The modern landscape at the elite level of European football will be apparent when Newcastle United host Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday night. One club is owned by Saudi Arabia, the other is funded by Qatar. This won’t just be a match between two football teams, but between two countries too.
PSG have been under the control of Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) since 2011, but have so far failed to achieve their ultimate objective of winning the Champions League. Newcastle are also a long way from being crowned European champions, yet their success in just two years of Saudi ownership doesn’t show PSG in a good light.
No club in European football has been as wasteful as PSG in recent times. In Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar, they boasted the most talented frontline in the sport’s history, but failed to make any real impression on the Champions League, only winning last season’s Ligue 1 title by a single point over Lens.
PSG have employed five different managers (Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel, Mauricio Pochettino, Christophe Galtier and Luis Enrique) in the last five years and have spent over €1 billion on transfers in the same timeframe. The French club, however, has very little to show for that investment.
Big names have failed to deliver. There has been no strategy behind PSG’s transfer business, exemplified by the assembly of Mbappe, Messi and Neymar as an attacking line. Not one of the trio was willing to help out in the defensive side of the game, making PSG an inherently lopsided and top-heavy team. Even Messi struggled to produce his best form in the French capital.
Newcastle United have taken a different approach. While they have spent money – roughly £400m million – since Saudi Arabia’s takeover of the club in October 2021, there has been thought behind their transfer business. The Magpies haven’t been attracted by the shine of the sport’s biggest names like PSG were. They have been more laser-focused than that.
Dan Ashworth was one of Newcastle’s first appointments with the former Brighton and FA chief hired as the Magpies’ new sporting director. With Ashworth guiding the transfer strategy, Newcastle have targeted players who are primed to take the next step in their development – see Bruno Guimaraes, Sven Botman and Alexander Isak.
There has been synergy between Eddie Howe’s coaching philosophy and Ashworth’s transfer strategy. Howe has been signed players who have fitted into the team he has built with Newcastle now boasting good options all over the pitch. They have the squad to handle the demands of Champions League football. The Magpies could make the last 16 this season.
Under Enrique, PSG now find themselves at the start of a new cycle. Messi and Neymar – as well as Marco Verratti and Sergio Ramos among others – left the Parc des Princes over the summer with the likes of Randal Kolo Muani, Ousmane Dembele and Manuel Ugarte arriving in their place. A rebuild has taken place.
The idea was that PSG would have a more nimble squad to play the possession-orientated football Enrique has favoured throughout his managerial career. However, the Ligue 1 champions have suffered their worst start to a season since the Qatari takeover 12 years ago. The situation isn’t improving.
PSG could learn a thing or two from how Newcastle United have built their squad. While the French champions are the favourites to win on Wednesday night, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Newcastle surprised them at the top of European football in the coming seasons. They have set a precedent that PSG should attempt to follow.