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.


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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


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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


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Dropping two points at home to a side in 10th position is usually a bad result for a title contender. However, while Paris Saint-Germain fans will certainly not have been too enamoured by their side’s 2-2 draw with Bordeaux at the Parc des Princes on Friday night, the scoreline will almost certainly make no difference to their domestic aspirations this term.

Bordeaux, a side who won the league in 2009 and finished sixth last year, are certainly no pushovers, yet PSG were widely expected to secure their fifth victory in five games so far this season. Had they done so, they would have equalled the Ligue 1 record of 14 consecutive wins that Bordeaux themselves set in the 2008-09 campaign, when they were managed by current PSG boss Laurent Blanc.

Despite Friday’s setback, the situation in France’s top flight means that PSG need not be unduly worried. Marcelo Bielsa’s Marseille came flying out of the traps this time 12 months ago, establishing a seven-point lead over the capital club by mid-October. Hubert Fournier’s Lyon, too, punched above their weight, Les Gones going into the final few weeks of the season still with a chance of being crowned champions.

The early signs this time around, however, suggest that a three-way battle lasting for much of the campaign was an aberration that is unlikely to be repeated. PSG spent £77 million on four new additions in the summer, Angel di Maria, Kevin Trapp, Benjamin Stambouli and Layvin Kurzawa joining a team that has won the last three league championships. Since Qatar Sports Investments took over the club in 2011, PSG have spent a total of almost £400 million on new players.

Blanc’s side started the game brightly on Friday evening under the floodlights, moving the ball quickly and penning Bordeaux back inside their own half. They were good value for the lead that was given to them through Edinson Cavani after an error from Cedric Carrasso, although the visitors rallied well and equalised almost immediately when PSG keeper Kevin Trapp inadvertently palmed Henri Saivet’s flicked header into the net.

It did not take long for Cavani to fire his side 2-1 in front, however, the Uruguayan expertly dispatching a free-kick to restore PSG’s lead. Di Maria should have given the hosts a two-goal cushion just before the interval, but he shot straight at Carrasso when put through one-on-one.

PSG continued to dominate at the start of the second half, but Bordeaux rallied and enjoyed a good spell where they could easily have grabbed an equaliser. The chance to level the scores seemed to have been denied to them when Saivet was sent off, but another dreadful mistake from Trapp late on allowed Wahbi Khazri to steal in and ensure Bordeaux left the Parc des Princes with a point.

While Blanc and the club’s fans would evidently have been disappointed with the outcome, everyone associated with PSG knows that the Champions League is their biggest challenge this season. Indeed, the question is not really who will lift the 2015/16 Ligue 1 title, but how early PSG will wrap it up.

Having reached the quarter-finals of Europe’s premier continental club competition in each of the last three campaigns, PSG will be looking to go one better by reaching the last four this time around. It remains to be seen whether the relative lack of competition domestically will help or hinder that ambition.

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


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