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Dayann C. writes to acquaint us with the history of PSG, one of France’s largest and most famous clubs.
Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two part article. You can find the second part here.
With the 2016-17 season on the horizon, the arrival of Unai Emery coupled with the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimović marks the end of the first ‘phase’ of the modern PSG era, signposted by the Qatari backed takeover in the summer of 2011. But despite the recent success, it would be ill-informed to believe that the club’s prominence and pertinence is confined only to recent years. This article will look at the conception of PSG and the various ebbs and flows encountered during its short life.
PSG was founded in the summer of 1970, thanks to the administrative work of a group of local businessmen when they merged Paris FC with the recently promoted Stade Saint-Germain, who were to set to play in the old second division in the 1970-71 season. The formation of the club was backed by a petition with 20000 individuals who had demonstrated their desire for an elite football club in the capital. During their first season, the newly formed club tasted success in the form of promotion, elevating the club to the top tier of French football within a year of its creation. Although maintaining their position within the country’s top flight during the second season, a split occurred. The professional branch of the club continued in the top tier as Paris FC, whilst Paris Saint-Germain were demoted down to the third tier of French football. Nonetheless, the club quickly found its feet again, achieving back to back promotions in the two immediate seasons and returning to Ligue 1 (Division 1 back then).
The 1973-74 season also saw the attainment of professional status and it was during 1974 that the club moved to the famous Parc des Princes, the proud home of the club till this day. One of the shining stars of the decade was Mustapha Dahleb, who with 85 league goals, remained PSG’s best league goalscorer into the new century. The remainder of the decade was generally filled with mid table finishes in the league but the club had established itself as a top flight team. Another star also emerged in the form of Carlos Bianchi who, although having spent only 2 seasons at the club, finished top goalscorer in the league twice, the first player to do so in PSG colours. Bianchi still remains Argentina’s top scorer in first division competitions around the world with 385 goals, perched above Di Stefano in the rankings.
The club won its first silverware in the shape of the 1981-82 French Cup, defeating a Saint-Etienne team that fielded Michel Platini, in dramatic fashion. Having been forced into extra time and trailing 2-1, it took a 120th minute equaliser from Dominique Rocheteau, ironically a former Les Verts player, to take it to penalties and cue a small pitch invasion. A 6-5 win in the shootout ensured the French Cup and was succeeded by another pitch invasion of sorts. The following season saw a successful defence of the French Cup, this time against Nantes, in a fantastic encounter that ended 3-2. A game filled with fantastic goals from both sides, PSG overturned a 2-1 deficit to take the victory, with 2 assists and a long distance strike from the emblematic Safet Sušić.
The cup wins were accompanied with the club’s first ventures into the European game, where two respectable runs were achieved in the 1982-83 and 1983-84 editions of the European Cup Winners’ Cup. In the first of these two competitions, PSG reached the quarter finals. The following season, PSG were knocked out in the last 16 against a Juventus side made up of several 1982 Italian world-cup winning squad members as well as Michel Platini. What’s more impressive was that the two-legged tie ended 2-2 on aggregate, with a 2-2 draw played out at the Parc and a scoreless encounter in the return fixture in Turin. Unfortunately Juventus proceeded on the away goals rule. Nonetheless, PSG lost to the eventual winners, who won 6 out of 7 of their other games in the tournament.
Under the management of Gérard Houllier, the club won its first league title in 1986, a mere 16 years after the club’s initial formulation. The club set a new unbeaten streak record of 26 games and spent all but the first 2 weeks of the season on top of the table, when they were only second due to goal difference. The following season’s European Cup was the first the club had qualified for but they failed to make an impact, exiting in the first round of fixtures. The rest of the decade brought no further cup success, with several early exits and the league was not much more successful, bar a second place finish in 1988-89. That runner-up league finish was a bitter pill to swallow considering PSG were leading the title race as late as the 34th game of the season, but then faced eternal rivals Olympique de Marseille. PSG lost ‘Le Classique’ 1-0 and relinquished the lead in the title race to Marseille, a position they were unable to recapture. The following season, PSG lost out again to Juventus in European competition, who went on to win the Uefa Cup.
The likes of Mustapha Dahleb and Carlos Bianchi helped bring PSG into the public eye but this was reinforced furthermore by the establishment of further stars within the team. Dominique Rocheteau was a key component of the club’s success during this period, involved in all 3 trophy wins as well being the club’s top league scorer 4 times, including the title winning year. Having been a player at Saint-Etienne when they reached the European cup final, ‘l’Ange Vert’ (The Green Angel) spent 7 seasons at PSG, elevating the club’s status. Luis Fernández, one of the famous ‘Carré Magique’ (Magic Square) members who made up the French national team midfield, was another fantastic player for the club. Another seasoned performer was goalkeeper Joël Bats, who was perhaps more famous for his national team exploits, but still spent 7 seasons at PSG, later becoming a coach at the club. Jean-Marc Pilorget was an incredible servant to the club, spending 14 years at the club and appearing a record 435 times in defence for PSG.
