Say the letters PSG and immediately people think of the several superstars they, currently have in their squad – Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé, Neymar, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Sergio Ramos to name but a few. Under Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) since 2011, European glory has been the main objective of the owners irrespective of their dominance in Ligue 1, with each failure in the Champions League heightening their desire to win it. Only once had they tasted glory in Europe over 25 years ago.
Thanks to the financial backing of Canal+, PSG were midway through their first golden era as they headed into the 1995-96 campaign. The previous season had been a decent one, in manager Luis Fernandez’s first year they reached the semi finals of the Champions League, finished 3rd in Ligue 1, plus won the Coupe de la Ligue and Coupe de France that won them a place in the Cup Winners’ Cup.
However, such milestones in the 1994-95 season brought interest from higher clubs, with George Weah moving to AC Milan and David Ginola heading to Newcastle. PSG replaced them with Patrice Loko, whose 22 goals for Nantes last season made him the top scorer in Ligue 1 and helped Nantes win the league. They also brought in Youri Djorkaeff, who scored 14 goals for Monaco the previous season and Julio Dely Valdes from Cagliari.
Such attacking talent was bolstered by steel in defence with goalkeeper and captain Bernard Lama, while in front of him were experienced defenders Alain Roche, Paul Le Guen and new signing Bruno NGotty. Experienced midfielders and wingers such as Laurent Fournier, Daniel Bravo and Vincent Guerin was a platform for creative Brazilian playmaker Rai to weave his magic.
PSG’s goal was to build on Fernandez’s first season, to improve on their 3rd place finish in Ligue 1, especially as PSG sacked Artur Jorge at the end of the 1993-94 season (despite winning Ligue 1 for only the second time in the club’s history) due to a lack of attractive play. It was that free-flowing football that led under Fernandez that led to PSG’s exploits in UCL and they looked at the Cup Winners Cup as a chance to do one better.
Their first-round opponents were Norwegian side Molde who had a young 22-year-old Ole Gunner Solskjaer in the starting lineup for the first leg. Played in Norway on the 14th September 1995 in front of just 3,379 spectators, a goalless first half burst into life on 56 minutes when Solskjaer brilliantly guided a low shot from just outside the box into the bottom corner.
That sprang PSG into life and they would equalise on 72 minutes when Le Guen rifled in a thunderbolt from outside the box that goalkeeper Morten Bakke was unable to keep out. The Parisians then took the lead six minutes when they won a penalty and Djorkaeff converted.
However, Molde would not give up and showed their pluck by equalising four minutes later when Arild Stavrum headed home at the near post from a corner. Yet a team is most vulnerable just after they have scored and PSG reinforced that footballing maxim by scoring the winner two minutes after Stavrum’s equaliser when Guerin’s shot was saved and Dely Valdes stabbed home the rebound.
A pulsating first leg in Molde where the game was in the balance gave way to a second leg two weeks later in Paris where the game was decided in the first 14 minutes. Pascal Nouma scored twice and Djorkaeff made it 3-0 (6-2 on aggregate) with ten minutes left to progress to the second round where they would face Celtic. By the time of the first leg on the 19th October at the Parc des Princes, the French side were 4th in Ligue 1 and six points behind surprise table-toppers FC Metz.
PSG quickly established themselves on the front foot when Loko headed Fournier’s brilliant cross onto the post. The post became Celtic’s friend in the second half when PSG hit it again through Djorkaeff. But the midfielder would not be disheartened and got the only goal of the first leg on 76 minutes when he controlled Guerin’s cutback from the left and sidefooted the ball past keeper Gordon Marshall.
Denying Celtic an away goal was important, but PSG looked to silence the Parkhead crowd when they headed to Glasgow on the 2nd November. Just like in the second leg against Molde, PSG killed the game off in the first half with two goals from Loko in the space of six minutes and then Nouma put the icing on the cake to make it 3-0 midway through the second half by tucking home Djorkaeff’s pass.
PSG’s attacking style of football under Fernandez was paying off in the Cup Winners’ Cup but facing Parma in the quarter-finals would be a sterner test. The first leg was to be played in Italy on the 7th March 1996 and PSG were coming into the game on a high.
