Ask any French soccer historian, and they will tell you that Paris Saint-Germain, for the longest time, were viewed as a middle-of-the-road club prior to the last decade. They were a club with a modest history and just two Ligue 1 titles. From being founded in 1970 until their second title in 1993-94, many other clubs in France were looked at as the big boys ahead of them, such as Marseille, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux, Nantes and, more recently, Lyon.
Fast forward to Sunday, and PSG are in the UEFA Champions League final for the first time and on the verge of cementing their spot in history if they can hoist the most coveted trophy in club soccer.
But the dramatic transformation from afterthought to juggernaut didn't happen quickly, nor did it come cheap. The sport has become one where money talks louder than anything else, and a strong financial backing can lift you from mediocre to magnificent. Just like we've seen with Manchester City in England, PSG are in the same boat, aiming to validate the billions spent with the ultimate prize. The trophy is one that has eluded them by a great distance and where past journeys haunt them with irritating memories.
Here's how PSG got to the UCL final.
It all started in 2011 with the financial takeover of the club by Qatar Sports Investments. Since the takeover, PSG have spent at least $30 million on 19 players, while also spending $300 million total on just two in world-record signing Neymar, and arguably the world's third-best player (after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) in Kylian Mbappe.
Upon taking over the club, QSI weren't shying away from saying that their goal was continental success well ahead of domestic success. With the players the club brought in over the last decade with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva and others, French success seemed guaranteed, while ultimate accomplishment would be measured by European glory. Over $1 billion have been spent on player transfers, but it hasn't been without controversy and financial issues with UEFA and the Financial Fair Play regulations. Those are issues the club have managed to overcome.
In 2012, the club was under investigation by UEFA for the first time concerning a financial agreement with Qatar Tourism Authority that saw funds enter the Parisian club that allowed them to get around FFP regulations. That resulted in a heavy fine of over $60 million.
A second investigation in 2017 over the signings of Neymar and Mbappe resulted in allegations of FFP violations, but the club was cleared of any wrongdoing despite a lot of back and forth, but had to balance the books with more sales of players.
The ability to bring in world-class players at every position resulted in PSG's dominance in the French league, transforming it into essentially a one-team competition. Since 2012-13, PSG have won seven of the eight Ligue 1 titles. The domestic Coupe de la Ligue has gone to PSG six out of the last seven years, while the French Cup has been won by PSG five out of the last six years.
PSG regularly win their domestic league by double-digit points, and in 2015-16 they won it by 31 points over Lyon.
Champions League failure
The success in France is notable, but this isn't a team looking to compete with Lyon, Monaco, Marseille and Lille. They want to be mentioned in the same sentence as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and the biggest teams in the world. To do so, they have to win the Champions League before they think about winning two, but it's been a tough road in the competition. Some have questioned whether the team is truly tested enough in France to compete in Europe, and it's been a valid concern when you consider what we've seen on the biggest stage where there has been more heartbreak than anything else:
2012-13: Lost to Barca on away goals in the quarterfinals, 3-3.
2013-14: Fell to Chelsea on away goals in the quarterfinals, 3-3.
2014-15: Lost to Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
2015-16: Lost to Manchester City 3-2 on aggregate in the quarterfinals.
2016-17: The most painful of them all, PSG beat Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of their round of 16 match only to then lose the return leg 6-1 at the Camp Nou in one of the biggest choke jobs in UCL history.
2017-18: Again with Neymar injured, PSG were knocked out in the round of 16 to eventual champion Real Madrid, 5-2 on aggregate.
2018-19: PSG were eliminated in the round of 16 against a poor Manchester United side after conceding a late penalty kick with Neymar out injured.
The biggest game of their lives
The ups and downs have all played a part in where the club is now. Paris Saint-Germain's project has led to this -- the Champions League final, overcoming hurdles in the knockout stage to get there. There was the miracle against Atalanta, and the dominance over RB Leipzig.
Now, 90 minutes and potentially more against the world's top team in Bayern Munich for PSG to take the trophy they've long yearned for.
Only three clubs have won more UCL titles than Bayern's five: Real Madrid (13), Milan (7) and Liverpool (6). On a pitch, anything can happen, but PSG enter as the clear underdog. Bayern have won 19 straight games in all competitions and are unbeaten in their last 24 games. They regularly punish teams, and they plan to add PSG to that list.
For PSG, the chance of a lifetime is just hours away. Win the title by slaying mighty Bayern Munich, and the money and time spent will be validated by entering the history books and cementing the legendary status of all those involved from owners, to players to coach Thomas Tuchel.
Lose, and it's another agonizing letdown, but this time at the moment when success mattered the most.