PSG earn Europe's respect

Posted by Jonathan Johnson

After reflecting on Wednesday night's Champions League exit on away goals, following a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou, Paris Saint-Germain can be proud that they have finally convinced the rest of Europe that they belong at the continent's top table.

Under constant scrutiny since the arrival of Qatar Sports Investments, the French capital club reached the quarter-finals of European club football's top tier after an eight year absence. Less than 24 months into an ambitious project that has already seen PSG become the talk of world football, particularly on the subject of transfers, the French giants can be delighted with the progress made this season even if the exit has left a sense of what might have been.

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Sporting director Leonardo summed it up perfectly after the match: "My feeling after the first leg was pride, mixed with a bit of disappointment. Tonight, the dominant emotion is disappointment, mixed with pride."

"I can't think of another side who have threatened and troubled Barcelona as much as we did. All we needed was the second goal. Credit to the fantastic work that Carlo has done, his talent and skill is respected the world over."

He is right, how many sides have reduced the Catalans to playing for time before the additional figure has even been announced? It is a compliment of the highest degree that Tito Vilanova was panicked into rushing an unfit Lionel Messi onto the field of play (though it looked like he wasn't going to have a choice either way) after Javier Pastore had opened the scoring. That the capital club had the Catalans looking wild-eyed and vulnerable before the Argentine sensation entered the fray is even more impressive.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who laid the goal on for Pastore with his seventh assist in the Champions League this season, said: "I think that after tonight, people will have a different view of PSG. We won a lot of people's respect."

That is also true. Before the competition, PSG were seen as the spoiled nouveau riche, a club assembled at high cost with little character. The team, over 180 minutes against arguably the best team in the world, and in their encounters before that, proved that they have the character and necessary grit to belong on this stage. They pushed the Spaniards further than most have been able to do in this competition over the years and for that (and creating a thoroughly absorbing spectacle) they should be congratulated. Ancelotti especially is deserving of the praise.

The Italian said of the result: "Next year our objective is to be even better; lots of players have gained invaluable experience, and that's where we'll start next season."

That is possibly the most accurate observation of all. Many of the players needed to experience a match of this stature to truly appreciate what it will take to go all the way in the future and win the competition. The likes of Pastore, Lucas Moura, Marco Verratti and Blaise Matuidi needed to sample a match against top quality opposition to develop the taste, hunger and desire for more of the same and to better it. That had already been achieved by the end of a first leg that saw Les Parisiens fight back from a goal down twice. The second leg merely confirmed what the first had suggested: that PSG are now one of Europe's top sides, as a finish in the last eight of the competition attests.

Javier Pastore puts PSG into a shock lead at Barcelona
GettyImagesJavier Pastore put PSG into a shock lead at Barcelona

That would not have been possible without Ancelotti. The Italian has faced criticism at various points through the season, not to mention plenty of speculation regarding his future. But recently his tactics has been spot-on in the league and in Europe. At the Nou Camp in particular, he picked the best team to win the match (yes not including David Beckham) and it could, and arguably should, have done so. The team were responsible and dogged at the back but also prepared to commit men forward when attacking.

The Italian has also finally mastered the balance between PSG's domestic commitments and their European ones. After establishing a now seemingly insurmountable lead at the summit of France's top-flight, his side had earned the right to focus on the Champions League for this pair of matches. Speculation that he won't be there next season is absurd; he deserves another crack at the competition and is undoubtedly the best man for the club at this point in time, particularly with regards to where the project currently stands.

As club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said after the match: "What we've just done is very important because when we arrived, a lot of people didn't believe in our project. We showed tonight that we haven't been moving too quickly."

He is right, but Ancelotti is a key reason for that. He has made the most of the tremendous, but highly individualistic talent put in front of him and has turned them into a competitive force in a short space of time. Two years have not yet elapsed since QSI took charge, yet PSG are already competitive on the European stage. Moreover, they were eliminated by a team with a unique talent in Messi. How many teams can boast the likes of the Argentine? If PSG had been faced with any of the other quarter-final opposition they'd have arguably gone through.

It is an impressive turnaround in the Italian's fortunes considering how untenable his position looked in December, and he is enjoying well-deserved praise for his role in the team's impressive performance. But looking to the future, a strong spine of the squad has now been formed. If they can keep their key domestic talent happy and move on the few members of the squad that arguably should not be allowed to rot on the bench, or have nothing else to offer the project, the side will be much improved with the right additions.

Those changes need not be major, but the French contingent will arguably pose the biggest problem ahead of the summer, with so many players disgruntled at their marginalised involvement. However, they too have a big lesson to learn from being involved in this run, regarding the importance of competition within the side.

The likes of Mamadou Sakho and Jeremy Menez have the ability to fight their way into Ancelotti's plans, Kevin Gameiro perhaps not, but through no fault of his own. Teenage sensation Adrien Rabiot will return from a fruitful loan spell with Toulouse and provide competition in the midfield too, allowing the club to make a tough decision regarding the future of the effective, but injury-prone Thiago Motta among others.

Plenty to ponder for PSG then as the season reaches the final furlong, but that can wait until the summer. With the league title yet to be sewn up and a potential Coupe de France title to be won, the capital club's season could yet finish with a glorious flourish.

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