While it has been five years since Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City last met in the Champions League, their searches for European glory continue.
Despite their domestic league success and the continued support of wealthy owners — Qatar’s PSG and the United Arab Emirates’ City — this is the case.
The investment in both clubs won their 2016 meeting the nickname “El Cashico,” and the two sides met again in Paris on Wednesday in a bid to reach the Champions League final this year. With goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez, City came from behind to win the first leg 2-1.
Both clubs have star-studded lineups, as they did in 2016. This has been a common theme over the last decade.
PSG spent more than $500 million on transfers in the two seasons that Neymar and Kylian Mbappé — star players who continue to lead the club’s attack — were signed, while City spent more than $2.3 billion on transfers between 2008 and 2019, when Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) purchased the club.
The arrival of these new owners has undeniably altered the fortunes of both teams. PSG has won seven of the last eight league titles in France since Qatar Sports Investments purchased the club in 2011. City is on course to win its fifth Premier League title under the ownership of ADUG, a private investment company owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
However, neither has been able to replicate their domestic success in Europe. The Champions League is the pinnacle of club football, with teams from all over Europe competing for the title. Last year’s champion Bayern Munich earned €19 million ($23 million) just by winning the final.
“It’s quite remarkable that we’ve had now effectively a decade of this kind of investment into PSG and Manchester City and so far, neither of them has won the Champions League,” Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute, tells CNN Sport.
“In future we might look back and think: What took them so long?” Ulrichsen adds. “Whoever wins this match, if they go on to win the Champions League, I think this could be one of those turning points that only becomes fully apparent after the fact.”
For the second time since ADUG’s acquisition, City is in the Champions League semifinals, and success in this year’s competition will be a major milestone for the club’s owners.
The team has become the centerpiece of City Football Group, a global network of affiliated clubs established by ADUG in 2013, and investment has financed a new academy stadium and training facilities near the Etihad Stadium in east Manchester.
You don’t have to look far in the Premier League to see how the United Arab Emirates, a small Middle Eastern country with a population of about 10 million people, is having an impact on English football.
“When in the past people would have talked about going to (City’s) Maine Road or to (Arsenal’s) Highbury, it’s now going to the Etihad or the Emirates — it’s entered the very dictionary of football fans,” says Ulrichsen.
“I mean, that’s free advertising, which is potentially worth its weight in gold. And you can’t really quantify it. I mean, you talk about going to the Etihad the same way you talk about going to Old Trafford.”
PSG’s Qatari ownership is not as closely linked to the country’s political leadership as Man City’s is with the UAE, where Sheikh Mansour is minister of presidential affairs and deputy prime minister, according to Ulrichsen.
Qatar’s investment in football, through PSG, sponsorship deals, and, most recently, hosting the 2022 World Cup, has helped to raise the country’s profile.
While some have dismissed Middle Eastern investment in European football as nothing more than “sportswashing,” a word that refers to an autocratic regime’s use of sports to improve its image, the global impact of this form of “soft power” is undeniable.
“What both countries have done is to build visibility, to build a profile, to build a reputation, to establish associations in the minds of people across the world with the countries through football,” Simon Chadwick, director of the Centre for Eurasian Sport Industry at Emlyon Business School in France, tells CNN Sport.
Investing pays off in the long run. “Profile, image, prestige, nation branding — all of this is part of the ROI, the return on investment, from spending on football in the first place,” Chadwick adds.
“Connected to that obviously is the soft power effect. And the soft power effect means that people outside the region will look towards the region in a more positive way and will be attracted by what the region is trying to do … that has an impact upon diplomacy as well.”