Wednesday, 23 May 2012

End of season ramblings as PSG miss out on the Ligue 1 title

Now that the dust has settled on the weekend's final round of Ligue 1 action, it's time to reflect on what has certainly been a memorable season in the short but dramatic/melodramatic/traumatic/problematic (delete as applicable) history of Paris St-Germain football club.

For anyone who has been on another planet recently, PSG managed to win their final Ligue 1 match on Sunday night, labouring to a 2-1 win at Lorient thanks to second half goals from Javier Pastore and Thiago Motta. However, their efforts were in vain as leaders Montpellier recovered from going a goal down to beat Auxerre 2-1 and claim the title, Portsmouth reject John Utaka netting twice.

Firstly I'd like to add my voice to the many congratulations which have been directed at Rene Girard's team, who are more than worthy champions. For an unheralded side to outperform the reigning champions (Lille) and the monied new kids on the block is a tremendous achievement, and in many ways a heart-warming tale in an era where football seems increasingly dominated by those with the deepest pockets.

Second place was in the bag for PSG before the weekend's action, and with it a pass straight to the Champions League group stages where the club will compete for the first time since 2004/05. The runners-up spot also represents Les Rouge-et-Bleu's best league finish for nearly a decade.

But despite all this I'm unsure as to how much of an achievement you can call it. It's true that at the start of the season reaching the Champions League was the be-all and end-all, while it's also true that new, big-money, teams thrown together - as this PSG squad was last summer - rarely succeed from the word go.

However, having watched the season pan out I'm left feeling a bit disappointed that we didn't go on and seal the title deal. It's been a great season in Ligue 1 in terms of entertainment, but one where a lot of the fancied teams have underperformed: Lyon are in transition, Marseille are in a mess, and Lille's early-season inconsistency, Champions League commitments and defensive frailties meant they were always playing catch-up. In short, the stage was set for someone else to make a grab for the title, and while Montpellier took full advantage PSG, at times, floundered.

Every team has it's "what if" moments during the season, but this year the Parisiens seem to have had more than their fair share: two defeats to Nancy, points dropped at struggling Caen and Auxerre, and that 0-0 draw in Nice which was supposedly one of the worst football matches in history. Generally the big players performed on the big occasions, and our record against the other sides at the top of the table was pretty good. This makes it all the more frustrating that a bit more positivity and bravery in the less glamorous ties would have almost certainly resulted in us celebrating more than *just* making the Champions League.

Don't get me wrong, in a lot of ways it's been a great season, and some of the attacking football, particularly since Ancelotti took over, has been a joy to watch. But getting too excited about a second place finish makes me uncomfortable in the same way the "underdog" narrative which has been woven around Chelsea since they won the Champions League makes me uncomfortable: Chelsea are only perceived as under-dogs because they were so appalling earlier in the season, this after all is a team containing some of the highest paid players in world football. Should it come as a surprise that they can compete for the biggest prizes? No, we should expect them to be there, not be amazed that they were just because they under-achieved earlier in the year. It's all about context.

Similarly, for me PSG's season needs to be put in the proper context. At the start of this campaign most of us would have taken a second place because a) we didn't expect that PSG would be able to challenge consistently, and b) we expected some of our rivals to do better. As it turned out PSG were able to challenge consistently, even though we gave ourselves the handicap of changing manager half-way through the season, while a lot of our rivals struggled to keep pace. With that in mind, second place is surely the minimum we should have achieved, especially given that we didn't really progress in any of the cups and could, for the most part, concentrate on Ligue 1.

Some of you will be reading this and thinking these are the ramblings of some Johnny-come-lately who wants success and wants it now, but that's certainly not the case. I just feel it's important not to get carried away at this stage because we haven't won anything yet. Success in football usually takes time, but equally you have to be prepared to take your opportunity whenever it comes along. This season was a great chance to get some silverware in the cabinet, and a chance that we, ultimately, failed to take.


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