Real Madrid, like P.S.G., obsesses over the Champions League, though its reasons are very different. To Real, this competition is a central part of its identity: It has won the trophy 12 times, including three of the last four years; the European Cup defines what Real is.
In Parisian eyes, by contrast, the competition is a symbol of what P.S.G. wishes — no, craves — to be. There is no glory in winning the French domestic championship, not for a club with a budget vastly larger than any of its rivals’. There is no pride in claiming either of the country’s domestic cups, not to a Qatari ownership group that got involved in soccer to accrue that unique soft power, that sense of relevance that the world’s most popular sport offers.
Only the Champions League justifies the investment, only the Champions League validates the project, only the Champions League brings Qatar the kudos it desires: proof that what was once a backwater can become a global player.
It was for the Champions League that P.S.G. sanctioned a $276 million move last summer for Neymar, the Brazilian superstar. It did not sign him from Barcelona, in the words of the midfielder Adrien Rabiot, to help P.S.G. “score eight against Dijon.”
The club does not indulge Neymar — throwing him a lavish, two-day birthday party earlier this month and giving him a variety of “privileges,” in Rabiot’s words again, that others do not enjoy — to perform party tricks in Ligue 1. It does so because it sees him as the sort of player who can deliver in these moments, on the biggest stages, against the most illustrious opponents.
His ability to do so is not in question: P.S.G. knows that all too well — it was Neymar, after all, who…