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Fresh from wrapping up his 31st career league title, 79-year-old Robinho Lazaró was excited for another new challenge as he moved on to his 15th country. That new challenge would sound a lot easier to readers in 2022 than in the virtual reality of 2063.
On 1 June, 2063, Lazaró boarded a flight across the English Channel and was given a warm welcome by an excitable French fan base decked in blue and red. Because Lazaró was the new manager of Paris Saint-Germain.
PSG in 2063
If this new job sounds like a walk in the park, then think again. PSG dominated the early stages of this save, winning every French title between 2022 and 2048. They also won five Champions League titles between 2022 and 2043, and back-to-back Europa Leagues in the last two seasons. And they’re now up to 37 league titles and 41 Coupe de France wins.
However, the Qatari regime departed in 2039 and the next chairperson withdrew his funding three years later before eventually giving way to the current chairperson Airélien Mercier in 2054. Times have been a little harder since, as they haven’t been French champions for 13 years and they’ve only finished in the top three once in the last nine seasons. Last season, they finished fourth, 17 points back from champions Lille, who’ve won the last four titles, despite only losing six times.
Lazaró’s new board expects Champions League qualification and to challenge for the title in three years’ time, despite only handing him a one-year deal. The finances were in OK shape with £70 million in the balance, a transfer budget of £17 million and spending £2.5 million of a £2.7 million wage budget. While the club still has excellent facilities to work with.
A major rebuild required
As usual when Lazaró walked into a new club, PSG had an aging squad. But this situation was ridiculous. 18 of their 23-man first-team squad were 31 or older and only four were aged 24 or under. Two of those old men were Lazaró’s former players in ex-Wolfsburg defender Uwe Gotze, now 36, who was retiring, and ex-Milan midfielder Sócrates, now 33 and is still half-decent. The best player at the club, much like at Milan, was goalkeeper Benjamin Luque, along with elite wingers Ronaldo Cueto and Alexandre Camilo.
Lazaró set about flogging off the club’s old boys, bringing in £110 million for 11 players, released a host of others, and slashed over £900,000 off the wage bill. He also promoted several promising youngsters into the first-team, including 17-year-old midfielder Moussa Diarra and full-back Frans Deckers and 18-year-old striker Logan Marty, who scored 13 in 29 for PSG 2. While another youngster to look out for is 20-year-old Bosnian Christophe Majerus.
That young collective was added to as Lazaró turned to his homeland of Colombian for his first PSG signing. That was 18-year-old striker Juan Ruiz, who looks like being a special talent, for £200,000 from Atlético Huila. He also turned his attention to his second nation, signing two Brazilian 18-year-olds in winger Wellington Augusto for £15.75 million from Cruzeiro and goalkeeper Jaílson Marcelino for £7.5 million from Corinthians. But he had to be careful as French sides can only register four non-EU players, so he snapped up 18-year-old Slovakian midfielder Jozef Danko for £11 million from Heerenveen.
The biggest signing of the summer was 23-year-old centre-back Driss Djorkaeff, who joined for £30 million from Reims. But, just as he thought he was done with transfers, Lazaró’s former player Jan Mares became available and he paid £13.5 million rising to £28.5 million to sign the midfielder for the third time.
With a minor rebuild complete, Lazaró decided to revert to one of his formations of old, the 4-3-3 with a flat midfield trio. And that puts a lot of pressure on his 18-year-old strikers Ruiz and Marty.
Lazaró had built a team that he felt was capable of competing with the top sides in France. However, he was treating this season as a rebuilding effort in which he’d blood lots of promising youngsters before a massive clearout of older players next summer. Although the strength of the PSG squad was proven by claiming the UEFA Super Cup for the first time in 20 years as Sócrates and an injury-time Ruiz strike downed European Champions Spurs (which just sounds weird) 2-1.
Life in France begins
PSG are fancied as fourth favourites for Ligue 1 at 12/1 to win the title. Lyon are favourites at (7/5) followed by Lille (9/4) and Rennes (15/2), and only Luque makes the media dream 11.
Lazaró’s PSG tenure started superbly as Ruiz scored on his debut along with Sócrates and Cueto strikes to win 3-1 at Nice. His first home game at Biel Nunez Arena, PSG’s 76,435-capacity home built in 2050 named after a former player from 2036-45 and manager from 2051-54 who’s now Reims manager, was at home to Lens. And they dominated that too, as a Ruiz hat-trick sealed a 4-0 victory while Lens didn’t even have a shot on target.
Another home game followed and Camilo and ball-winner Lulinha earned a 2-0 win over Strasbourg. Their defence was looking very solid with a 0-0 at Troyes then a 5-0 win at home to Saint-Étienne, in which Mares scored his first goal for the club. But a first defeat followed as Lazaró’s former player Romário da Conceicao scored the only goal at Marseille.
They bounced back in style as a Mares hat-trick and Camilo goal and assist doubles inspired a 6-2 hammering of Nantes. A few wins against poorer sides teed up a huge clash at home to rivals and league runners-up for the last three years Lyon. And they again struggled against a big side, conceding twice in the first 16 minutes and losing 2-0.
That sparked a dip in form that dropped PSG to fifth, including a dismal 3-0 loss at Montpellier. That loss forced Lazaró to ditch 34-year-old underperforming goalkeeper Luque for Marcelino, who made his debut at home to Lille. He performed well, keeping the champions out until the last minute to earn his side a 1-1 draw. And he was decent enough again in a 3-1 win at Bordeaux led by a Camilo brace.
That left PSG in fifth place heading into a month-long winter break. They’d lost three times and conceded a joint-league-low 11 goals in 16 games, and they only trailed third place by three points. But Lyon and Lille already look well out of reach.
Familiar teams in Champions League
PSG were seeded in the first pot for the Champions League groups and drew two of Lazaró’s former club’s in Liverpool and Sporting along with Slavia Prague.
The toughest game was up first as PSG travelled to Anfield and suffered a first loss of Lazaró’s tenure. Liverpool dominated and won 3-0 and the performance was so bad that Lazaró was able to fine nine players for poor performances. They improved slightly as his other former club Sporting came to town with a late Ruiz goal nicking a 1-0 win but were wasteful in a 0-0 draw at home to Slavia.
A last-minute Mares goal nicked a 2-1 win in Prague before a 4-1 beating in Lisbon dropped PSG to third in the group. And a 1-1 at home to Liverpool wasn’t enough to prevent them dropping into the Europa League.
Looking to the future
A lot of older players will be out of contract and departing PSG in the summer. But their poor efforts so far this season led Lazaró to pull the plug early and start selling off some of the big-earning players.
The bright spark of the season so far has been Ruiz, who scored 12 in 24 despite being very inconsistent, which is fair enough given he’s only 18. Indeed, his performances saw him in win the European Golden Boy award.
But the likes of Djorkaeff, Majerus, Marcelino and Deckers have also impressed. So Lazaró decided it was high time to invest in the youth players and get rid of the oldies.
Join us on Friday to discover how Lazaró goes about restructuring his aging PSG squad in January 2064.
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