It was a week to savour for Parisians. A record ninth Coupe de France triumph was quickly followed by news that the dynamic duo Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore had put pen-to-paper on deals that would keep them in the French capital until 2019.
Reward for the duo’s most fruitful campaigns in Paris, Blanc can now devote complete attention to the development of the pair after confirmation both would require hefty fees to lure them away from the Parc de Princes.
Injury against Caen in February curtailed Lucas’ campaign, unfortunately, though prior to that, the Brazilian was a rare bright spot in an otherwise lethargic Paris Saint Germain side.
Pastore, meanwhile, remained an ever-present throughout the campaign and ended the season as one of, if not, the most instrumental player in PSG’s treble-charge. With six goals and 13 assists, Pastore managed to quell rumours of a potential exit after a hitherto underwhelming stint in the French capital.
As the first major arrival under the Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) group, the Argentine was earmarked as a future club legend. Initially, the £37 million PSG forked out on him had failed to pay dividends, but his talent was never discredited. There was a sense that, as a player with gossamer gifts, there was little substance to match his prepossessing style and hence, he often found himself on the periphery.
But his fortunes have changed this season. The mesmeric rainbow flick against Metz, for example, was preceded by a deft dinked finish early in the first-half. The peerless close-control and nutmeg against Bastia an embellishment of a resounding MOTM performance. The craft has been supplemented with some much-needed ingenuity.
There is also a feeling that Pastore, despite his individual excellent, is a mere cog in technically glossy machine. Marco Verratti, a pint-sized madcap, announced himself to the footballing domain with a string of exquisite performances on the European stage.
His Italian compatriot, Thiago Motta, remains the most composed midfielder in the PSG line-up at 32, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the face of the football club and the fruits of Nasser Ghanim Al-Khelaïfi’s investment, continues to split opinions but remains, on his day, the most aesthetically satisfying player in France. Not many players are able to take the ball into their stride and lob Vincent Enyeama, either, as Edinson Cavani demonstrated against Lille.
To complement that deftness, though, Blanc can call upon several leaders in the changing room. That is where the Brazilian duo of Thiago Silva and David Luiz have excelled this campaign. In the Champions League quarter-final second-leg tie against Chelsea, Thiago Silva struck the all-important away goal to seal PSG’s passage only eighteen minutes removed from his moment of madness where he was adjudged to have handled the ball inside his own penalty area.
But the 30 minutes, where Silva struck two minutes before the end, was salvaged by a David Luiz header during the dying embers of normal time. As a member of Laurent Blanc’s staff noted after PSG’s defeat to Chelsea in 2014, “If we had had him [Luiz] in our team last season, we would have beaten Chelsea.”
PSG’s success, according to many, still remains unquantifiable given that, with their financial clout, they should be sweeping the domestic awards on an annual basis. In the three years since they first broke into the Champions League under QSI investment, the club have been unable to progress further than the quarter-finals.
This year, they crashed out to Barcelona at the same stage in particularly harrowing circumstances and, naturally, the scrutiny on Blanc’s position intensified. However, to deem the side’s European travails this campaign as a failure would be to disregard the victory Blanc masterminded over Jose Mourinho during the previous round. Le President — as he is affectionately known — got the better of his Portuguese counterpart that evening and there is a sense that the tie against Chelsea arrived a round too early.
Furthermore, their hegemony in France is often used to undermine their achievements. As risible as it sounds, the club have effectively diluted the merits of domestic supremacy given their financial status and, as a result, their exploits on the continental front are seen as the only true barometer of progress. It’s understandable, of course, but, and as the second-half of this season has shown, the side are more than capable of holding their nearest challengers at arm’s length.
Third place at Christmas, Blanc’s side showed immense mental fortitude to leapfrog both Marseille and Lyon — both of whom were massively overachieving — and claim their third successive Ligue 1 crown. After their dismal 4-2 defeat to Bastia in early January, the side tasted defeat just once — against Bordeaux in March — and yielded an impressive 47 points out of a possible 57 since.
Let’s also not forget that despite the sustained excellence of Lyon during the 00s, Marseille during the 90s and St. Etienne during the 80s, PSG’s treble victory has an unprecedented quality.
That said, a large section of the PSG demographic believe that Blanc remains a barrier to progression as a club. He has clashed with big ego’s in the dressing room, namely Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi, and he has raised many an eyebrow with several of his on-field decisions like, for instance, the introduction of David Luiz during the quarter-final first-leg against Barcelona when the Brazilian was patently unfit.
On the other hand, his proponents will point to the domestic sweep and the victory over Chelsea as signs of tangible improvement. Regardless of which side of the spectrum you position yourself, however, it is hard to argue against the notion that the triumph over Chelsea proved to be the turning point in PSG’s season. According to sources close to the Parc de Princes, Blanc turned a few heads in the PSG dressing room after that victory.
The more recent tactical switch, with Pastore occupying the advanced midfielder role behind the front pairing of Cavani and Ibrahimovic, has also unearthed a new side of Blanc. Lucas, returning from injury, is also capable of returning to the team and reverting the side back to their accustomed 4-3-3.
Tasking Ibrahimovic to drop slightly deeper — to accommodate his decline as a forward — and allowing Cavani to exploit the space in-behind has made PSG a much more attractive proposition. And that is without factoring in the gliding surges of Pastore.
The task now, of course, is to maintain the mesmeric football over the course of an entire season. Cavani may remain inherently hit-and-miss and Ibrahimovic’s predatory instinct may wane even further, but there is plenty of optimism within the PSG camp: tying Lucas and Pastore down to new contracts allows the club to begin contract negotiations with midfield fulcrum Verratti, a reported target of Real Madrid’s and, moreover, grants Blanc reassurance that he is able to build a squad capable of challenging for silverware on the European front.
For all the winter animosity, perhaps we need to appreciate this current PSG side a little more.