Paris Saint-Germain: Football club or fashion statement?
Football club or 'IT' club?
Paris - the city of love and all things chic. Celebrities flock to Europe's most exotic city each and every week, if not to frequent one of the hundreds of upmarket bars and restaurants, but to top up their self-obsessed Instagram accounts with pictures in some of the hottest establishments this world has to offer. Designer shops swamp the capital of France, with no explanation required for tourist's interest in the Eiffel Tower - arguably Europe's biggest attraction, guaranteed to get you likes on each of your social media platforms.
Located in the heart of this glamorous city, though, lies a football team; a team which in the past 10 years has moved from a club plagued by racism and hooliganism, to a club which fits the mould of this prestigious part of the world. Luxury is best word used to describe what the Parisians are all about; they attract the most skilful, marketable players in world football, players who don't just play football well, but also look good whilst doing it. They're the A-listers of the footballing world, the celebrities between the white lines, the club everyone wants to be a part of.
Di Caprio, Jenner, Beyonce.. the list goes on
The sight of supermodels on the terraces is an alien concept for most of us who are content with a scaldingly hot steak pie and lukewarm cup of Bovril whilst cheering on our side from the sidelines. If you said to any British football fan that Leonardo Di Caprio and Mick Jagger would be present at a match in the UK, most of us would politely tell whomever dared make such a ridiculous statement to f*ck off. But, this type of celebrity 'fan' has become a normality at the Parc des Princes in recent seasons.
Di Caprio and Jagger were in attendance when Liverpool came to play in the Champions League in November, while Beyonce & husband Jay-Z also came to visit alongside former player David Beckham for PSG's UCL clash against Barcelona in 2014. Rihanna has also frequented the 48,000 seater stadium, as have models Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, who watched on wearing matching shirts with their first names on the back - did they do it purely for the cameras? I guess we'll never know.
Of course, none of these people have a clue what's going on on the pitch, even if some want to claim that they do. But why not give a game of football a go if you're in the city anyway and are perhaps bored with the endless stream of champagne receptions and Michelin star restaurants. Especially considering you will be granted access to one of the clubs most exclusive boxes and treated like a celebrity, or normally as they may view it.
PSG are the only club in the world where the idea of football dwarfs actually playing it. It's an exclusive 'it' club for everyone who's anyone first, and a football club second. They're like the cool kid at school that everyone wants to be mates with: the kid who always has the newest phone and the coolest trainers. Bit of an arrogant dickhead in truth, but you'll put up with them because you want in on the action.
Forget ProStar, it's Air Jordan for the Frenchmen
Macron, Jako, Stanno, ProStar, Uhlsport - all brands we as kids grew up drowning in on a boggy marsh somewhere on a Sunday morning. As football has evolved and you start to either play at a better standard or somehow plummet to new depths of pub league football, the one thing that remains non-negotiable is having a decent kit. You can be the worst side in history, but at least look good being shit. Nike, Adidas and Puma are the standard choices and more than acceptable, but the cool kid's gone one better than you this time, much to your dismay.
Air Jordan, the on-trend basketball brand who have never even thought about producing a football kit before this season have now linked up with PSG, manufacturing their kits for Champions League matches. They'll have to slum it with Nike for league fixtures though, so take heart from that if you like.
Not only are these kits exceptionally smart (see Mbappe looking effortlessly cool below), but it just further reinforces Paris Saint-Germain's stance as the most marketable club in the world. Who else would have been able to secure such a kit deal? Manchester City maybe, but for all the riches the Sky Blues have, they're still based in Manchester - a fascinating working class city steeped in history, but it's still a far cry from the gold-paved streets of Paris, isn't it?
You see, Paris was always going to have a team which matched the rest of the city's vibe, and the fact it took the Qatar Sports Investment (QSi) until 2011 to take them over is in itself hugely surprising considering the potential the club always had due to its location. What we are witnessing now is sports-washing in its truest formatting, but are PSG starting to lose sight of what really matters because of it all? The football seems to have taken a backseat, with the assumption of league domination each season becoming scarily ignorant.
Celebrity players with celebrity lifestyles
So you've got the kit, you look the part. You've got the celebrity fans and the celebrity status to match, but what's that? A football team actually needs to win games to retain interest? Sure. With millions to burn, the club's president - Nasser Al-Khelaifi - has the ability to buy whoever he wants, with the allure of Paris' glamorous city playing a massive factor in the biggest names in the business choosing them as their next employers. The fact PSG broke the world transfer record to sign Neymar for £200 million in 2017 and then Kylian Mbappe from Monaco for a mouth-watering £165 million just a season later shows just what a powerful force the club are.
With five title wins in the last six seasons, PSG didn't need to splash out such an unholy amount of money on Neymar and Mbappe, so why did they do it? The simple answer is image. Of course if you've got the money, then spend it on the very best, but would they have bothered if the pair weren't a marketing agency's wet dream?
Neymar was fed up of living in Messi's shadow at Barcelona but the move to France stunned everyone considering just how poor the standard is widely known to be in Ligue 1. It was an easy deal for PSG to make: offer the Brazilian the world, promise him that he'll be the main man tasked with taking free-kicks, penalties, throw-ins and goal kicks, for a trillion pound a week and boom - you've got one moderately happy player willing to give 70% for the team, result.
Neymar can have a rubbish game, it doesn't really matter because PSG will probably still win and it's not really about the football, is it? As long as the shirts get sold and the million dollar marketing campaigns keep coming, his work is done. It's the same with Mbappe, though with the 20-year-old having seven years on Neymar and the prime of his career still miles in the future, it's unlikely the exciting youngster will stick around for too much longer, hopefully realising that to maximise his full potential he'll have to make the move to either England or Spain.
No Champions League, no party
Forgive the somewhat bleak nature of this article, it's not to discourage Paris Saint-Germain or throw mud on their name by poking fun at their new found status as a 'celebrity club'. But their model and the way they're ran simply does open up huge debate: do they exist for the right reasons? Possibly not, but who really cares?
Football is evolving at a rate of knots and with the money within the game continuing to rise, and more and more interest from Middle Eastern investors keen to sports-wash huge teams in desirable locations, we will continue to see a rise in this type of ultra-modern club.
For all that PSG are achieving off the pitch though, the true test is on it in the Champions League. The Frenchmen canter to the Ligue 1 title each season without competition - they're currently 17 points clear at the top of the summit and it's only early March. The biggest prize in club football is the Champions League and as of yet, Paris Saint-Germain are yet to win it despite heavily investing in squads they felt confident would do it for them.
Last night the Frenchmen blew the perfect opportunity to progress further in this year's competition, losing 3-1 to Manchester United thanks to a dubious last minute spot kick converted by Marcus Rashford. Debate on whether the penalty was actually a penalty aside, it was another lacklustre performance in Europe from the Ligue 1 side at the Parc des Princes. They were cruising before the game, leading a United side ravaged by injuries 2-0 after the first leg, but being too lazy in possession and slow closing down cost them dearly. It could very well cost Thomas Tuchel his job too, as that is what the success of this whole club is based on.
PSG are a mysteriously cool entity, skilful on the field of play and slick off of it; they may stand for everything many old-school fans unsupportive of the modern game despise, but with football now becoming as much of a marketing platform as it is a magnificently beautiful sporting spectacle, you simply cannot argue with the way they go about their business. As for the Champions League, that'll have to wait until next season, or the season after. But my god those supermodels don't half look good in those shirts.