PARIS (AP) — While Paris Saint-Germain's cash-rich Qatari owners proudly showed off their latest huge-money signing in Doha last week, the promise of riches on the playing field has yet to materialize for coach Carlo Ancelotti.
Despite being given the kind of unrestricted spending power most coaches only dream about, Ancelotti has failed to turn PSG into a force. Signing Brazilian Lucas Moura from under the nose of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is a rare coup, but it does not distract from the reality that the club has struggled to turn its stable of thoroughbreds into a winning machine in the way other big teams do, despite an enormous outlay of more than €260 million ($339 million) over 18 months.
Halfway through what was expected to be dominant league campaign, PSG leads Lyon and Marseille on goal difference — the worst margin among Europe's top five championships. Juventus leads Lazio by five points; United leads Manchester City by seven; Bayern Munich is nine ahead of Bayer Leverkusen; and Barcelona is 11 clear of Atletico Madrid. Unlike in some of those leagues, PSG's rivals have spent hardly any money and have become selling clubs.
PSG's failure to win any trophy last season — having already spent more than €100 million ($130.5 million) and leading by three points at the winter break — was too easily glossed over and the problems have spilled over into the current campaign.
"I've won trophies everywhere I've played and I hope that continues with Paris," said Zlatan Ibrahimovic, PSG's star player. "We've had a few problems with the way we've played recently, and that's shown in our results. When you lose, you learn much more than when you win. I just hope we've learned the lessons."
Another failure this season will heap embarrassment on a club desperate to be a leading European club, even though its domestic record of two league titles — the last in 1994 — shows it is not even France's best. Beneath the hype is the stark reality that Saint-Etienne has 10 league titles; Marseille has nine and won the Champions League in 1993; Nantes has eight; Lyon seven (consecutively); and Bordeaux six.
Even though all of those clubs are older, they also outperformed PSG since it was formed in 1970. PSG did have a brief flutter of European success, winning the now defunct Cup Winners Cup in 1996, and finishing runner-up the following year, either side of reaching the Champions League semifinals.
Since Qatari owners QSI took over, PSG has bought three players costing more than €40 million ($52 million) — Moura, former AC Milan center back Thiago Silva, and Argentine playmaker Javier Pastore. It boasts one of the world's best strikers in Ibrahimovic, and a respected coach.
Yet Ancelotti, who won the Champions League with AC Milan and guided Chelsea to the domestic double in his first season, has struggled to get consistency from his players. A woeful spell of four losses in eight games from early November to early December cranked up the pressure. After PSG was knocked out of the French League Cup by Saint-Etienne and lost to Nice, speculation increased that QSI was close to firing Ancelotti and sporting director Leonardo — who has been in the spotlight mainly for his berating of referees.
Ancelotti finally cracked after the loss to Nice, exasperated by the attitude of his players. There has been unrest behind the scenes, too, with Nene — last season's top scorer with 21 league goals — clashing with Ancelotti, and Pastore expressing a wish to play for AC Milan one day. Also, Silva confessed that he would like to return to Milan in the future, having only just joined PSG.
As reports of dressing-room bust-ups regaled the French press, with Ibrahimovic reportedly yelling at his teammates that his children play better than them, something had to give. Ancelotti's hard words following the loss to Nice sparked a reaction as PSG beat FC Porto to secure first place in its Champions League group and won four straight league games without conceding a goal.
"A lot of things have changed, first of all the attitude of the players," Ancelotti proudly declared as PSG beat Brest 3-0 on Dec. 21. "We're playing more as a team." But the new year started with woeful defending against fifth-division side Arras in the French Cup on Sunday. PSG conceded three goals for the first time this season in a nervy 4-3 win, despite fielding nine international players.
"All the players wanted to attack. There was no balance," Ancelotti said. The lack of balance is somewhat because of Ibrahimovic, as teammates disrupt it by systematically seeking him out. Ibrahimovic has scored 18 goals in 16 league games — the first to reach 18 by the winter break since Vahid Halilhodzic in 1984 — and is set to surpass his best tally of 28, set last season with Milan.
But Ibrahimovic's magic breeds over-dependence and only striker Kevin Gameiro, with five, has scored more than three league goals. PSG may have to cope without Ibrahimovic again as he risks suspension for treading on the face of defender Dejan Lovren when PSG beat Lyon 1-0 three weeks ago.
The Swede was suspended for two games in November for kicking Saint-Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier in the chest. Without him, PSG drew the next game and then embarrassingly lost 2-1 at home to nine-man Rennes.