NWSL can help stop so many young players from retiring

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It happens every season: the exodus of mid-level players from NWSL, citing a need to spend time with their families or get on with their post-soccer careers. You know, because they strung together a life while they played soccer but it’s not going to pay the bills forever, so it’s time for a real world job that pays a livable wage.

One of the latest non-WNT retirees from NWSL is Leigh Ann Brown nee Robinson. Brown is 29, so it’s not entirely unexpected that she would retire now. But her decision wasn’t necessarily about physically coming to the end of her shelf life as a pro baller, but, as per the press release from FC Kansas City, wanting “to start the next chapter of my life and let some of the younger players get the same chance I got seven years ago when I started playing professionally.”

There’s also players like Nikki Marshall, who retired at 26 before the 2015 season. Marshall was already working on the side part-time, but with her retirement was able to go full-time at a job that pays her all year round. There’s Nikki Washington, who also retired at 26 in 2015. Kate Deines, yet another 26-year-old at retirement, said “I have recently been presented with a job opportunity that will jump-start the next phase of my professional life outside of soccer.” Don’t forget 22-year-old Jazmine Reeves, who retired after a great rookie season in 2014 at the age of 22 in order to take a job with Amazon, or 24-year-old Courtney Jones who wanted to start her own business, or the latest, 25-year-old midfielder Amy Barczuk.

What are the main driving forces behind non-WNT players leaving the league while they’re still physically able to play? Look at what players say when they retire – it’s time for what’s next, I want a family, there was another job that was too good to pass up. Sometimes that better job may be the conduit towards starting a family as well since babies come with a range of expenses that would eat the league minimum salary of $6,842 in a single bite.

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Interview with NWSL Commissioner Jeff Plush.

On the job front, this current generation of players is doggedly putting one foot in front of the other while they claw towards a living wage. There’s been plenty of discussion about how to make NWSL more professional and profitable, tapping in to the national team zeitgeist and working its marketing and sales opportunities. But the league is fighting against the kind of climate where it’s not even politically expedient to back equal pay for female athletes, despite such support costing absolutely nothing. Getting more money into the league is going to be a long, hard slog short of Oprah deciding she’s suddenly a fan of women’s soccer.

Teams tend to do their best to supplement their players’ income, connecting them with private coaching sessions or placing them within their academy structure if the team has one. Players themselves hustle for extra work, especially in the offseason, running their own camps and creating their own brands.

Teams could go further, though, by implementing education programs for players who want to remain in soccer either as coaches or administrators. They could offer coaching certification or try to partner with US Soccer to at least subsidize the cost of classes. There could be work placement in the offseason to give players experience in soccer admin and help them network for job opportunities.

NWSL should also seriously consider an official partnership with Australia’s W-League, which has an offset calendar to NWSL and would basically allow a player to compete year-round, with a small gap between the end of W-League and NWSL preseason. Making it official and streamlining the process by which players can move between leagues by connecting with teams and obtaining work visas would give more players a chance to have income all year and avoid an very long offseason.

On the family front, there may be things that the league can do to help erode one of the larger barriers to women staying in the workplace. Family assistance by employers has much bigger implications for women due to a combination of pregnancy and the expectations in heterosexual couples for women to be the primary care giver, while the husband is the primary wage earner. Which is not to say that this is the reality of all female soccer players, but it is certainly a legitimate concern that mostly impacts women.

Let’s start with pregnancy, which will take a player out of a portion of the NWSL season no matter how well-timed. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, “forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment.” That includes making assumptions about someone due to their pregnancy, such as they won’t be returning to work after the child is born, and prohibiting discrimination just because a woman might get pregnant.

According to NWSL spokesperson Patrick Donnelly, in terms of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act “we do comply with and follow all laws to which we are subject.” The league is also working to formalize its previously-informal policy on pregnancy and maternity leave. Donnelly could not comment on how long the league has been working to formalize this policy, but one might assume that the near-simultaneous announced pregnancies of two players on one team in Amy Rodriguez and Sydney Leroux might have given them a bit more momentum.

