PARIS — Five years ago, playing Bayern Munich at home would have been a season highlight for most of Paris Saint-Germain’s squad.
Now that PSG has transformed into a team of mega stars, the French league club is the favourite ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League game at the Parc des Princes.
"We need to enjoy this game, because this is one of the first times that I feel we are on an equal foot with Bayern Munich," PSG midfielder Marco Verratti said. "It’s the result of five years of work."
In many ways, the Champions League meeting between PSG and Bayern in Group B can be summed up as a clash between Europe’s latest nouveau riche and one of the most famous representatives of Europe’s soccer aristocracy.
PSG, which has been backed by the nearly unlimited funds of Qatar Sports Investments since 2011, craves to be regarded as equals by Europe’s biggest clubs. The French league side has thus made a priority of winning the Champions League in its quest for respectability, but has endured setbacks in the competition so far, the latest one coming last season with a humiliating exit in the round of 16 against Barcelona.
To improve its chances of success, PSG has splashed 400 million euros to bring in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, provoking the ire of rivals including Bayern. When the Brazil star joined from Barcelona in a world record 222 million euro transfer, Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said the German side would never spend so much on a player, and called for the introduction of a player’s salary cap.
According to PSG coach Unai Emery, Bayern’s criticism of PSG’s big signings is just the result of his team’s metamorphosis into a serious contender on the European stage.
"If people talk about PSG a lot, it’s because this is one of the best teams in Europe, and in the world," the former Sevilla coach said Tuesday.
"When I was in Spain, I watched the biggest teams in Europe … buy the best players. Then I came here, and we made a big step forward to be able to compete with the best. That’s why we have more enemies now. They can see that this team is serious, and that with the players we bought this year and in the previous years, we have made a step forward to win the Champions League."
Bayern and PSG have won their opening games in Group B and will be meeting for the first time in 17 years. Bayern has been quite unimpressive in the German league so far, while PSG has been bothered by a dressing room clash between Edinson Cavani and Neymar after the pair argued over who should take a penalty during a French league match. Emery did not say which one of the two would take penalties if needed against Bayern.
The game will also mark the return to Paris of Carlo Ancelotti, who coached PSG between 2011 and 2013, winning the French league title before he left.
"Five years ago, things were different here," Verratti said. "When Ibra (Zlatan Ibrahimovic) and Thiago Silva came here, he (Ancelotti) also played a role. He brought his experience to a club that did not have much."