From Matchday 15 in Ligue 1 before their second leg at Celtic to Matchday 30 before they faced Parma, PSG in the league had won seven games, drawn five and lost three. Gaining 26 points from a possible 48 propelled the Parisians right to the top of the table and now held a four-point lead over Monaco with just eight league games to go.
Their attacking play was at times sumptuous and had scored 57 goals, the most in the league and were averaging nearly two goals per game. Importantly, their defence come March was holding firm and had the second tightest defence in the division behind Metz. The only blip was being knocked out of the Coupe de France in the last 16 against Auxerre.
Parma were a tough side that won the UEFA Cup the previous season and had a brilliant squad. Players such as Roberto Sensini, a 22 year old Fabio Cannavaro in his first season at Parma, the experienced Hristo Stoichkov, Dino Baggio and Gianfranco Zola. They even had an 18-year-old Gianluigi Buffon (in his first season) and Filippo Inzaghi on the bench.
Parma quickly showcased their talents early on when Stoichkov broke the offside trap, finding himself one on one with Lama, but the onrushing PSG captain came up top. After Djorkaeff shot narrowly wide from long range, Parma right back Roberto Mussi went on a jinking run, cutting inside to launch a vicious shot that Lama smartly parried away.
Lama was called into action early in the second half when he denied Dino Baggio. But the goalkeeper had no answer on 58 minutes when PSG lost possession in their own half. The ball was quickly played to Stoichkov, whose low shot rippled across the face of goal and into the bottom corner despite Lama’s best efforts.
PSG hit the post when searching for a equaliser but were lucky not to go 2-0 down when Antonio Benarrivo’s cross on the left found Inzaghi free but Lama saved excellently from close range. PSG took a one goal deficit back to Paris for the 2nd leg two weeks later on 21st March. Confidence was high, as three days after the defeat at Parma the Parisians beat Lyon to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points.
Over 43,000 spectators attended the second leg at the Parc des Princes and PSG had a blistering start by winning a penalty on nine minutes when Nouma was clattered by Cannavaro. Parma goalkeeper Luca Bucci guessed the right way by going left but Rai’s penalty nestled into the bottom corner.
Yet Parma fought back, silencing the vocal crowd on 26 minutes when Melli’s speculative volley from outside the box squirmed under Lama and into the net. With Parma now ahead on aggregate, PSG searched for a way back into the game and up came a piece of luck on 38 minutes.
Collecting the ball outside the box, Rai flicked the ball over Massimo Brambilla and drove forward. Realising the threat of the Brazilian playmaker, centre back Luigi Apolloni stepped across to block Rai’s path but inadvertently played the ball into Loko’s path who took a touch and rifled his shot past Bucci.
With PSG 2-1 up in the second leg, the game was delicately poised with it being 2-2 on aggregate. The defining moment of the tie came on 69 minutes when PSG were awarded a penalty and Rai sent Bucci the wrong way for his second goal of the game. Parma had no answer and the Parisians held on to reach the semi finals where they would face Deportivo La Coruna.
The first leg was to be played in Spain on the 4th April but trouble was on the horizon for PSG domestically. Just three days after their hard-fought win against Parma, the league leaders fell to a 3-0 defeat at Auxerre, their opponents jumping into second and now two points behind the Parisians with six league games remaining.
Worse was to come six days later when PSG lost 3-2 at home to Metz six days later, with Auxerre thumping Lille 4-0 to leapfrog PSG and go top of the table. So, when PSG travelled to Galicia to face Deportivo five days later, a win was badly needed to put their season back on track. The first leg was a hard-fought game played under a cacophonous atmosphere.
A tense match sprang into life in the second half when Bebeto was played through, with the Brazilian deciding to try and go around Lama, but the PSG captain managed to get a hand to the ball and then quickly made a smart save when an attempted tackle ricocheted off a Deporitvo player back towards goal. PSG would then have an even better chance when a cross from the right was headed towards goal by Dely Valdes only to be brilliantly tipped over the bar by goalkeeper Francisco Liano.
Deportivo then had a great chance when Fran played a one-two and was set free on the right only for his shot to be parried away by Lama. But Depor would spurn a golden chance later on when Lama spilled Fran’s low free kick and substitute Txiki Begiristain hit the crossbar from less than six yards. Deportivo’s players, manager John Toshack and their fans hoped such a miss would not go unpunished.