However, the pick of the bunch was Safet Sušić. The Bosnian midfielder, who has hat-tricks against Italy and Argentina to his name whilst playing for Yugoslavia, was without a doubt the brightest spark at the club during the era. Playing as an attacking midfielder, he scored 172 goals in 343 games during a 9 year spell at the club, as well as providing 61 assists in league matches. He was once voted PSG’s greatest ever player by France Football, a dazzling indication of his ability when you consider the players that would later play for the club, as well as the best foreign Ligue 1 player ever. The great Gerd Müller stated that if Sušić were to be ranked, he would at least be in the top 40 of all time greats. Amongst others, these were the early shining lights that played in PSG colours and they made an indelible mark on the club. However the 1990s were to surpass the achievements of the 80s, acting undeniably as the first golden period of PSG’s history.
The turn of the decade ushered in new leadership at the top, with Canal+ buying the club and providing fresh financial backing. With it came a whole host of new, talented faces, both foreign and French, and newfound success followed suit. In Ligue 1, between 1991 and 1997, PSG finished in the top three for 6 consecutive seasons, including the club’s second league title in the 1993-94 season. This ensured that there was regular European football at the Parc. It is also important to mention that in 1992-93, rivals Marseille won the inaugural Champions League but were relegated from Ligue 1 despite finishing first due to a bribery scandal and financial irregularities involving their president, the divisive Bernard Tapie. Although the French League Federation offered the title to PSG, the runners-up in the league, the owners of the club, Canal+ refused to accept it, wary of a possible reaction from customers from Marseille and the surrounding region. They even refused to accept qualification to the Champions League, with the place eventually going to AS Monaco. That league title still remains unattributed.
The domestic cups were a greater part of success during the 1990s. The club won 3 French Cups during the decade, bringing the overall tally to 5 at the turn of the century, with the first 4 successes being achieved in the club’s very own stadium. PSG also won 2 League Cups, including the inaugural edition in 1994-95, which again was held at the Parc des Princes. Both League Cup successes were coupled with the French Cup to produce a pair of domestic cup doubles during the respective seasons (94-95 and 97-98). In addition to the League Cups, the club won the two subsequent Trophée des Champions, the curtain raiser for each season, bringing the domestic trophy haul for the decade to eight. It was, however, on the European stage where PSG caused the greatest shockwaves.
Between 1992 and 1997, Les Parisiens reached 5 consecutive semi finals in one of the three European competitions. In the 1992-93 season, PSG reached the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup, losing 3-1 on aggregate to their bogey team and again eventual champions, Juventus. The run included a 2-0 victory away to Napoli thanks to a brace from the great George Weah and more famously a 5-4 aggregate victory (1-3 away, 4-1 home) over the mighty Real Madrid in the quarters. The second leg in Paris saw the home team trailing by a two goal deficit going into the match. Weah converted in the first half but with 10 minutes to go, Los Blancos were still going to be progressing at the expense of PSG. But a fantastically worked half volley from David Ginola and then a good finish from Valdo turned the tie on its head. Real, courtesy of Zamorano, scored in the 4th minute of additional time and a prolongation of play looked imminent. However, in the 6th minute of added time, a free kick won and taken by David Ginola was converted by an Antoine Kombouaré header to seal a famous victory. Kombouaré would later state that it was like the World Cup to him. PSG had won with the last throw of the dice.
The next season, PSG had qualified for the European Cup Winners’ Cup and a similarly terrific run to the semi finals occurred. As luck would have it, PSG met Real Madrid for the second year running in the quarter finals and the end result did not change. Paris again knocked out Real Madrid, this time 2-1 on aggregate. This time, the second leg in Paris ended in a 1-1 stalemate but it was the first leg, away in Madrid, that is better remembered. PSG more than rode their luck but came out 1-0 winners thanks to a solitary strike from George Weah, with credit to Ginola for a great assist down the left. In the semi-finals, PSG would end up losing 2-1 on aggregate to eventual champions Arsenal. The 1994-95 season saw the return of the elite European tournament, the Champions League, to Paris and the club looked well at home during the campaign. The group stages saw PSG pass with flying colours, winning all 6 matches. This achievement included home and away wins against Bayern Munich, another traditional powerhouse in the continental game. PSG won 2-0 at home before a famous solo effort, from the vivacious George Weah, sealed a 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture. More was yet to come as PSG knocked out big-hitters Barcelona (coached by the legendary Cruyff) in the quarter-finals, the team that had finished runners-up in the previous edition. In the first leg at the Nou Camp, the game ended 1-1 with Weah, who would go on to win the Ballon D’or and the FIFA World Player of the Year Awards later in the same year, equalising for PSG. The second leg at home proved to be another famous encounter as PSG would come from behind to score 2 goals in the last twenty minutes to overhaul Barcelona 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate. However, Italian teams once again proved to be PSG’s undoing, as they lost 3-0 on aggregate to reigning champions AC Milan in the semis. Nonetheless, Weah would go on to finish top scorer in the tournament with 7 goals.