NWSL teams are certainly not typical employers in that the majority of their employees are female and pregnancy does legitimately impact their ability to perform their jobs, so compliance with the PDA more likely takes the form of not being able to terminate a player’s contract due to pregnancy, as well as giving the player a mandatory tryout once they return from pregnancy.

Then, once a player returns from pregnancy, teams can offer family-based incentives such as child care. Some teams do provide such incentives, such as Sky Blue FC. While not having a written policy about children of players, SBFC has provided child care services while players train and play. According to Vice President of Communications John Archibald, SBFC has also used programs that bring a player’s partner in market during the season so they can provide additional care for the child.

Players clearly understand that putting a part of their lives on hold and living paycheck to paycheck is currently a reality of being a pro female athlete. In an interview with Ella Masar, who was with the Houston Dash at the time, much of her discussion of helping NWSL grow was based on sacrifice. “If we want our kids to be able to play, then this is what we have to do,” she said. “We will bite the bullet so kids in five, ten years can actually get paid a wage where they’re not worried about stuff in the offseason.”

There are no easy solutions for making a three-year-old women’s sports league financially viable. Consider that it took 15 years for a single WNBA team to show a profit, and that was with the backing of then-NBA commissioner David Stern. Of course, the popularity of women’s basketball and women’s soccer have varied over the years, and the WNBA only has the Olympics, while NWSL gets the Olympics and the World Cup to help boost their image. But without a sudden influx of cash (seriously, has anyone called Oprah), high turnover among non-subsidized players is just the tough reality of being a pro women’s soccer player. Workaround measures will have to suffice in helping smooth over players’ lives while the league builds a more sustainable future.

Harry Kane double sees Spurs leapfrog Arsenal into third place

Photo credit: AFP
Photo credit: AFP

Tottenham kept their Premier League title challenge on track as Harry Kane’s double inspired a 3-0 win over struggling Norwich on Tuesday.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are only five points behind leaders Leicester after climbing above bitter rivals Arsenal into third place thanks to a dominant display at Carrow Road.

Dele Alli opened the scoring early on and Kane added a first half penalty before wrapping up the points in the final moments.

Tottenham’s third successive league win and fifth victory in a row in all competitions added to the growing feeling that Pochettino’s vibrant young team are capable of securing not only a top four finish but possibly the club’s first English title since 1961.

The predatory finishing of Kane and the creative class of his England team-mate Alli have combined to drive Tottenham’s unexpected title bid and they were the key figures once again.

In contrast to upwardly mobile Tottenham, Norwich have now lost their last five matches in all competitions and are languishing just two points above the relegation zone.

Norwich manager Alex Neil signed nine players during the January transfer window, more than any other Premier League club, as he tried to revitalize a squad which has struggled on their return to the top-flight.

Switzerland international Timm Klose, one of Neil’s new recruits, made his debut in defense, but Norwich had conceded 14 goals in their previous four games and it took Tottenham just 96 seconds to exploit the hosts’ fragile rearguard.

The goal came after Christian Eriksen’s corner was only half cleared to Toby Alderweireld on the edge of the penalty area.

Alderweireld’s shot was blocked, but Eriksen pounced on the rebound and drilled a low strike that Norwich goalkeeper Declan Rudd could only parry towards Alli, who gleefully tapped in from close-range.

The 19-year-old’s seventh club goal of his impressive breakthrough season might have been a more mundane affair than his last — a sublime contender among the best of the season to date against Crystal Palace in January.

Regardless of the quality, the significance was clear to see as Tottenham, confidence soaring, threatened to blow Norwich away before half-time.

South Korea forward Son Heung-min forced Rudd into a good save when he produced a deft flicked effort from Kane’s cross.

