent and previous establishments like Olympique de Paris, Club Français, CA Paris had all disappeared during the Second World War. Only Red Star remained in the First Division, and they were marooned at the foot of the table. Something was needed, and the winds of change approached.  

As a result, in 1969 a bigger club was to be formed for Paris. A resounding seal of approval was met from all sides of the project as Paris FC and the little Yvelines team, Baptisé Stade Saint-Germain, merged. Thousands of famous Parisians backed the plan, everyone from politicians and businessmen, like CEO of Calberson, Guy Crescent, to the local man on the street. Thanks to the financial backing and huge media campaign, Paris Saint-Germain was founded in May 1970.

The club benefited hugely from the merged fan base and improved roster. Surprisingly it was the Stade Saint-Germain players who dominated the early roster. Indeed, the club was to strengthen its squad with the capture of the France national team captain Jean Djorkaeff. By 1971, led by Djorkaeff, the club were promoted to the top flight for the first time in their history.

Their inaugural year was a better-than-expected sixth place in the league, however turmoil flared the following season as PSG became embroiled in a running battle with the local Paris authorities. They demanded that the club adopt a more Parisian flavour to their name in exchange for 800,000 francs. The PSG directors predictably refused the name change and municipal support was withdrawn. The divorce was a messy fiasco and a faction of supporters who backed the local authorities re-formed Paris FC.

The new Paris FC remained in the First Division while Paris Saint-Germain kept their name but were relegated to the third tier. Several sanctions were harshly placed upon PSG; many still remembered today as the club basks in its financial glory and on-field success.

Following Quevilly’s withdrawal from the league and subsequent winding-up order, PSG, who had finished in second place, took their place in the Second Division by default. Luck was on their side as they put a troubled twelve months behind them.

In 1973 the club shocked the national game as they appointed legendary goalscorer Just Fontaine as manager. Thanks to smart financial planning, they could attempt to rebuild and prepare for an assault that would take them to the First Division. It was also a time when the club played at several grounds; their old Parc des Princes home, Camps des Loges – now their training ground – in Saint-Germain, and then Jean-Bouin. It was in 1972 that they returned to a new Parc des Princes. That stadium remains their home today.

A year later, the club presided over its newfound professional stature. As a Second Division outfit with a team capable of fighting for honours at the highest level of the game, PSG ran rings around the opposition, including in the Coupe de France, beating Metz 2-1 in front of 25,000 spectators. Inevitably PSG were promoted and irony wielded its heavy axe as Paris FC were relegated from the top flight that same season.

Though failing to challenge for the domestic title, the club remained a consistent force, frequently finishing in the top half of the table. Several stars also passed through the Parc gates at that time, many that would be classed as eternal greats at the club. In 1974, PSG paid Sedan 1.3 million francs for Mustapha Dahleb, a then French transfer record. 1977 saw Carlos Bianchi – who would go on to score 64 goals in 74 games – play for the club after leaving Reims. In 1978 Dominique Bathenay left Saint-Étienne for the capital, followed by Dominique Rocheteau in 1980.

In 1982, prior to signing their finest foreign player to date in Safet Suši?, PSG made history when they achieved their maiden silverware. Jean-Marc Pilorget’s match-winning penalty gave PSG a 6-5 shootout win to clinch the Coupe de France against Saint-Étienne after it had finished 2-2 in normal time. It was the first trophy for a club that risen time and again from the doldrums, but it wasn’t going to be the last. Indeed, the following year, PSG retained the trophy against Nantes. Another final – this time a loss – followed to their now-rivals AS Monaco in 1985.

It was a little over two years later after the cup loss to the principality side that PSG clinched their maiden French title – led by Suši? – by going a memorable 26 matches without defeat. It was this domestic success that opened the door for Paris in Europe. They impressed on the continent with their carefree French flair, with their best performance coming courtesy of a Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-final appearance.

But where ecstasy lay, misery soon followed for the club. In the late-80s, PSG flirted with relegation and the effects of hooliganism began to plague the national game. PSG were no exception, with the terraces becoming a battleground for fighting, social protests and racism.

But as the economic and social lull in France took a stranglehold on French football, a shining light was to give reprieve for the ailing sport. Satellite firm Canal+ invested vast sums of money into the game with a pay-per-view TV deal; the first of its kind in the domestic game. PSG subsequently received a whopping 40% of their income from televised games. Thanks to this money, the club embarked on a spending spree, buying the foremost talent in France and some notable stars from abroad. In came David Ginola, Bernard Lama, Youri Djorkaeff, Raí, George Weah and Marco Simone. The team became a gluttony of stars, finally doing the prestige of the French capital justice.

