On the banks of the Seine in Paris, five minutes from the Louvre, stands the Samaritaine department store. The building was last renovated at a cost of €750m. The interior is wood-panelled, there is a VIP area. The product selection consists of Dior, Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. Shoes cost €1,000. Champagne bottles can be personalised, perfume bottles can be bought for six figures. Even in the pandemic the luxury goods business continues to grow.
The Samaritaine attracts people. They stroll through and admire the exhibits as they would the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. People want to see it like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. One marvels. The owner, Bernard Arnault – the richest European – has gathered all the noble brands in his fairytale castle.
The Samaritaine also resembles the football team of Paris Saint-Germain. That is because the world’s most valuable football players are under one roof there. In goal is the Italian Gianluigi Donnarumma, who was named player of the tournament after winning the Euro 2020 final. New to the defence is Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid’s former captain and their talisman for more than a decade. Another European champion and the heart of Italy’s midfield, Marco Verratti, directs the game.
And the forward line is known by every kid in Tokyo, Delhi, Cape Town, London and Rio. Neymar and Kylian Mbappé are not only the most talented forwards in the world but also the most expensive. Together they cost more than €400m. Now Lionel Messi is also wearing the PSG jersey, the six-time world footballer of the year, the former hero of Barcelona.
The three are the most famous football players on the planet and together they have more than half a billion followers on social media. The only one missing is Cristiano Ronaldo but that would surely be too much for any coach.
For 10 years PSG have belonged to the ruling family from Qatar. The owner – the head of state, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – has invested more than a €1bn in the club. The country, host of the next World Cup, has been attracting worldwide attention by financing sports for many years.
In the past nine years PSG have been French champions seven times. But in Paris, as in other major locations, the national league is no longer the decisive factor. The club, without a great tradition or trophy collection, has recently become one of the continental elite. It employs only renowned coaches such as Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Laurent Blanc, Thomas Tuchel and, now, Mauricio Pochettino.
They think globally in Paris. In the Champions League, in which Manchester City are the visitors on Tuesday, PSG are now the favourites. A trophy win would be the first international title for a French club since 1996. They have been close in recent years: semi-finalists last season and finalists the season before that.
The number of fans around the globe is growing. If those fans have a chance to see the stars up close, there will be a crowd like that for pop stars or Hollywood actors. The replica shirts sell well. Coronavirus cannot do anything to PSG. The club is on everyone’s lips. After the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, Paris has a new landmark: an exorbitantly expensive football team.
The club has even become part of pop culture. The players are popular with rappers. Their videos reach nine-digit viewing figures. PSG are also integrated into the fashion industry. The designer Christelle Kocher created a PSG shirt that retailed for €3,000. Beyoncé, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mick Jagger have been seen in her collection. It is fitting for Paris, the metropolis of fashion and extravagance.
PSG are in a Champions League group with Club Brugge. The Belgian club, whose IPO failed this year, have an annual turnover of about €135m but play in a completely different league. The Brugge players may feel like tourists in the Samaritaine in their duel with Neymar, Mbappé and Messi. Yet they held PSG to a 1-1 draw a fortnight ago in the opening group game.
PSG’s other group opponents are RB Leipzig and Manchester City, two other clubs managed by investors whose development could not have been foreseen a decade ago.
Elite football, as PSG in particular show, has changed. The clubs are pursuing a new model; identification with them is not rooted locally but interest is global. When PSG play City, the world will be watching. There is no greater spectacle.