PSG and Monaco prepare for battle of big-spenders

PARIS (Reuters) - Paris St Germain will start strong favourites to retain their Ligue 1 crown but a rocky summer, a new manager and the money being splurged on transfers by Monaco mean the plot has been thickened considerably as the season looms.

Real Madrid's coach Carlo Ancelotti gestures during his team's friendly football match against Olympique Lyon in Lyon, July 24, 2013. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

No sooner had they won a first title in 19 years than coach Carlo Ancelotti made public his wish to join Real Madrid.

After several big-name snubs, former France national manager Laurent Blanc, by no means a first-choice for the Qatari-backed club, was appointed after limited experience with Bordeaux.

Shortly after sporting director Leonardo, the man behind last summer’s signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, resigned, saying he could no longer do his job because of a 13-month ban for pushing a referee.

Leonardo’s farewell offering though was engineering the signing of Uruguay striker Edinson Cavani from Napoli for a French record fee of 64 million euros ($84.74 million) and his partnership with Ibrahimovic promises to be one of the most formidable in Europe.

“I think that Cavani and Ibra will perfectly fit together. Ibra is tall and strong but he’s also able to play deeper in a playmaking role. Last season, it was the case and we often were missing someone in the box,” Leonardo told daily Le Parisien.

Blanc’s squad looks even stronger than the one assembled for Ancelotti with no major departures and defenders Marquinhos from Roma and Lucas Digne from Lille having joined.

“The will of PSG is to win every possible trophy,” Blanc told a news conference, hours before his team clinched the French Supercup by beating Bordeaux 2-1 last weekend.

“With the players (we have), we can’t be timid. We will have to be bold. I like my teams to control possession, find space on the pitch, to attack. I tend to field many attacking players.”


Despite the assertion from Olympique Lyon chairman Jean-Michel Aulas that PSG are “99.9 percent” sure to be crowned champions, the danger posed by Monaco is clear and present.

Owned by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, the promoted side have spent around 150 million euros to sign Colombia striker Radamel Falcao, FC Porto pair Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez and French internationals Eric Abidal and Jeremy Toulalan.

They are widely-tipped to fight PSG for the title yet coach Claudio Ranieri has warned against expecting too much too soon.

“We want to be back on the European scene so we have to be on the podium as soon as this season,” he said of the aim to get Monaco into the Champions League.

“But it won’t be easy since the squad has been dramatically renewed,” he told Reuters. “We will have to re-create a team, an identity, a history. We won’t do it overnight.

“We know our rivals are way ahead from this point of view while we are almost starting from scratch.”

Olympique Marseille, last season’s runner-up, may struggle to keep pace with PSG and Monaco but have kept their most coveted players and brought in France forward Dimitri Payet and last season’s Ligue 2 best player, midfielder Gianelli Imbula.

“We won’t start thinking we’ll only seek the third spot,” coach Elie Baup told Reuters.

“PSG and Monaco are well-equipped but it’s not like we are fighting with bows and arrows and they have bazookas or nuclear weapons.”

Additional reporting by Etienne Ballerini in Monaco and Francois Revilla in Marseille; Editing by Martyn Herman