At PSG, a different frustration in the Champions League

Paris St.-Germain has dominated the national competition for nearly a decade, its team getting stronger annually with the signings of expensive stars from around the world. But the most coveted title, the Champions League, remains elusive.

That description applies, of course, to the Paris St.-Germain men’s soccer team. But he also fits into the club’s handball team, his sports doppelgänger. Just like the most prominent soccer team, the handball team never seems to lose in France. And just like the soccer team, it just can’t seem to get over its last hurdle in European competition.

The men’s soccer team has won seven of the last nine French league titles and is almost certain to win this year as well. But their European record is spotty for a team of their enormous wealth: they have appeared in 10 consecutive Champions Leagues but have only one runner-up finish, in 2020, and another semi-final appearance to prove it.

The handball team wears the same blue uniforms and maddeningly, if you’re PSG, you’ve come down the same path. They have won seven consecutive league titles, and this year there doesn’t seem to be any point in watching their domestic games: they are 21-0 and walking away with another championship.

But his frustration in the Champions League will sound familiar: Over the past eight seasons, Paris St.-Germain have never failed to reach at least the quarter-finals, but have only advanced to the final once. That year, 2017, he suffered a crushing 24-23 loss to Vardar of Macedonia, a game decided on the last shot.

Qatar Sports Investments acquired Paris St.-Germain and its soccer team in 2011, adding the handball team, which had previously operated as part of a partnership with the club, to its wholly-owned portfolio in 2012. While they were strong top division players, For much of their history, neither the soccer team nor the handball team had been world champions. But a flood of money from the new Qatari owners was intended to change that.

Paris St.-Germain has signed international soccer stars for years, including the two most expensive transfers in history: Neymar for $262 million in 2017 and Kylian Mbappé for $216 million in 2018. The biggest recent arrival was Lionel Messi, the Argentine midfielder who was a key player in the Barcelona team that humiliated PSG in the 2017 Champions League.

The handball team, which operates on a lower profile and smaller budget, turned to the same playbook by acquiring two players hailed as one of the greatest of all time: Mikkel Hansen, the Danish Olympic gold medalist, who has played with the team since 2012, and Nikola Karabatic, a three-time Olympic gold medalist for France, who signed in 2015.

When Hansen re-signed in 2017 for another five years, PSG executive Jean-Claude Blanc told Handball Planet: “Mikkel’s extension confirms the status of Paris St.-Germain handball on the world stage and our ambition for the next seasons. While title after title in France has been nice, that ambition also includes a European title or two.

Paris St.-Germain’s quest for a Champions League title this season suffered a setback when Hansen, a three-time world player of the year, contracted phlebitis and later a pulmonary embolism. He is out for the season and plans to return to a Danish club next season at the age of 34. Paris St.-Germain begins the playoff round against Norway’s Elverum on Wednesday.

If PSG handball defeats Elverum and then Germany’s Kiel, they would advance to a single-elimination final four in Cologne, Germany, in June, their sixth trip to that stage in seven years.

By then, many rival fans will again have accused Paris St.-Germain of paying for European glory. Payments have been made. But glory remains, for now, out of reach.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.