Allons les enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Come on children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Power, pride and unadulterated passion. Those words from France’s exhilaratingly special national anthem, La Marseillaise, are some of the most fervently sung across the continent. Unfortunately, however, they haven’t been translated onto the football pitch at club level for quite some time.
At international level, France has produced three major tournament-winning sides – and all in the past 24 years; not many nations can boast that. However, when it comes to club competition, only one French club has ever lifted a European trophy: Marseille’s Champions League-winning side of 1993 under the infamous presidency of Bernard Tapie.
Ligue 1 isn’t the strongest league; that’s all too clear. While the derogatory use of the phrase farmers’ league is wildly over the top, it must be admitted that the quality of France’s top flight simply isn’t up to scratch when compared to the continent’s other domestic leagues – their recent battle with Portugal’s Liga NOS to be deemed worthy of Europe’s top five strongest is testament enough.
In a way, the fantastic Clairefontaine academy – consistently providing state-of-the-art footballing education to the country’s most promising talent – has been French domestic football’s demise. It’s no surprise that such accomplished youngsters are poached from Ligue 1 before they stake their claim in their homeland – it’s a vicious cycle.
But, courtesy of that oh so important modern commodity of money, there’s one club gunning hard to put France back on the club map.
Backed by Qatari money, Paris Saint-Germain are France’s only hope of reobtaining gloire on the continental stage. The club from the capital have flirted with, and have been agonisingly teased by, Champions League success for a few years.
Since 2012, the Parisians have never exited Europe’s elite club competition earlier than the knockout stage and, in the past two seasons, have done nothing but truly announced themselves as one of the continent’s superpowers.
In the 2019/20 campaign – a season in which PSG won all four domestic trophies – it was a heart-breaking headed finish from former player and youth product Kingsley Coman that gave Bayern Munich a narrow 1-0 victory in the final.
And that heartbreak was relived at the semi-final stage last year, as immaturity and severe lack of composure shone through Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s 4-1 aggregate defeat to eventual runners-up Manchester City.
For a team so stacked with undoubted quality and magic, the manner in which they have fallen at such late hurdles over the past couple of years has been infuriating and, frankly, just not good enough considering the financial backing they have had.
However, this year is different.
Of course, their European campaign will be defined by how they bounce back from a woefully average beginning. A drab and underwhelming 1-1 draw at Club Brugge – despite the hyped trio of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar all starting together for the first time – was a depressing way to kick off what PSG fans will hope to be their year in the Champions League.
Despite that result, it still can – and should – be. It’s still a club throwing money at the project, it’s still a club containing almost unquantifiable quality but, this time, it’s a club with their heads firmly screwed on – they have the tools to remain composed and move forward.
After one of the greatest and most unbelievable individual transfer windows ever, the Parisian side now have a greater depth in strength within the squad while also boasting the additions of both Real Madrid and Barcelona captains from last season – one of which, of course, is simply ineffable.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) August 10, 2021
Pochettino now has leaders and born winners who have tasted success in Europe within his squad. With Sergio Ramos’ inevitable demand for greatness and the sheer team-carrying and talismanic capabilities that Messi possesses – among the qualities that all this summer’s other staggering additions bring – there is no excuse for PSG not to finally put their names down in Champions League victors’ history.
It may have been a while since France have produced European champions at club level, and PSG may have just fallen short in recent times, but this year is the best opportunity that the club have had – and may ever have – of bringing back that gloire to domestic French football.