PARIS: Paris St Germain and Olympique Marseille will aim to regain some former lustre when they kick off their French league season on Saturday with real belief in their title ambitions.
The Parisians had a season to forget last time, finishing 11th in the 20-team league in their worst performance in 15 years.
The absence of European distractions for the coming campaign at least means the big-spending club can focus on trying to win the league title that has eluded them since 1994.
There seems to be more contentment at the usually troubled club since charismatic Vahid Halilodzic replaced fiery coach Luis Fernandez in May and playmaker Ronaldinho finally moved to Barcelona.
“It’s our duty to secure a European berth next season,” said Halilodzic. “And we will have to improve our image too.”
Eliminated by Boavista in the third round of the UEFA Cup, PSG’s only other hope of success last season disappeared with a 2-1 defeat to AJ Auxerre in the French Cup final.
The players, booed by their own fans on several occasions at the Parc des Princes, are keen to make a fresh start.
“Winning the league title takes time,” says defender Frederic Dehu. “So we, the players and the public, will have to be patient.”
PSG will bank on striker Pedro Pauleta to improve their results.
The Portuguese international, who has joined from Girondins Bordeaux, has scored 65 goals in the French league over the last three seasons.
“He was the goalscorer Paris have been looking for many years,” Dehu said. “But we must not put too much pressure on his shoulders as we did with Ronaldinho. He is a match winner but we must act like a team.”
In their title chase, PSG are certain to face a strong challenge from arch-rivals Olympique Marseille.
Chairman Eric Bouchet and manager Alain Perrin have turned the club around over the last 12 months and the team will play in the Champions League preliminary round against Austria Vienna next month.
The club other fans love to hate last won the league in 1993 but were stripped of the title because of a bribery scandal.
Perrin, happy with last season’s progress, has not been over-active in the transfer market.
He has brought in only former international sweeper Philippe Christanval from Barcelona and two strikers, Didier Drogba from En Avant Guingamp and Stepan Vachousek from Slavia Prague.
Lyon will also be looking to improve their performances on the European scene after being eliminated in the first stage in the Champions League last season.
French league runners-up Monaco, who narrowly escaped relegation to the Second Division on financial grounds three years after winning the title, are also a team to watch.
Didier Deschamps has a potent attacking side, notching 66 league goals last season with strike duo Shabani Nonda, the league’s top scorer with 26, and Dado Prso back at their best.
“We have the opportunity to carry on with the same squad and there is no reason for us to stop now,” said Prso.
Deschamps, who swiftly imposed himself as a knowledgeable coach, is trying to persuade influential midfielder Jerome Rothen to stay for at least one more year as offers from European clubs come in.
The French title race remains one of the most open in Europe and other challengers, such as improving Sochaux and AJ Auxerre, could yet launch a bid for glory after finishing sixth and seventh respectively last season. – Reuters