The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
Authenticity. It’s one of the thorniest words in modern football. With the game now a globalized, capitalist machine that reaches just about every person on the planet, authenticity is a commodity that’s becoming harder and harder to come by. For those fans who’ve grown up with the game, to be authentic is to be steadfast, almost myopic in your loyalty to your club, no matter the results on the field. The game means something more than marketing and social media buzz. Old-school fan affection stretches back to a time before players were cosseted and remote, back when clubs were an outgrowth of their communities. A time, in short, before the money and post-match Instagram selfies.
Some teams are considered more authentic than others. Look at the English Premier League, for example. Liverpool and Manchester United, with their history and tradition, are seen as authentic. Manchester City and Chelsea, backed by petrodollars since 2003 and 2008 respectively, are not. Or so the simplistic outlook goes.
The reality, of course, is a little more complicated. Thanks to monstrous TV deals and an influx of foreign ownership, the parameters for what makes a club more “real” than others are difficult to define. Football is tribal — one man’s fake is another man’s truth. For fans of Carlisle United or any other minnow in the lower leagues, it’s hard to tell the difference between any of these giants. They’re all sinfully rich organizations, some just have more money to burn than others.
In France, Paris Saint-Germain is held up as the embodiment of inauthenticity, at least by fans of other clubs. Purchased by Qatari billionaires in 2011, the Paris outfit has transmogrified from a domestic basket case into a European superpower, importing world superstars and gobbling up the best domestic talent, including Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, the world’s two most expensive players.
If you were always a supporter, PSG is a fine club — one that, despite having only been founded in 1970 (making it a comparative baby in European football terms), has a respectable history, winning honors domestic and European. The club boasts former players such as Brazilian icons Ronaldinho and Rai, flamboyant French winger David Ginola, and Ballon d’Or winner (and current president of Liberia) George Weah.
If you’re not a supporter, however, PSG is the devil incarnate: a financially doped freak show whose raison d’être is to buy its way to the Champions League. Having played for rival Marseille, controversial midfielder Joey Barton spoke of how he viewed the differences between the two clubs in his 2016 autobiography, No Nonsense:
“They know their history at Stade Vélodrome, on the south side of the great Mediterranean port. Olympique de Marseille was formed in 1899, 71 years before Paris Saint-Germain, the club that represents the cultural arrogance and economic dominance of the French capital.
L’OM are anchored to the people, with a fan base estimated at 14 million which stretches from Normandy to North Africa. PSG are the plaything of the petit bourgeois, a product of political expedience and a prime example of the rootlessness of much of the modern game
[PSG is] too posh to push in anything other than the Champions League. At some point, their importance as a marketing tool will diminish, the money will dry up, and the mercenaries will melt away. All that will be left is a void, where tradition and community should be.”
Last week, rumors emerged suggesting PSG would be the first club to don the Jordan Brand Jumpman logo on its jersey as of next season, intensifying the club’s unholy image in the eyes of critics. “Having a guy playing basketball as a logo on a football shirt is ridiculous no matter what anyone fucking says,” stormed one irate Reddit user, while another — with a Man City flair and no hint of irony — wrote, “Commercialism is ruining the beautiful game smh.”
As the truism goes, football isn’t a sport, it’s a religion. Fans worship their gods every weekend and the sport often goes hand-in-hand with politics and class. For purists, it’s why PSG’s rocket-propelled ascent to the big time is problematic: the club, they say, is a Qatar PR operation with a football team attached to it. From the signings of millennial-friendly glamor names such as David Beckham, Kylian Mbappé, and Neymar to the sneaker and headphone collaborations and celebrity co-signs, the club would appear to place marketing success on an equal footing with success on the field. The Jordan Brand shirt, should it happen, can be added to that list. Sure, it might end up working in terms of aesthetics, yet many will say there isn’t much to it beyond that, even if Paris is a basketball-friendly city. It feels superficial, an attempt to cash in on a carefully crafted “cool” image that only exists to sell shirts in the United States and further the club’s name outside of France.
At least that’s one way of looking at it. But as already discussed, football is a capitalist behemoth that shed its roots long, long ago. To single out PSG as the only club looking to further its brand in contravention of the game’s “spirit” is unfair when every major club is doing the same — even those clubs most would label as “authentic.”
History-rich Juventus, the Old Lady of Turin, introduced a new, simplified logo last year for branding purposes, the horse that adorned the club crest for decades sent away to be turned into marketing glue. Even Barton’s supposedly sacrosanct Marseille, whose fans are more numerous and considered more passionate than PSG’s, joined its hated rival in putting Mandarin player names on the back of its shirts to promote the French league during Chinese New Year. Every summer just about every big European club goes to Asia or the United States for pre-season, putting players through long-haul flights during a key training period to play friendlies thousands of miles from home, all to maximize their clubs’ exposure in international markets.
Les Parisiens are just scrutinized more because of their controversial ownership and recent success. In the seven seasons since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club, the Ligue 1 title has gone to Paris five times. The club even had the temerity to prize a global superstar, Neymar, out of the clutches of Barcelona, a club so storied its motto is “Més que un club” (more than a club). But by being the first to incorporate a brand traditionally aligned with streetwear on its jerseys, PSG isn’t an iconoclast but a visionary. It’s playing the same marketing game as other clubs, only doing it better.
For Nike, the PSG jersey has become one of the most lucrative pieces of real estate in football, even being co-opted by high fashion and non-football celebrities in recent years. This will surely be at the crux of any decision by the brand to sacrifice the Swoosh for the Jumpman. Its Jordan subsidiary will not only increase its visibility in Europe, its deployment on a football jersey offers something fresh to Jordan Brand’s core American customer base.
PSG might alienate hardcore football fans further by donning the Jumpman, but that hardly matters — those people are never going to make peace with the club anyway. Hearts are to be won in the suburbs of New York and bars of Shanghai, not the neighborhoods of Munich, Manchester, or even Paris itself. Paris Saint-Germain is on the hunt for global dominance, has the money to do it, and is unabashed in its approach. In an era of football inauthenticity, that just might make it one of the most authentic clubs around.
Next up; meet the Scottish streetwear brand making skateboarding more inclusive.