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Butler: Dandy Cockney vs. Parisian Sunday Night on TSN

Noel Butler
7/20/2012 5:09:53 PM
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In the midst of a 1931 baseball season which found teammates Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig slugging it out as they both chased down that illustrious 50 home run mark, eventually settling for 46 apiece, the House that Ruth built staged its inaugural soccer match when Celtic traveled across the Atlantic to take on the New York Yankees - a soccer club, not the baseball team.

Thursday, all be it in a more luxurious style, Paris St. Germain retraced Celtic's 1931 Atlantic voyage ahead of Sunday evening's Herbalife World Football Challenge encounter against the European Champions. This time, the $2 billion House that George built will open its world famous gates and lush lawn for the inaugural football match to be staged at the luxurious V2 HQ of the 27-time World Series champions.

Sunday represents much more than a friendly football match as both PSG and Chelsea prepare for possible historical seasons.

Chelsea looking to become the first ever club to repeat as UEFA Champions League winners while PSG, a relative novice and a club only formed in 1970 after the merger of Stade St. Germain and Paris FC, looks to claim its very first European crown. The latter only became feasible when earlier this year the Qatar Investment Authority took complete ownership of a club that plays out of the aptly monikered Parc des Princes. In doing so the new ownership group immediately vaulted PSG into the same football breath and transfer conversations as Sheik Mansour's Manchester City and Roman Abramovich's Chelsea.

While austerity measures take effect across the European Union, along the Rue du Commandant in Paris, a new meaning has been applied to Accelerated Investment - a term that only entered the world football phrase book in 2009 and was made famous by now deposed Manchester City CEO Garry Cook.

In a little over 12 months, $250 million has been lavished on transfer fees alone as 15 new players have joined a club with a mere two French titles to its name. The Qatar Investment Authority won't receive much change out of three-quarters of a billion dollars  by the time salaries, their inherent tax obligations and commissions are taken into account. 

As the very expensively assembled PSG squad arrived at Orly Airport yesterday morning, it was without its two latest acquisitions. The world's best central defender, Thiago Silva, is preparing with a Brazil team that's about to launch its Joga Bonito type assault on the London Olympics. And while Zlatan Ibrahimovic was kind enough to temporarily interrupt his Balearic family vacation with ex-teammate Pippo Inzaghi to jet into the French capital on Wednesday to put his signature on one of the richest contracts in world sport, he's not playing in New York.

Having won titles in Holland, Spain and in Italy with an unprecedented 3 different clubs - own the football podium Ibrahimovic certainly does. Someone who wouldn't look out of place on the Taekwondo mats in London, Ibrahimovic won't play but is expected to jet out in time to take his seat amongst European football glitterarti to cast a very beady eye over his new teammates at Yankee Stadium Sunday evening.

Meanwhile the pioneers of the new world football order, Chelsea, are expected in New York Friday fresh off their opening encounter in the 2012 Herbalife World Football Challenge when they defeated the Sounders 4-2 in front of just over 53,000 at Century Link Field Wednesday night. Chelsea started the match with debutantes Eden Hazard and Marko Marin, who both tallied markers in a first half goal fest. They were acquired in the off season for a combined cost of $75 million to Roman Abramovich, who took Wednesday evening's match in from the vantage point of a New York football pub. The Chelsea owner is expected to open up his wallet at least once more this off season when the Euro Champs add Thiago Silva's Olympic Games teammate Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior to the Chelsea ranks. The 20-year old, who currently plies his trade at Internacional and goes by the obligatory 'Oscar', will wear one of the most famous shirts in world sport at the London Olympics, the legendry number 10 shirt of the Seleção.  Oscar is only a medical and a $40 million fee away from joining the SW6 aristocrats.

Since taking ownership in summer 2003, Abramovich has invested over $2 billion.  In terms of silverware, capped off with the stunning Champions League crown captured May 19, it has been without question the most successful era in Chelsea FC's event-filled 107-year history on and off the pitch.

A number of familiar faces are set to square off in the Bronx Sunday evening. Led by PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti, they include a senior member of his coaching staff, Paul Clement, who had two lengthy spells in London dating back to the mid 1990's, and Brazilian defender Alex. He was very outspoken earlier in the week in criticism of Abramovich's treatment of Andre Villas-Boas, who was fired by the Chelsea owner in early March.

Ancelotti himself was infamously relieved of his duties at Chelsea on the final day of the 2010-2011 season. Reportedly, he informed of his firing in the tunnel area of Goodison Park as he was about to attend the obligatory post-match press conference. 

Not only will Ancelotti set his world famous eyebrows on his ex-players for a first time since that shameful Sunday afternoon last May, adding salt to the Italian's Chelsea wounds will be the Champions League Trophy - the most integral piece of the European Champion's carry-on luggage.

Further intrigue to the Yankee Stadium encounter comes in the form of the recipients of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals hosting rights, won by Russia and Qatar respectively.

France Football recently reported that the then French President Nicloas Sarkozy requested of the UEFA President, Michel Platini, that he wield his immense influence and as a member of the FIFA Executive Committee cast his ballot in favour of a 2022 Qatar World Cup.

Moreover, Platini's 33-year old son Laurent, who early this year took up a legal position at Qatar Sports Investments, held a senior position at PSG between 2005 and 2008. This coming amidst the backdrop of the UEFA Financial Fair Play initiative that will place serious restrictions and severe remedies on those who exuberantly over-spend in the transfer market when FFP rules fully come into force next year.

Hardly surprising amongst this overwhelming financial backdrop, and as first reported by the New York Times last week, that of all the friendly football matches across North America the two fixtures at Yankee Stadium (Milan face Madrid on August 8) are commanding the highest dollar and biggest demand from the burgeoning North American football market.

Abramovich versus the Qatar Investment Authority - the immovable object meet the irresistible force. With Yankee Stadium providing the most surreal of settings. Priceless.

Chelsea Vs PSG, July 22nd - Live on TSN Sunday 7:00pm et / 4:00pm pt.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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