The real PSG: Champions League was something we didn’t even see in movies

No other favourite to win the Champions League has come as far as Paris Saint-Germain, whose history is somewhat unique compared to that of the other European giants who have dominated for decades.

For the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United, there is a never ending list of superstars and titles, but that is not the case for PSG, a club who only came to exist 47 years ago.

Now, they are one of Europe’s biggest and most famous clubs and are looking to become European champions.

Born in 1970, the French Football Federation conducted a survey of 70,000 Parisians to ask their opinion on how to compete with the rest of the country and other European capitals.

In 1974, Paris FC (1969) and Stade Saint Germain (1904) merged and began to play at the Parc des Princes Stadium with room for 48,583 spectators, which was initially opened in 1897.

The stadium hosted the national French football and rugby teams before they moved to the Stade de France only 28 years ago, with double the capacity at 81,338.

In its short history, PSG have been through euphoria and sadness, richness and poorness, and even been threatened with going out of business.

Success and titles have come, but at times, as recently as 2006/07 and 2007/08, surviving relegation has been the aim as they finished 15th and 16th and only three points clear of the drop.

After winning the Coupe de France in 2004, Hugo Leal, previously of Atletico Madrid, celebrated.

“It was special because the team always had the demand to play well,” he remembered. “I played with great players like Ronaldinho, [Nicolas] Anelka, [Mikel] Arteta, [Mauricio] Pochettino. It was more important to share it with the team than the titles themselves.”

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The Portuguese player also recognised that there was a big difference between PSG and other clubs in European capitals.

“You could see that it was a growing squad, with a loyal fanbase, but in Paris people were more devoted to the national team than the team itself,” he adds. “Some locals didn’t even know the players and that caught my attention, especially compared to Madrid, that PSG weren’t the big attraction in Paris.”

In 2000, the first Spaniards arrived in France to play for the club with Mikel Arteta and Quique de Lucas joining.

“When I signed I noticed everything was urgent: playing, results, fans, structure, it took a while to get used to,” Arteta explains. “I think we were like the Atletico Madrid of France, a big club but who had to live up to their potential, Atleti had to do it after relegation, we didn’t go that low but we did have to restructure everything.”

That’s not to say that he and his teammates did not live a life of luxury, as the club was then owned by Canal+.

“I remember that we travelled in Boeing 747 planes, we always went with loads of free seats,” he continues. “That winter Ronaldinho came, who was the big Brazilian talent to shine in Europe, and we had Anelka, who was brilliant in training. We had everything to do well, but it wasn’t like that.”

“Another thing is that we had to park our cars several kilometres away from the training ground and then once we were changed, get a minibus to the ground,” Enrique de Lucas remembers. “It was the same on matchdays, with Parisian traffic, and they left us far away from the stadium although then we could change inside.

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“I have photos of players smoking with the coach, we had medical pressure but not even half of what exists now. The fans were the most extreme in all of the country, we had games against Marseille which were really tense.

“When we lost and things didn’t go well, fans took it badly, I remember a cup game against Guingamp at home that we lost 0-4, and we had to wait more than two hours in the dressing room so that we could leave because the fans were so angry.”

Bernard Lama and Vincent Guerin enjoyed their time at the club more.

“There was more community between the fans, club and players,” the goalkeeper reflects. “What’s good is that we had many French players, now there are almost none in the team.”

Jocelyn Angloma is another who enjoyed a brief spell at the club.

“We were ninth in a quiet campaign (1990/91) and the dressing room was full of veterans who had passed 30, but it was a good time for me because I was called up for France,” he says, having spent just as much time in the bottom half of the table as the top whilst he was in Paris.

“For us the best result was to beat Marseille, the European Cup wasn’t something we even saw in the movies.”

Marketing pressure

Since its creation, the club has always looked after its aesthetic, that’s why they have changed the badge as many as seven times.

Shirts were designed by Daniel Hechter, a fashion expert who was one of the first directors of the club.

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The arrival of Qatari money has done nothing but increase the efforts to internationalise the PSG brand, as they looked to do with the signings of players like David Ginola, George Weah, Ronaldinho, David Beckham and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and as is now stronger than ever with Edinson Cavani, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.

The challenge now is to win the Champions League and put Paris on the world footballing map for good, after decades of dreams, it could now become a reality.

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