Pochettino’s men were in complete control and they doubled their lead in the 30th minute when referee Kevin Friend awarded a penalty after Alli was brought down by Norwich defender Sebastien Bassong.

Kane had scored a penalty in Tottenham’s 3-0 win over the Canaries on Boxing Day and the England forward was nerveless from the spot again as he stroked home his 17th club goal of the season.

It took a decent stop from Rudd to deny Kane his second goal and moments later Alli headed wide when he should really have scored from Danny Rose’s cross.

SEE MORE: Who do you think will win the Premier League?

Alli came off at half-time, reportedly with an illness, and his absence robbed Tottenham of their driving force, with Norwich looking reinvigorated as a result.

Steven Naismith headed narrowly wide for the hosts before Bassong saw his close-range finish ruled out for offside.

But Norwich’s pressure soon fizzled out and Kane capped the Spurs stroll when he slotted home in the 90th minute.

Jamie Vardy wonder-strike fires Leicester title bid; Video

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A wonder-goal from England striker Jamie Vardy helped prolong Leicester City’s remarkable Premier League title challenge as they defeated Liverpool 2-0 at the King Power Stadium on Tuesday.

Vardy scored both of the Foxes’ goals, taking his tally to 18, and the first was a stunning strike from the right-hand corner of the penalty area that capped another astonishing night for his team.

That goal, on the hour-mark, was followed by a close-range goal 11 minutes later that gave Leicester a deserved win and maintained their three-point lead at the top of the table.

Leicester might have claimed the lead inside the opening minute when Liverpool handed possession to the hosts and Riyad Mahrez picked up the ball.

He progressed to the edge of the penalty area with minimal resistance before bending a shot narrowly off target.

They went even closer in the ninth minute when Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson was robbed in midfield by Shinji Okazaki and referee Andre Marriner allowed play to continue despite appeals for a free-kick.

The Japan international fed Vardy and raced to the far post to meet his team-mate’s cross, but his header was pushed over the bar brilliantly by Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.

Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel made an equally fine save moments later from a shot by Emre Can, but an offside flag had been raised against the Liverpool midfielder.

SEE MORE: Who will win the Premier League?

A fine touch from Mahrez from Christian Fuchs’s dipping pass then gave the Algerian another shooting opportunity, but Mignolet was equal to his 20-yard effort.

Liverpool attempted to catch Leicester out with a short corner in the 18th minute, but after working the ball to Lucas Leiva, they saw his cross fly horribly into the stand behind Schmeichel’s goal.

Leicester continued to hold sway with Vardy to the fore and his persistence won a corner from which they could have tested Mignolet.

Fuchs’s delivery found Robert Huth, but the defender headed over.

– Moreno blazes wide –

The Liverpool keeper was required again 10 minutes from half-time when his side failed to deal with a thrown-in and the ball broke to Mahrez.

The winger hit a curling, left-foot shot that was heading for the roof of the net until Mignolet tipped it over.

A rare Liverpool attack caused some worries for Leicester six minutes before the interval when Roberto Firmino spread play to Alberto Moreno on the left, but the full-back blazed a shot wide with colleagues waiting for a cross.

Early in the second half Can should have put Liverpool ahead after combining well with James Milner before collecting a cross by Henderson, but his shot was deflected wide.

Leicester, though, continued to press and Okazaki fired just over after seizing on a poor clearance by Mamadou Sakho.

Then Lucas decided to try his luck from 25 yards, but he blazed his effort over the crossbar.

SEE MORE: February could make or break Leicester City’s title hopes.

Moments later Moreno’s cross-shot almost caught out Schmeichel at his near post but the Dane clawed the ball away to safety.

Then, in the 60th minute, Vardy raised the roof at the King Power Stadium with a moment of brilliance.

He collected a clever, lofted pass from Mahrez and sent a powerful, dipping shot from the apex over the area over a stranded Mignolet.

And he doubled his side’s lead 11 minutes later with a poacher’s goal as he prodded a shot past Mignolet after a shot from Okazaki deflected into his path.