If the 1970s had given birth to the dominance of Saint-Étienne, the mid-90s were surely the golden age for Paris Saint-Germain. Between 1993 and 1998 the club achieved a fine Ligue 1 title, three domestic cups and a European Cup Winners’ Cup, the latter coming in May 1996 via a tight 1-0 victory over Rapid Vienna in Brussels.

Sadly for PSG, just as they had assembled their star-studded squad, it was soon broken up. Although France had increased its stature within the European game, it still couldn’t compete with Spain, England or Italy. And slowly but surely, the best talent left the Parc des Princes. By 1999, the dream was over.

After resigning in December 2000 Philippe Bergeroo was replaced by Luis Fernández who secured the club’s top-flight status. Fernandez set about changing the make-up of the squad with new players from around France and South America. The club managed to finish in a respectable fourth in 2002 and qualify for the UEFA Cup, ultimately going out on penalties to Glasgow Rangers.

In the end, the raft of changes implemented by Fernández created discord and indiscipline rattled throughout the gates of the Parc. Stars such as Laurent Robert, Jay-Jay Okocha and Nicolas Anelka – in his second spell at the club – shone for the most part, but sadly the supporting cast let them down. A talented squad with no direction, PSG slumped to mid-table by 2003.

With Fernández’s signings either having left or been shipped out on loan to make way for a new rotation, PSG had something of a South American flavour to it. Despite the numerous signings that many around the Parc disapproved of, there was a Brazilian star that was ready to shine when he signed from Grêmio in 2001. Ronaldinho ignited the fans with a level of skill rarely seen in Europe, let alone France. Though he shone, success still eluded the club.

A cup final appearance in 2003, after another inconsistent season in the league, could have been the ideal parting gift for the already departing Fernández. Despite a Ronaldinho-inspired win over Marseille in the semi-finals, they were undone by two late Auxerre goals in the final. The legendary Guy Roux had outfoxed the young pretender in Fernández.

It really had hit home: PSG were trophyless and out of Europe. With a large squad of underachievers and a sizeable wage-bill, something needed to be done. The arrival of former Nantes and PSG forward Vahid Halilhodži? brought about a new direction and motivation to the team. Out went the vast majority of South American players, Ronaldinho included, and in came the goalscoring instincts of Pauleta.

The new manager set about trying to revert the attack-minded team into a sterner defensive unit. He also made key tactical changes; Frédéric Dehu, a highly-rated midfielder, was moved to the back and given the captain’s armband. Gabriel Heinze, signed by Fernández as a centre-back, converted to a highly effective left-back.

PSG began poorly and many questioned if Halilhodži? was the right man, but after losing at home to Monaco 4-2, PSG went months without defeat and climbed the league table, looking to claw into Monaco’s lead at the top. They eventually finished runners-up to cement Paris as a hotbed of French football once again.

Thanks to a memorable cup run, Paris had reached yet another final of the Coupe de France. With Danijel Ljuboja and the goalscoring threat that was Pauleta, PSG clinched a 1-0 win. It was a largely successful season under the enigmatic Bosnian.

Predictably with Paris-Saint Germain, success and euphoria usually precedes heartache and regression. The squad was disbanded – another example of PSG unable to retain their best players – as out went Heinze, Juan Pablo Sorín and Dehu, and in came Jérôme Rothen, Sylvain Armand and Mario Yepes.

Looking at the cash-rich force that the Parisian club is today, many of its underlying traits have been formed from 30 years of peaks and troughs. The club is loath to lose any of its stars after a history of dismembered teams following periods of success. It’s been a long four decades for the capital outfit with star names coming and going, municipal rows and inconsistent on-field performances.

The history of a club is, in essence, the club itself. Though PSG’s history is brief, their indelible mark on French football is one that should be cherished. It’s easy to get lost in the modern game and forget the past, but it shapes behaviour and attitudes like nothing else. For those that condemn modern cash-rich clubs, look to their past, for it wasn’t always this rosy. And a city like Paris, having battled through two wars, social regression and turmoil on a regular basis, not to mention seeing their rivals come out on top, probably deserves a chance at sustained success.

And, as ever, if they look to the past, they’ll probably shape a bright future.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


Share this article: