The city of Paris was abuzz on Aug. 23 for the UEFA Champions League Final — Europe’s most prestigious club soccer competition — between Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and FC Bayern Munich.
This excitement was no coincidence, as Paris’ own team had made it to the final for the first time in their history. But at the end of 90 minutes, Bayern Munich celebrated their fifth Champions League Final victory while PSG learned a lesson in humility.
The hype and sheer feeling of “this is our year” undeniably clings to every team with a great season, especially to PSG as they defeated domestic and European opponents alike with the kind of skill and flair that only raw confidence provides. That same confidence, however, was perhaps Les Paresian’s fatal flaw.
Skill and flair will get you far, but when pitted against a stalwart, extremely technical and organized German squad like Munich, they will not win you the match. For that, you need hard work, grit, and most importantly, the underdog mentality.
It may seem counterintuitive to think that even after a stellar, trophy-ridden season, the mindset to have is that of someone who might very well lose if they do not give it their all. Admittedly, there is something very powerful about believing yourself to be the best (as the saying goes, will it into existence). However, in a tournament that features the best soccer teams on the planet, no win can be taken for granted. Though they have talent in spades, the French side underestimated their opponents.
PSG came out of the tunnel feeling like a shoe-in, and it showed on the pitch. Without the mental acuity necessary for a tough opponent like Bayern, PSG were sloppy in possession and squandered chances left and right. Their whole style of play screamed “we’ll get ‘em next time.”
Munich, on the other hand, played like the underdogs. Despite Bayern’s own elite pedigree, their mentality drove them to play like PSG was the team to beat. They pushed and fought for every loose and contested ball, worked harder than the French, and took their chances when they came. They entered the game ready to give their all for the title and left as champions of Europe.
Next season, PSG will have another chance at winning the UEFA Champions League. Their legacy, however, provides a prime example of how easy it is to conflate confidence and arrogance in sports, and serves as a cautionary tale for the elite teams who do not give their opponents enough credit.