Liverpool pushed for a lifeline, but Leicester managed the closing stages of the game well to maintain their superb season.

Allegri wants more as Juventus target club record in Serie A

Photo credit: AFP
Photo credit: AFP

Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri believes his impressive crop of young stars can achieve even more as they target a club record of 13 successive league wins with the visit of Genoa on Wednesday.

The four-time consecutive champions have put their miserable start to the season behind them and closed to within two points of leaders Napoli following a 4-0 rout of Chievo in Verona on Sunday.

After being ruled out of title contention at the start of the season, Allegri was only too happy to announce the Old Lady is back with a bang.

“Our 12 consecutive wins are a signal to the rest of the league that we are back in contention for the title,” Allegri said on Sunday.

But Allegri expects more from the likes of Paul Pogba, Alvaro Morata and Paulo Dybala — who are integral to the Turin giants’ chances of success this season.

And the 48-year-old Italian has brushed aside the importance of record-setting feats under his tenure.

“I think we can make improvements both collectively and individually,” said Allegri, highlighting one of several misses by Pogba before the Frenchman found the net in the 67th minute in Verona.

“Pogba’s final effort on goal is a case in point, when he struck the crossbar by hitting the ball too hard. Instead, he might have opted to place his shot to better effect.”

Allegri had kinder words for Morata, who hit a brace at Chievo to take his goals tally to the week to four after netting twice in a 3-0 rout of Inter Milan in the first leg of their Italian Cup semi-final.

“Morata had been scoring in training already over the past couple of weeks and when that happens, it’s always likely that you’ll find the net in matches as well.”

And despite Dybala being voted the club’s MVP for the month of January, when he hit four of his 12 league goals so far, the Argentinian is constantly reminded that he is not the finished article.

“He has been doing well, but he still has plenty of room for improvement,” said Allegri.

SEE MORE: Schedule for Serie A games on US TV and streaming.

Allegri’s stance is seen as an effort to spur the trio onto greater things, and recent evidence suggests they have been paying attention.

A 13th consecutive win on Wednesday would allow Allegri to overtake the club record of 12 set by former coach Antonio Conte in the 2013-2014 season.

But Allegri added: “To me, records don’t matter. What’s the point of winning 20 in a row if it doesn’t win you the title.”

Yet Juve’s chances of a record-equalling fifth straight scudetto were boosted by results elsewhere at the weekend.

As Napoli and Juve triumphed, Fiorentina’s scoreless stalemate at Genoa left them eight points off the pace while Inter’s 3-0 derby reverse at AC Milan left Roberto Mancini’s title challengers nine points in arrears.

SEE MORE: Where to watch Serie A on US TV and streaming.

Napoli travel to Lazio looking for their seventh win on the trot and with Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain in the hunt for a 23rd Serie A goal in as many games this term.

Higuain hit his 22nd league goal in a 5-1 thumping of Empoli on Sunday to equal the 22-goal tally that earned Mauro Icardi (Inter) and Luca Toni (Verona) a share of the top scorer’s ‘Capocannoniere’ trophy.

Napoli hammered Lazio 5-0 in only their fourth game under coach Maurizio Sarri, but the tracksuit-wearing, chain-smoking 57-year-old has called for caution.

“We’re playing well and we’re in good condition, but I’m not certain we can keep this up all the way till the end of the season.”

Mancini, meanwhile, will watch from the stands when Inter host Chievo looking for their first win in five games after he received a one-game ban and a fine of 5,000 euros for slandering the referee at Sunday’s San Siro clash.

An in-depth look at the Paris Saint-Germain academy

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It seems the Parc des Princes cannot stop producing bad eggs.

