CONVENTIONAL wisdom has it that Paris Saint-Germain are part of a gigantic, slow-burn Qatari exercise in soft power. The Gulf state has acquired companies and real estate across the world and is flexing its muscles in sport too, with the 2022 World Cup being the most obvious gambit.

PSG were taken over in 2011, massive investment followed and the brand has grown hand in hand with the football club. They may not have gone beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but they became a legitimate superclub, seated at the table with the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid.

Along the way, they were boosted by a £160 million sponsorship from the Qatar Tourist Authority (which caused them to fall foul of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play), but they nevertheless continued their rise, growing in importance and commercial appeal.

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And then this summer they did a 180-degree turn. They acquired Neymar from Barcelona, triggering a £199 million release clause which nearly doubled the world transfer record. And they followed it up by clinching Kylian Mbappe in a one-year loan followed by a compulsory purchase of £166m. Throw in their wages over the life of their contracts and it’s a commitment of well over half a billion pounds, something few believe they can honour without a breach

of FFP.

Six years after it was introduced, there are still many misconceptions about FFP and what it is designed to do. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with levelling the playing field or, even, being “fair”. It exists to control clubs’ spending, limiting it mostly to what they earn organically and it has achieved its objectives, as the aggregate losses of all European clubs have gone from around £1.65 billion to £250m since its introduction. The goal was to make the game more economically viable – and investable by people seeking a return rather than just sugar daddies – which is why clubs supported it.

Right now clubs are limited to losses of around £25m over a rolling three-year period. Some expenses (seen as virtuous, like infrastructure development and some youth spending) don’t count towards the FFP calculation. And neither do some revenues, specifically when they involve what Uefa call “related party transactions”. In 2013 they sanctioned both Manchester City and PSG because they deemed that some sponsorship deals – with entities associated with the clubs’ owners – were inflated. And, when they reassessed them at what they considered “fair market value” the clubs were found in breach.

That is where PSG are now. Everybody knows Qatar could simply sign up to a bigger sponsorship deal but it would be, largely, irrelevant. Every commercial deal and every transfer with a “related party” (and Uefa have a very loose definition of this) is assessed. There are no loopholes to exploit here: PSG must grow revenue quickly if they are to comply.

The club say they will hit their targets. But they also say – and they are right – that nobody can accuse them of foul play because the 2017-18 books don’t close until June 30. Until then they can’t be accused of breach and Uefa can’t take any action.

Between now and the end of the season they have talked about renegotiating their kit deal with Nike so it will triple in value to some £60m, about Neymar bringing in massive front-loaded commercial deals, about selling off some of their assets.

To some, it feels pie-in-the-sky. The Nike deal has another five years to run and PSG reckon they can not only get them to scrap it, but replace it with one that would be the third-richest in the world after Barcelona and Manchester United (and twice that of Real Madrid). Neymar brings attention and visibility, but his people aren’t mugs. Whatever deals he brings in will be at least partly off-set by his image rights contract. Growth in broadcast revenue is limited too: domestic rights are locked in until 2020 and international rights until 2024. What’s more, BeIn Sport, which is owned by the Qataris, holds those rights and a sudden renegotiation would be viewed suspiciously by Uefa.

As for selling off playing assets, PSG do have a glut of attacking midfielders like Lucas, Hatem Ben Arfa, Julian Draxler, Goncalo Guedes (on loan at Benfica) and Javier Pastore. But they were unable to shift any of them in the summer. And they have one window –January 2018 – in which to do it. Oh, and next year, when Mbappe’s deal becomes permanent, they will take a further hit of some £30m in amortisation, which won’t make things any easier.

Assuming they breach, the question becomes whether Uefa will punish them and to what degree. Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, has said any breach will be “punished severely” and has staked his reputation on it. He is up for re-election in 2019 and the majority of stakeholders will want the book thrown at PSG. That could mean everything from fines, limits on spending and squad sizes and a transfer ban to outright exclusion from European competition.

On the playing field, PSG have another problem. Despite their stellar attack, the squad is painfully thin in midfield following the departures of Blaise Matuidi and Grzegorz Krychowiak. The same applies at the back.

All of this makes this summer’s events hard to digest. Here was a club growing steadily, year on year, despite their second-place finish season. Suddenly, they adopt a Panini sticker approach, one which leaves them with holes in their squad and will likely see them fall foul of the rules. It makes little sense from a business or sporting perspective. And it makes even less sense from the “soft power” angle: far from generating goodwill, all it does is conform to the worst Gulf stereotypes and anger the establishment.

You can’t help but wonder if all this was the doing of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the executive who runs both PSG and BeIn Sport and has been a competent steward over the past five years, or whether somebody above grew bored with slow and steady growth. If that’s the case, this could be remembered as the summer the club lost its way.