By Robin Bairner
A rivalry is brewing in France that is set to match any in world football. The game’s connoisseurs already know off hand the dates for El Clasico, the Derby d’Italia and the Premier League Super Sundays, but now they have a Ligue 1 fixture of mouth-watering importance to add to their list of red letter days.
Monaco’s emergence as a big-spending power has given Paris Saint-Germain a financial opponent around their level for the first time since QSI took over the running of the club little over two years ago and the principality side will be desperate to pinch their crown at the first time of asking.
Already they have been trading blows tit for tat in the transfer market. First Claudio Ranieri's men broke the Ligue 1 transfer record by swooping for Radamel Falcao for €60 million but a matter of weeks later PSG reclaimed that honour by signing Edinson Cavani for €64m.
Indeed, when the two sides clash on September 22, arguably the three best strikers in the world could be on the field. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cavani will line up for Laurent Blanc’s side, while Falcao will provide a worthy adversary for such talent in the red and white of the principality outfit.
This will be a world-class match played out by world-class actors.
France may have had six different Ligue 1 champions in the last six years - a remarkable statistic in an era when top leagues are typically dominated by a small handful of sides - but the sheer weight of financial strength behind PSG and Monaco suggests that a new era of duopoly will be ushered in.
|SUMMER LOVIN': PSG & MONACO'S BIG BUYS
|Edinson Cavani||€64m||Radamel Falcao||€60m|
|Lucas Digne||€15m||Joao Moutinho||€25m|
Such conditions will provide a greenhouse effect to nurture a rivalry that will be powerful enough to capture the imagination the world over. Two dream teams will compete for honours both on the domestic and the European stage, mirroring the current state of affairs in Spain where the two great historical sides of Barcelona and Real Madrid scrap for every inch.
It will also be a thrilling clash between styles. The legacy of Leonardo and Carlo Ancelotti in Paris remains and the capital club is heavily influenced by the Italian game. All of PSG’s key imports have, at one time or another, starred in Serie A or for the Azzurri.
On the other hand, Monaco, despite their proximity to the Italian border, have drawn more readily from the Iberian Peninsula. James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho both arrived from Porto and Radamel Falcao was snapped up from Atletico Madrid. Even French warhorses Eric Abidal and Jeremy Toulalan both needed tempting back to Ligue 1 from Spain.
Presently there is an air of cordiality between the two clubs. Indeed, PSG are happy to foster a rival that is able to attract outstanding players to Ligue 1 and increase the interest in the competition. All that is needed for the relationship to explode is a spark.
If the intensity of a tight title race is not enough for the rivalry to ignite, perhaps the tax issue will become the catalyst. While PSG are set to pay astronomical taxes under France’s 75 per cent upper band laws, Monaco’s foreign players live an existence largely free of such troubles due to the club’s status in the principality, allowing the Russian-owned outfit far more spending power for comparative sums of money.
Make no mistake, Monaco may be playing in Ligue 1 for the first time in three seasons but they will be a force to be reckoned with. Anyone who watched their 5-2 friendly success over an admittedly weakened Tottenham side could not fail to be impressed by the manner in which they picked the English club apart and beyond the star men they have a vibrant and exciting youth system that is already capable of providing support to a world-class starting XI.
PSG are vulnerable, too. Their clumsy summer coupled with a focus on European competition that Monaco do not yet need means that they do not start the season as the red-hot favourites to win the title they were a year ago.
Friday night's opening match of the season against Montpellier displayed this. At times they were disjointed and lacklustre as they rather limped to a 1-1 draw thanks to a second-half equaliser from unlikely saviour Maxwell.
Nevertheless, last term helped established PSG as more than just a nouveau-riche club with big ambitions; they became one of Europe’s up-and-coming teams and over the course of the next 12 months Monaco will begin along that same path.
This is the season Ligue 1 hits the big time and this will be the rivalry behind it.
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