From Last Gasp Survival To Perennial Ligue 1 Champions: The Day That Saved PSG

From Last Gasp Survival To Perennial Ligue 1 Champions: The Day That Saved PSG
17:05, 17 May 2019

On April 21, 2019, Paris Saint-Germain were coronated Ligue 1 champions for the sixth time in seven seasons, a fitting way to celebrate the France capital that had been wounded by the Notre-Dame fire a week previous.

Though the title had been sewn up with earlier in the day thanks the second-place Lille playing out a stalemate at Toulouse, Les Parisiens marked it emphatically at the Parc des Princes with a hattrick against Monaco from their €180million (£166million) 20-year-old starlet, Kylian Mbappé - the second most-expensive football player in history. The only man to cost more, the €222million (£198million) Neymar, started on the bench.

Just over a decade ago, things couldn’t be much different for PSG. On May 17, 2008, on the final day of the 07/08 season, Paris Saint-Germain travelled to the Stade Auguste Bonal to play FC Sochaux-Montbéliard, needing a result to remain in the top tier having languished in and around the relegation zone throughout the majority of the season.

Their manager at the time was Paul Le Guen and the club was owned by a consortium of U.S investment firms; Morgan Stanley, Butler Capital Partners, and Colony Capital, the latter taking full control by 2009.

An extremely troublesome season for PSG had provoked a portion of hard-core fans had decided to boycott the first 15 minutes of every home game since December in protest at the condition of their increasingly disastrous performances that was propelling their slide.

Though PSG had won the Coupe de la Ligue earlier in the same season with a 2-1 win over Lens, Les Parisiens needed to win in Montbéliard to retain their prestige as the only club to have never been relegated from Ligue 1. Less than a week later they were due to play in the Coupe de France final against an Olympique Lyonnais side already celebrating what would ultimately turn out to be the last of their record-breaking seven straight league titles.

Any potential victory for PSG in the national cup however undoubtedly wouldn’t have lessened the pain and ignominy of being demoted down to the second division for the first time in their history.

Three points against Strasbourg in the league game following their Coupe de la Ligue final could have been adjudged to be just as important a result for the club.

In the penultimate game of the campaign PSG had just managed to crawl out of the relegation zone with a 1-1 draw with a top-three chasing Saint-Étienne, thanks to a Jeremy Clement equalizer for his first goal of the season. The final game of the 07/08 season required PSG and Le Guen to get a result against Sochaux to remain in Ligue 1.

Forward Amara Diané, mercifully for PSG, provided the brace that saw Les Parisiens run out victorious against Sochaux in a nail-biting 2-1 victory and secure Ligue 1 safety, the winner a stretching effort that epitomises the all-or-nothing attitude PSG had to provide on that day. It was that result that condemned their vanquished Coupe de la Ligue opponents Lens to the drop, whilst PSG finished in 17th.

"The club's life was in our hands. I experienced many good moments in my time as a player, but this day was special - it is engraved in my memory, " Diané said in an interview with Le Parisien in February 2016 (via ESPN).

In 2011 Qatar Sports Investments, headed by Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, bought a 70% stake in the club, marked it by smashing the France transfer record with the £37.4m acquisition of Javier Pastore, and kickstarted a sustained period of domestic dominance for PSG whilst also competing on the continental stage and attracting some of the biggest names in the sport at a pace has been almost relentless.

PSG’s relative recent formation in the early 1970s can be used as a jibe to depreciate PSG’s prestige but their were sporadic periods of success in the four decades before the Qatari takeover, including two league titles. They can now boast being the most successful club in French football history, with 38 top-flight trophies ahead of closest rival Olympique de Marseille’s haul of 28. But 21 have arrived since 2012, meaning 55% of that haul has been produced in the past seven years of their almost half-century of existence.

If there had been no Diané heroics, or even if Clement hadn’t decided to produce that strike into the top of the Saint-Étienne net for his debut goal weeks before, and PSG had suffered relegation on that day in May 2008, who knows where the course of history for the club would have led.