Earlier this month, highly-rated young defender Marquinhos became the latest in a string of Paris Saint-Germain youth prospects to complain about their playing time. In context, the act is hardly outrageous. Manager Laurent Blanc opted, in a low-priority cup game, to field fellow youth prospect Presnel Kimpembe in place of David Luiz or Thiago Silva. Instead of Marquinhos alongside him, however, the Paris boss preferred to give Thiago Motta and Benjamin Stambouli the role. The former A.S. Roma man would get a cameo towards the end of the game, in an oft-maligned defensive midfield position.

It is easy to blame Blanc for mismanagement. Le President is a notorious disciplinarian, a self-professed admirer of Sir Alex Ferguson. He takes a hardline stance against anyone attempting to undermine him, fining and excluding Rabiot for showing up late to a cup final and then embarassing him in a press conference regarding his comments about a potential loan move. Given that Marquinhos gave his troublesome interview on the same day as the cup tie against Wasquehal, it seems possible that Blanc could have done this as a disciplinary measure.

So why do snubbed young players sabotage themselves, if the manager’s retribution clearly comes swiftly?

A look at the search trends for recent PSG rabble-rousers Rabiot and Marquinhos clearly shows correlation with transfer season, first of all. Yet Marquinhos’ recent comments have propelled him high into the rankings in January. Likewise, Adrien Rabiot’s contract stalemate kicked off in August 2014, leaving many European teams—particularly London clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal—eager to snap up the unsettled Frenchman. Another small jump came in winter 2015 as Rabiot’s loan comments sparked more doubts about his future in the French capital. The fans and media respond to these rumors even more eagerly when they are made public—although it may be difficult to see this in the context of PSG from a non-Francophone perspective. Looking across the channel, though, one finds similar trends in the cases of Saido Berahino and Raheem Sterling, both of whom have worked with notoriously loose-lipped agent Aidy Ward. Sterling’s numbers predictably rise as he takes on interviews stating his desire to leave Liverpool, and Berahino sees bigger numbers as he publicly feuds with his manager over not being allowed to leave for Spurs.

Simply put, Rabiot and Marquinhos see an issue—the former because of an unfortunate upbringing and the draconian influence of his mother Veronique, the latter because he could arguably be starting anywhere else—and they want to force the private, quiet Blanc to answer it. Media pressure can often force the former Bordeaux manager to divulge serious internal news. In Rabiot’s case, though, public opinion remains on the side of Le President. With Marquinhos, many are frustrated that the youngster has not been afforded more chances.

The opinions of the fans toward virtually the same disciplinary measure (theoretically, at least) are split depending on the player, even though the ideal has always been to bleed through more youth players. Complicating the situation further is the spectre of Kingsley Coman hanging over the club. The talented ex-Parisian now enjoys playtime and the occasional spotlight at Bayern Munich. He has recently turned biting criticism back on Paris,  particularly singling out Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The fans and owners alike want PSG legitimized in the European elite—nothing harms that as much as stories like Coman’s, and the repeated attempts to sweep Rabiot’s behavior under the rug points to an intense desire to not have a repeat situation. Yet there is no small degree of hypocrisy here—Paris must bleed through youth, but Paris cannot ever dare to lose.

Is it fair to say, then, that the ownership and the academy are irreconcilably at odds?

Well, not quite. It is fair to say that the history of the club before the takeover in 2011 (if not outright washed away in the style of much-maligned Red Bull takeovers) has hardly been pushed to the forefront. PSG suffered in the short-term for the incredibly rapid injection of money, and subsequent shuffling of personnel that it went through at the beginning of Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s reign as chairman. Of the squad in 2010-11, the last before Qatar, not a single first-team player remains registered for the first team this season. Beloved former captain Mamadou Sakho may have parted amicably, but that statistic is quite incredible. Of the youth products, only Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Alphonse Areola have managed to hold onto their place, and of course since Sakho, not a single youth player has regularly made the starting XI.

