Leonardo's grand project for Paris Saint-Germain

By John SinnottBBC Sport

While Manchester may be considered the newly-installed capital of football, in France a potential rival wants to maximise its location in one of the world's most iconic cities and become a new European superpower.

It is a theme that Paris Saint-Germain's sporting director Leonardo - appointed following a takeover by Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) in June - returns to again and again as he outlines his plans to revive a club that last won the French league title in 1994.

"It's impossible to disconnect the club from one of the biggest cities in the world, with everything it has," Leonardo told the BBC. "The main project is to be one of the best teams in Europe and to do that we have to use everything in this city to put PSG at a high level."

When Leonardo talks about the PSG "project" it is hard not to be reminded of former French president Francois Mitterrand's Grands Projets - the building of Ieoh Ming Pei's glass pyramid, the Institut du Monde Arabe, the Opera Bastille, the Grande Arche de la Defense and the Bibliotheque Nationale.

Javier Pastore
Pastore cost PSG £36.6m when he signed from Palermo in the summer

"Paris is Paris - charming, with big, important French values," added the 42-year-old Leonardo. "To be a big club, you need a city behind you.

"PSG has a lot of the qualities to represent France - the club of the capital, to represent the mayor, the politics, the economy, the crowd, to create in the Parc des Princes a real atmosphere at the highest level."

As well as frequent references to Paris's importance to the PSG project, Leonardo's conversation is peppered with talk of dreams and passion: his passion for his new role, the drive of the club's new Qatari owners to resuscitate the club and the dream of winning the Champions League.

But behind the blue-sky thinking the Brazilian is hard-headed about top-flight football's economic realities and emphasises the need to grow PSG's revenues to over £219m, arguing that unless the club achieves that sort of figure it can forget about challenging for the Champions League.

"I really believe that one day PSG can play in the first position of the Champions League," said the 1994 World Cup winner in his first English-speaking interview since his appointment.

It took three years for Manchester City to reach the Champions League following their takeover by Middle Eastern owners and Leonardo, a player with the Paris club in the 1996-97 season, is realistic that PSG will also need time to realise the Qatari owners' ambitions.

"I played here 14 years ago at the highest level and I lived the best moments of the history of the club," he said. "We played in Europe at the highest level with very good players and a very good atmosphere and then I left.

"PSG has to come back to that level, even inside the club, to have that winning mentality and to start the season thinking we can win the title and not just to participate.

"The Champions League is very important but it will not kill us if we're not in it next year. We have a programme, but it's impossible to programme the results and the players' performance."

QSI's takeover of PSG immediately led to the club being dubbed "the Manchester City of France", but Leonardo is keen to reject such a sobriquet.

"It's easy to make that comparison," he reflected. "Two clubs that needed an injection of money to restart. However, it's not the idea here to put in money, money, money.

"You need to create some new revenues, with a brand and TV rights and results, but everything else is different. Different owners, from a different part of the Middle East. Each club has its own style and mentality and its own way to manage a club.

"This club will always be French. It's mentality is 100% French. Past owners have been American and French and now they are Qatari, but this club will always be the same. The owners will pass, but the club will remain."

Leonardo says he has barely slept since moving to Paris from Milan in the summer and given what he has on his agenda he is likely to suffer more sleep deprivation over the coming months.

As well as rebranding the club and reshaping the PSG squad - after City, they spent the most money in the summer transfer window - Leonardo is intent on offering a helping hand to the Parisian "banlieues", the city's suburbs that were scarred by rioting in 2005.

"We live in a difficult moment where 80% of the population has economic problems," he commented. "We are talking about a social problem, but if we can produce a structure that can benefit the population that is the perfect project.

"Around Paris there are a lot of problems, but you can touch that if you are positive with a winning structure. We understand what football means for people and what it can do for them, that it's impossible for the state to do, but we can arrive and can open doors and do things.

"We have to create a base of the club and then we can do a lot of things for the society we live in. Football has a responsibility to transmit a good message - of dreams.

"We are creating dreams - we are not creating only a company."

That will be music to the ears of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is one of PSG's most prominent fans. Vive la Republique, vive le PSG.

Watch BBC1's Football Focus on Saturday, 17 September at 1215 BST for its special report on Paris Saint-Germain

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