PSG money men put Manchester City sheiks in halfpenny place
Qatari spending has transformed European pecking order
Accelerated acquisition strategy was the buzz phrase around Manchester City the last time they encountered Paris Saint-Germain.
Three months on from Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan's £210m takeover of the club in September 2008, moves were already afoot to launch an audacious £91m move for Kaka in the January transfer window.
Although City instead ended up with Shay Given and Craig Bellamy, and a barrage of criticism after chief executive Garry Cook had accused AC Milan of "bottling" the sale of their Brazilian forward, the foundations for the club's subsequent growth and success were already being laid.
But as a crowd of 25,626 trudged away from a 0-0 UEFA Cup draw against PSG at Eastlands on December 3, 2008 - the £40m-a-year Etihad Stadium naming rights deal was still two years away -after watching Ched Evans replace the hapless Jo up front in the second half, few would have imagined that the two clubs would next meet in a Champions League quarter-final as the most lavishly-funded teams in world football.
And perhaps most gallingly for City and their Abu Dhabi owners, the encounter will take place in Paris tonight with PSG having been jet-propelled ahead of them by Qatari backers, whose motivation to succeed with their sporting project will have been fuelled by the perennial battle between the two tiny Gulf states to outdo each other.
When stories of a Qatari move for Manchester United were mooted in 2009 and 2010, during the height of the supporter-led green-and-gold campaign against Old Trafford's owners, the Glazer family, senior figures within City's Abu Dhabi hierarchy were unfazed by the prospect of their Middle East neighbours buying their Mancunian neighbours, on the grounds that the Qataris were regarded as talking a good game, but less able to play it.
With PSG, however, the Qataris have displayed the ability not only to succeed, but also transform the club into a destination of choice for the world's leading players - an outfit that has beaten United to the likes of Lucas Moura and thwarted Roberto Mancini's determination to lure Edinson Cavani to City from Napoli in the summer of 2012.
City may have had the accelerated acquisition strategy back in 2008 but, despite only taking over at PSG three years later, in 2011, the Qataris have seen their accelerated success strategy take them beyond their quarter-final opponents and behind only Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the race to sign the world's top players.
If Cristiano Ronaldo leaves Real this summer, PSG, rather than the blue or red halves of Manchester, is his most likely destination.
"We want to confirm what the owners all had in mind when they bought PSG," claimed coach Laurent Blanc.
"We have nothing to demonstrate to Manchester City. This is not a challenge against Manchester City.
"This is not really a sporting question, but we can compare both projects because financial investors came in and gave some financial power to City and Paris.
"In England you guys should be used to it, there are not many clubs who are not owned by foreign investors. These are two similar projects, but in term of football these will be two great games."
For a club that had won just two French titles in its history prior to 2011 - PSG remains in the shadow of St Etienne, Marseilles and Olympique Lyonnais in terms of trophy-winning history - its current stranglehold of Ligue Un secured by four successive championship triumphs ensures domestic dominance that City's owners can only dream of.
The competitive nature of the Premier League is acknowledged as a growing problem for City by its Abu Dhabi owners - an issue that PSG do not face in France - and it has become an issue for players, with many now preferring the guaranteed medals on offer in Paris as opposed to a slog with no guarantees in England.
City have earned their success, however, having ended United's lengthy period of dominance, but they share a European frustration having failed to crack the Champions League.
For both, Barcelona have become an annual roadblock at the business end of the competition.
This quarter-final tie offers City and PSG to break new ground by reaching the semi-finals, with City at this stage for the first time and PSG aiming to progress to the last four after three consecutive exits in the quarter-finals.
And from City's perspective, there is a distinct sense that the current team is facing its last shot at Champions League glory before Pep Guardiola arrives in the summer to rebuild and reshape a squad whose best days are now in the past.
"City managed to win their domestic league, which is not easy, and some titles," Blanc said.
"But maybe in Europe, they are a bit behind us. Maybe this shows it [doing well in Europe] is not as easy as it looks.
"Whichever teams qualifies for the semi-finals will give a signal to the other teams."
A win for PSG will raise the bar once again for the Qataris, but City's owners remain set on winning the Champions League themselves and have hired Guardiola to do just that.
Tonight will enable one of them to lay down a marker, not only for the second-leg, but for next season and beyond. (© Independent News Service)
Paris Saint-Germain v Man City
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