At least on paper, that points to a serious dearth of talent left standing in the Parisian academy —but the simple truth is that they have been replaced. The Camp Ooredoo (formerly Camp des Loges), PSG’s training facility, is sponsored wholly by Qatar in a deal worth around €10 million. Much of that money has been channeled back into the academy, with the ground slated to be moved out of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The new academy would cost upwards of €50 million and the long-term relocation could potentially reach a cost of €300 million. Virtually all of this comes from chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s pocket, and with good reason. The hastily-constructed side handed to Carlo Ancelotti in 2011 is now waning, its rejects far removed and its stars beginning to fade. Half a decade on from the Qatari takeover, the discarded prospects have only increased in number.

Per the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) in 2014, Paris is ranked fifth in Europe in number of academy-produced players that have made first-team appearances for a club across the continent’s top 5 leagues. In the top 3 are the typical academies – Barcelona in first with its famous La Masia, and Real Madrid and Manchester United not far behind. In fourth is Olympique Lyonnais, another French side, which serves as a useful foil for this discussion.

The French Ligue 1 has the highest ratio of home-grown first team players among the top 5 leagues in Europe. This statistic is supported by Lyon, with 15 of its 33 top-flight produced players still at the club and featuring as of 2014. Paris Saint-Germain, however, is tied for third-lowest in terms of youth products retained with 5—and that number will have only gone down with Zoumana Camara’s retirement and the departure of the ever-quiet Clement Chantome. Elevating them to fifth place in the rankings are a whopping 22 players abroad, most of them plying their trade at a fellow Ligue 1 side, just below the grade and forever consigned to being an asterisk on a commentator’s team sheet in case they score on the club that never gave them a chance.

In fairness, the club has redefined success. Of that there can be no question. The league title is virtually a given, and even though both domestic cups are little more than formalities, those trophies help ease the blow of a potential lost UEFA Champions League match.

Stambouli won the Ligue 1 with Montpellier in 2012—he is a perfectly serviceable French midfielder, and yet he looks behind the pace of the rest of the team when he starts. Since cleanly winning all 4 of France’s domestic trophies in 2015, “Ligue 1 tier” is a step below Les Parisiens. This impossibly high standard is what keeps Presnel Kimpembe, who played a fine 90 minutes of league football against AS Saint-Etienne, consistently out of the side.

” But I do not pay attention to anything that is said or written in the media. For now, I just work…I am aware of the expectations, and the challenge, I do not put myself under more pressure than that. I would rather take pride in training at this level.” – Augustin

Even the golden boy, 18-year-old Jean-Kevin Augustin, has had many admirers turn briefly against him after a poor showing against Wasquehal. The pressure is impossible for an emerging talent, even one with such a tried record of professionalism. Likewise even though he may frustrate fans, Rabiot is Marco Verratti’s favorite young player for a reason. He has the talent and mindset to maintain a genuine place in the squad, despite constant friction between himself and the club. All of this contributes to Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s intense desire to elevate the academy: the French standard is no longer the Parisian standard.

At the time of writing, Paris is top of the table with not a single defeat. They remain the last undefeated club in any of Europe’s top 5 flights. Rabiot and Augustin have survived their fellow academy graduates because they can cope with the immense pressure and scrutiny that comes with even a peripheral role in Paris. The Parc des Princes is notoriously unforgiving, and lacks the culture of youth development that the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United enjoy. They must constantly shake off disappointments, and tread carefully enough that they do not end up at fault for a loss that ends the invincible run.

The effect of this new definition of success has led to a most concerning trend—former prospects, rather than fizzling out or transferring to another club for a modest fee, seem to simply disappear. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck is perhaps emblematic of this, enjoying first-team action in 2010/2011 and then finding himself frozen out after the club’s takeover. He made the occasional cameo appearance last season before ceding his spot permanently to Ezequiel Lavezzi. Despite having been offered the mercy of a loan move to Saint-Etienne, he has fallen out of favor there as well, and manager Christophe Galtier has hinted that the young forward’s time is up.