During the 1995-96 European campaign PSG usurped its previous exploits on the continent and finally won a tournament, the European Cup Winners’ Cup. This, to date, is one of only two European trophies won by French teams, the other being the 1992-93 Champions League won by rivals Marseille. The run saw PSG defeat the likes of Celtic, Parma and Deportivo La Coruna before beating Rapid Wien 1-0 in the final, thanks to a long distance Bruno N’Gotty strike in the 28th minute. Having performed so admirably on the continent and amassing several high profile scalps over the previous three seasons in Europe, PSG had finally won the continental trophy they deserved. The 1996 European Super Cup was played against the now common foe, Juventus, who dismantled PSG over two legs, winning 9-2 on aggregate including a 6-1 victory in Paris, with a team that included Zidane, Del Piero and Didier Deschamps. But this humbling did not check PSG’s stride too much as the squad returned to the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1997. Along the way, PSG beat Galatasaray 6-4 on aggregate and Liverpool 3-2 on aggregate before falling 1-0 against Barcelona in the final. The winning goal was a Ronaldo penalty in the first half. This would spell an end to PSG’s great European success during this period with the next two seasons seeing early exits from Europe. What’s most disappointing was that PSG’s relative decline in league form coincided with the new format of the Champions League where more than one team could qualify from each of the top member associations of UEFA, a system that would’ve benefited the club during the middle of the decade and even perhaps have led to a first Champions League victory. This is a system that Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, AC Milan and Bayern Munich have all profited from, winning the Champions League having not qualified as title winners from the previous season.
The club’s success in the 1990s is apparent considering PSG were ranked the World’s Club Team of the Year in 1994 by IFFHS and were ranked the best team in Europe for the five year period of 1994-98. Much of the club’s success has to be attributed to the infrastructure of players as well as the managers that led them. Artur Jorge (European Cup winning manager in 1987 with Porto) and then former player Luis Fernández brought an enthralling, attacking style to PSG’s play. For the years it lasted, the attacking style was formulated well by the managers and then executed exceptionally by the players. The likes of Bernard Lama, Youri Djorkaeff, both 1998 World Cup winners, Paul Le Guen and Vincent Guérin, amongst others, composed the French contingent of the squad. Key foreign players within the squad consisted of players such as Antoine Kombouaré, Leonardo (1994 WC winner), Marco Simone and Valdo. In addition to that, Ricardo Gomes, who also had a spell as manager later in the decade, spent 4 years at the club between 1991 and 1995. He was initially selected as Brazil’s captain for the 1994 World Cup (which they ended up winning) but was forced to miss the showpiece tournament with an injury. However, there were 3 players that really stood out from the squad during the era; David Ginola, George Weah and Raí, brother of the famous Sócrates.
Ginola, despite admitting to being a Marseille fan and being vilified for France’s failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, performed outstandingly in PSG colours. He helped the club win 4 domestic trophies in 3 years as well as aiding deep runs in European competition. His standout performances were in Europe, most memorably against the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. So much so that when he set out for pastures new, it was widely expected that he’d move to one of the two Spanish giants, having been dubbed ‘El Magnifico’ by Spanish media. Raí, playing as an attacking midfielder, scored 74 goals for the club at a rate of better than 1 every 3 games. A World Cup winner in 1994, initially being picked as captain of the squad, Raí was a fan favourite at the club, having only played for PSG outside of his native Brazil. He ended his time at the club as captain, lifting both domestic cups in 1998. But the best player of the era was Liberian George Weah, who won the Ballon D’or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 1995, the year he left the club to join AC Milan. To date the only African to win either of the two awards, Weah scored big goals against the some of the greatest adversaries. With goals against Napoli in Naples, Real Madrid home and away, Bayern Munich home and away as well as an equaliser at the Nou Camp against Barcelona, George Weah cemented his place as an all time great not only at the club but in footballing folklore. As aforementioned, he was also the top goalscorer in the 1994-95 edition of the Champions League and it was heights he would be unable to hit again after leaving for AC Milan. The structure of the PSG team and the quality of players that played within it brought about the club’s first truly golden era.
To be continued…