They would be proven wrong in the cruelest way on the 90th minute when Djorkaeff collected the ball in the final third, went past one player, glided inside and drove into space. With Deportivo players backing off him, Djorkaeff with his right foot unleashed a fierce shot into the far corner of the net that left Liano absolutely stranded. It was a goal worthy of winning a game and Luis Fernandez along with his players rightly celebrated as they took a 1-0 lead.
PSG prepared for the second leg by defeating Nice 2-1 five days later away from home, but Auxerre still maintained a one-point lead at the top of the table when they beat Bordeaux 2-0. The second leg against Deportivo was played on the 18th April in front of a rousing crowd at the Parc des Princes.
Deportivo searched for a goal to tie the game on aggregate and came close when Javier Manjarin’s looping header hit the bar. Yet it was PSG that dealt a killer blow to Deportivo’s hopes on 58 minutes when Djorkaeff released Loko and the striker expertly placed the ball into the bottom corner to send the crowd and PSG coaching staff into pandemonium at reaching their very first European final.
An opportunity would also open up for PSG in Ligue 1 on the 20th April when Auxerre were held 1-1 at mid-table Bastia. PSG now had time to prepare, as their fixture at home to bottom club FC Martigues had been postponed to the 23rd in order to prepare for Deportivo. However, PSG squandered their chance to go top, as Maritgues held them to a goalless draw and were still a point behind Auxerre with three league games remaining.
The title race would effectively be over four days later when PSG lost 1-0 at home to Lille to hand Auxerre the Ligue 1 title. An 2-2 draw at Bordeaux and crushing 5-1 win at home to Bastia meant PSG would finish second. With a chance of a league title vanquished, all attention now turned to the Cup Winners’ Cup final. But shortly before the final in Brussels on the 8th May, Luis Fernandez announced his intention to leave PSG at the end of the season. His reasons were summed up in an interview with Le Monde:
“This is an environment where you work under huge stress. My wife watched one of our games on television recently and she got an awful fright. I cannot go on like this. Some mornings when I look at myself in the mirror, I think `Luis, be careful, you’re playing with fire.”
Standing in the way of a first European trophy for PSG and a swansong for Fernandez was Rapid Vienna. The Austrians had booked their spot in the final with an impressive 4-1 win on aggregate against a Feyenoord side who had a veteran Ronald Koeman, Ed De Goey, Peter Bosz and a young Henrik Larsson.
The final was played in Brussels on the 8th May and PSG suffered a blow when Rai was forced to come off after just 12 minutes due to injury. But the Parisians were unperturbed, as they had the first real chance of the game when Djorkaeff’s venomous half volley on the turn forced goalkeeper Michael Konsel to tip the ball over the bar.
With PSG enjoying 57% possession, they would make their dominance count on 29 minutes when they won a free kick roughly 35-40 yards out. Defender Bruno Ngotty rifled in a fierce low shot that got a slight deflection and bounced along the turf past Konsel into the bottom corner.
The Parisians continued their dominance into the second half and Djorkaeff hit the post after skipping past a few challenges. PSG would spurn more chances to extend their lead when Dely Valdes headed over from Loko’s cross. And Rapid Vienna nearly made them pay for it when Stephan Marasek clipped in a cross into the far post only for Andreas Heraf’s header to be saved by Lama.
That was as good as it got for Rapid Vienna as PSG became the first and only French team to lift the Cup Winners Cup. The rapturous celebrations showed just what it meant to PSG as Djorkaeff explained:
“At the final whistle, I felt something very strong, something inside. It wasn’t a liberation nor a crowning moment, it was more an accomplishment. There was such a great bond with the supporters at that time.”
The players and coaching staff headed back home to Paris the next day. Such was the nature of their achievement, just the second French club to win a European club trophy, they were received by then mayor of Paris Jean Tibéri and then President Jacques Chirac. The best celebration was yet to come at the Parc des Princes where, 50,000 fans attended to celebrate victory in the Cup Winners’ Cup.
Alas, it would also prove their sole European trophy, as the Parisians did reach the Cup Winners’ Cup final the following year, only to lose 1-0 to Barcelona. Time will tell if the Cup Winners’ Cup remains their only European trophy in the trophy cabinet.
By: Yousef Teclab / @TeclabYousef
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Shaun Botterill / Getty Images