Bahebeck’s falling stock mimics that of Hervin Ongenda, who went on loan to Bastia last season alongside Alphonse Areola as part of an agreement with then-manager Claude Makelele. As the former PSG player and coach was quickly thrown out, the two loanees set off on diverging paths which Jonathan Johnson details wonderfully. Now consigned to a bench role much like Bahebeck’s last season, Ongenda—still under contract until 2017 – risks fading from the football world just a few years after being considered one of French football’s top prospects. Even as recently as 2013, French Football Weekly‘s comprehensive youth ranking Le 50 put Bahebeck on their list, alongside one Neeskens Kebano—now plying his trade in Belgium. All three of these players have seen their market values spiral downward, and where clubs such as Barcelona earn the occasional payday from products such as Gerard Deulofeu (now at Everton), PSG—decidedly not a club that sells—lets its players languish.

Perhaps these young men are left to fade because their roots are in the old academy. While Augustin and Kimpembe were both in the academy before 2011, many of the other current U19 stars were brought in by Qatar-funded scouts.

Alec Georgen and Lorenzo Callegari have recently signed their first professional contracts

Alec Georgen, Edouard Odsonne, Lorenzo Callegari, all of whom have been touted as stars of the future, joined the club precisely in 2011. Odsonne in particular made highlights by propelling France to victory in the U-17 European Championship last summer. The additions to the academy are not exclusively French, either; Kais Ruiz, at 12 years old, was one of many talented La Masia prospects affected by FC Barcelona’s youth ban, and one of many quiet additions to PSG’s academy. The revolution in the Camp Ooredoo may be an external one, in fact, with the Catalan club as the model. Carles Romagosa, a former La Masia coach and director, was hired in September 2015 as a new head of youth development. Principles from top European academies have been bled into the French capital, beginning with mass recruitment and now with a direct injection of Johan Cruyff-esque philosophy.

This attitude has even brushed onto the first team. While a good bit of chaff came with the golden wheat of the pre-Financial Fair Play signings in 2011-2013, most of that has been dealt with, and Blanc’s squad is solid and talented. PSG’s transfer strategy now turns towards thoughts of cultivating the next crop of youth stars. Most fans of the team will have not heard of Brazilian anchor-man Gustavo Hebling, much less that he signed for PSG in August of 2015. He’s now reportedly on loan to PEC Zwolle for 3 years. While some will point to his agent, Mino Raiola (also managing Ibrahimovic, Blaise Matuidi, and Gregory van der Wiel) as the deal’s orchestrator, the efforts to find younger first-team players are clearly extant. Serge Aurier and Layvin Kurzawa, both officially signed last summer, are 23; recent transfer rumors point as much to Rolando Mandragora (now at Juventus) as Antoine Griezmann.

And yet, for all this eye to the future, one must ask just what the club expects to gain from all of this. Why does the sudden pursuit of young talent not seem so clearly contradictory to Paris’ short-term goal? Blanc has exactly one mission—the league is his to lose, the domestic cups are low-priority. Success in these matters has already been bought. Save for the occasional thought of an undefeated league season, Blanc’s future hinges on bringing the Champions League trophy to Paris for the first time.

So how does one reconcile a budding youth policy with the signing of Angel Di Maria? That’s not to say that the former Real Madrid man has been a mistake—in fact he’s been sensational, easily one of the best players to wear the rouge-et-bleu in recent years. Not only does he mark in the double digits in goals and assists, but he’s performed exactly as asked in continental competitions. In terms of shaping this team into a more adaptive, competitive unit, Di Maria has become the first name on the team sheet. He has proved to be worth every penny of his considerable transfer fee.

The success of this landmark signing is what makes it so contradictory to the direction Paris seems to want to head in. “Big name signing” has become a buzzword as Ibrahimovic nears the end of his contract, with the rumor mill still swirling about whether he will depart. The idea is that Le Parisiens need to account for a certain nebulous “star factor,” as they did in their early ascent, bringing in Javier Pastore, Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and Edinson Cavani in succession. While this trend was foregone somewhat by European financial restrictions, recent reports predict a continuation of last summer’s Financial Fair Play rulings which eased restrictions on PSG’s transfer budget. Should this come to pass, Nasser Al-Khelaifi would be able to free up a potential transfer budget of around €300 million. That would almost certainly go towards another expensive star, such as Griezmann, Neymar, Eden Hazard, or even the waning Cristiano Ronaldo.

