Third place, Ligue 2
By Daniel Rubens
We rarely dip below a country’s first division in this section of the website; only a really compelling team can draw attention away from top-flight football. Paris FC is one such side. It’s not just their history that makes them so interesting, though; it’s what PFC could become.
To meet that mark, the new team would almost certainly need a major boost, so it went searching for a partner to merge with. After being turned down by Ligue 1 side Sedan, PFC turned its attentions to a Ligue 2 club, Stade Saint-Germain, and the two entities became Paris-Saint Germain shortly thereafter.
Within two years, though, problems arose. The mayor of Paris refused to get behind a team from outside of the city limits, and Stade Saint-Germain had originally played just outside of the capital in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Unable to reconcile, the club split into two parts, with PFC separating and reverting to its original name and the former Stade Saint-Germain remaining as PSG. In the agreement, Paris FC was allowed to keep the club’s senior players and first-division status, while Paris Saint-Germain were relegated to the third tier and started from scratch with the club’s reserves.
When the 1972-73 season began, PFC looked set for a sustained run of competitiveness in Ligue 1, playing matches at the Parc des Princes against France’s giants. But something shocking happened next: PFC faltered at the same time that PSG rose. After the 1974-75 season, as PSG’s youth and vibrancy carried the club into the first division, Paris FC tumbled into Ligue 2. Suddenly, the two clubs had seen the fortunes most foretold for them reversed; when PSG rubbed salt in the wound by purchasing the Parc des Princes for their first Ligue 1 campaign, their status in the Parisian football scene officially switched places for the long haul.
PFC kicked around the top half of the Ligue 2 table for four years before earning promotion back to the top flight ahead of the 1978-79 campaign. That stay in the first division was short-lived, lasting just one season, but there was still reason to expect that a side in one of the biggest cities in Europe would rise to prominence.
And, eventually, PSG did. But PFC did not. Instead, they embarked on a lengthy and largely painful tour of France’s lower leagues that they still haven’t escaped from yet, some 39 years after their last
Everything changed in November of 2014. After a ninth-place finish in the third-tier Championnat National in 2013-14, the club was purchased by a group led by two men: Kayque Garbacchio Saldanha, the son of a Russian billionaire co-owner of Indian club Mumbai City FC, and Sulaiman Al Fahim, who had previously been involved in, among other football deals, the Abu Dhabi-based takeover of Manchester City. A big boost to the club’s pocketbooks unsurprisingly went a long way immediately as PFC finished second that season to earn promotion to the second division.
Any hope of immediate success faded quickly as Ligue 2 proved too much to handle at first. PFC scored a league-low 32 goals and won just four of 38 games, finishing bottom of the table and dropping back down. Again, though, they didn’t stick in the division, getting promoted immediately back to Ligue 2, albeit with a huge slice of luck. PFC finished third and lost a heartbreaking two-legged promotion playoff final with Orleans, but they were given a gift when Bastia’s financial instability caused that club to be relegated straight from Ligue 1 to the Championnat National, opening up a slot in Ligue 2. PFC were given the nod, and they haven’t looked back since.
On Monday, Paris FC got two first-half goals from Dylan Saint-Louis and held onto a 2-1 win over AC Ajaccio, leapfrogging over Ajaccio into third place in the Ligue 2 table in the process. They sit just two points back of second-place Nimes and an automatic promotion position, though if the season ended today, PFC would go to the semifinals of a relegation/promotion playoff, where they’d need to beat the fourth- or fifth-placed Ligue 2 team and take down the 18th place finishers from Ligue 1. Regardless, the club is well within shouting distance of a shot at promotion; even with the financial investment, that’s stellar for any promoted side.
Manager Fabien Mercadal has built his team on a solid defense which has conceded just 18 goals in 22 games, tied for second-fewest in the league. It’s a veteran back line — keeper Vincent Demarconnay (21 starts) is 34, Frederic Bong (20 starts) is 30, Ousmane Sidibe (20 starts) is 32, and Herve Lybohy (17 starts) is 34 — but it’s been an effective one so far. The defense hasn’t always been perfect, but the attackers have stepped up when needed, especially in recent weeks, which has led to an 11-game unbeaten run that’s cemented PFC in the promotion chase. Nobody has scored more than seven goals so far, but seven different players have scored multiple times in league play. It’s been an all-around team effort at both ends of the pitch all season long that has PFC where they are at the moment.
For the high-flyers to remain there, they’ll need more of that overall team commitment. Should they ride this wave to promotion, even better times could be ahead. With the financial backing they have, there’s no reason to believe that PFC couldn’t spend the necessary money to turn into a stable Ligue 1 side, and the trip from there to the top of the table isn’t all that far, especially inside the beating heart of the French capital. That may seem like a long shot to happen, and it is. But it’s happened plenty of times before, and they don’t have to look far to see an example of what the club could become. PFC was initially supposed to be what PSG is today; maybe someday, their positions will flip once again.