From the land where the virtues of liberty, fraternity and equality were fought to the death for, comes another class struggle that features the all-powerful super club against the little team that could.
It is as if the French Revolution is being fought all over again, but on a different plain — instead of the streets of the Champs Elysees, it is a soccer pitch. A battle for the soul of French soccer is happening, featuring two diametrically opposed sides: The new European superpower of world soccer, Paris Saint-Germain against the mom-and-pop club playing in Saturday’s Trophees Des Champions, Montpellier HSC (3:00 p.m., MSG).
After being purchased by wealthy Qatari consortium QSI in 2011, PSG has splashed millions in the transfer market. Looking to join the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City in the new boys’ club of nouveau-riche teams buying their ways into the top tier of European soccer, PSG has spent obscene amounts of money in an attempt to dominate Le Championnat and take over the rest of Europe. It’s a plan Napoleon would have been proud of.
But a funny thing along the way to the Ligue 1 title. Despite their exorbitant expenditures, PSG fell short of their goal. It wasMontpellier, a team that was playing in Ligue 2 in 2007 who took home the title to the shock of many observers.
A modest club with even more modest spending, Montpellier held off PSG to the title and won their first championship in their history. Led by manager Rene Girard, Montpellier played an attractive brand of soccer with a solid defense — their 34 goals allowed was tied for the fewest allowed in the league — and remained remarkably thrifty in their expenditures. Spending just a reported $2.45 million on signings, Girard built a strong, youthful team that proved resilient against seemingly insurmountable odds.
If you didn’t know any better, Girard’s post title-winning comments could have been said by any of the great French revolutionaries. A spirit of togetherness triumphed over the aristocratic Dream Team who thought it was fait accompli the title was heading to the capital.
“I think our triumph is a real shot in the arm for French football,” Girard told the French media after clinching the championship.
“It just goes to show that everyone can beat everyone and that money isn’t the be-all and end-all. We’re a club of mates, a club that brings young players through and gives them a chance. At the end of the day, it’s worked out well for us. We played some great football, with a well-balanced team and I’m overwhelmed.”
But like all good things, Montpelier’s run at the top of French soccer may come to the end this season. The price of success for a small-market team is that larger teams scoop up your best players with promises of better wages and a more sustained chance at winning trophies. In preparation for Robin Van Persie’s eventual exit from the Emirates, Arsenal purchased Montpellier’s top scorer last season, Olivier Giroud, for around $23 million. Like vultures around fresh prey, other clubs have circled around vital Montpellier players such as center back and captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and midfielder Younes Belhanda.
Meanwhile, PSG continues its non-stop shopping. With the likes of Argentinean playmaker Javier Pastore already on the books, PSG went one step further this summer, raiding AC Milan for two of its top stars: Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and center back Thiago Silva. The price tag? A reported $232 million in transfer fees, which doesn’t include the exorbitant wages “Ibra” and Silva will be getting on a weekly basis. It seems as if it’s only a matter of time before the Parisians capture the title.
Still, would you put it past Montpellier to shock the world again? Armed with an admirable spirit and a feisty attitude, the defending champions might be able to do it again, this time with new unknown players that will surprise and excite. This new French Revolution is far from over.