The best-case scenario in PSG’s eyes is that these landmark signings kill the elephant in the room. If expensive transfers pave the way for a Champions League trophy to bring home this season or next, one cannot imagine any complaints. The current staff have learned from the wanton mismanagement of Coman—the current batch of youth are, if underplayed, at least competently dealt with. Once the next generation of academy players begin to bleed through (and older members of the squad such as Ibrahimovic and Cavani give way), if Paris frees itself of the immense pressure to conquer Europe, the spotlight will inevitably retract. One or two seasons of consolidation and some younger acquisitions would cleanly usher in a new, more stable, era.

In stark contrast, five or six more seasons of incessantly chasing a European cup would be devastating. As Cavani’s case shows, a massive fee clouds any manager’s ability to properly use his squad. It hardly took two years for Blanc to see the Uruguayan didn’t exactly fit in Paris—it’s only now, when the player has been sufficiently removed from his transfer fee, that Blanc can freely drop the ex-Napoli man. If current Manchester United flop Memphis Depay had chosen PSG instead, there is no doubt that he would have been afforded much more time in the side—no matter how disappointing—than he actually warranted. This conflict of interest is exactly what Coman refers to when he complains about his former club; multiply that by several increasingly anxious seasons of throwing money at a Champions League, and one can see history repeating itself. Rabiot, Augustin, Marquinhos, even the recently resurgent Lucas Moura would all have every right to leave if they were forced to give up a position in the squad to an expensive newcomer.

At the heart of this potential future divergence is the need to legitimize Paris Saint-Germain as an entity. The club has followed to a tee the trends of Manchester City and Chelsea F.C. before it: a massive injection of cash by a billionaire foreign owner, several years of revolving-door transfers followed by consolidation and stability. Chelsea, taken over in 2003, won the Champions League for the first time in 2012, whereas Manchester City have yet to win it. Both, however, have had much domestic success in a league much more competitive and lucrative than the French top flight. In this way, Paris is a complete outlier; with no one even close to challenging them in France, their success as a project is completely judged in Europe. Until Les Parisiens join the many storied clubs to lift the cup, they are considered simply another batch of pretenders. The future of the club beyond a Champions League trophy, after having virtually existed for several years for the explicit purpose of gaining one, is almost nebulous.

However, the decision to invest so heavily in the academy acknowledges that there is another path to legitimacy, and one that is not so blunt. PSG’s youth investments are crucial to dispel the plastic-club reputation, and to refute the popular image that a rich club is a wasteful, free-spending one; in truth, financial sanctions against Paris were so short-lived simply because the club is undeniably well-run. Most of all they are being built up to lay a path beyond the inevitable European victory.

The current crop of Parisian youngsters are genuinely a talented and exciting group. Adrien Rabiot is special, umbilical cord notwithstanding, and learning from an equally special midfield. But he’s not alone—in addition to the post-2011 acquisitions, Areola, Christopher Nkunku, Kimpembe, even the potentially revivable Bahebeck and Ongenda, they all have proven qualities. It falls on the club’s shoulders, after such massive investment, to model itself on the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich—super-clubs, yes, but self-sufficient ones with storied academies and a culture friendly to youth development; teams that would not be as relevant as they are today, not nearly, if they did not have the potential to produce the next golden generation.

The club from the French capital is one of the youngest in Europe, and its history waits to be written. With the new academy, Paris will have every opportunity to break the mold of other taken-over clubs. The club must seize its chance to redefine success: to make the choice between short-term glory and a legacy as part of the global elite.

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