French giants Paris Saint-Germain have been playing out their own updated version of Dante's epic poem the Divine Comedy in recent times, with rapt crowds watching on. Here, FIFA.com delves a little deeper into PSG's world and finds a tale of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.
'Abandon all hope, ye who enter here'. These words, inscribed on the Gates of Hell where Dante begins his journey through the underworld, could just as easily be applied to PSG fans entering the Parc des Princes over the last two seasons. Following the glories of the mid-nineties, the club has been undermined by continual disagreements between players and coaches, fierce criticism from certain sections of the supporters and a string of disappointing results that have borne no relation to their lofty ambitions.
Far from regaining their stature on the European and national scene, PSG have gradually slipped out of the limelight, only making the headlines for reasons that have little to do with football. Aside from the occasional domestic cup success, the Parisians have sparked precious few celebrations in the French capital in recent times.
But with the new season about to begin, PSG are bracing themselves to climb the mountain and regain their position at the pinnacle of French football. The summer months have been relatively peaceful, and the arrival of new president Charles Villeneuve has brought some much-needed stability. Inexperienced but passionate, Villeneuve has been well received by players and fans alike and has pledged to restore the club's prestige. Paul Le Guen has stayed on as coach, and with the structure of the team remaining largely the same, he has been able to prepare quietly for the campaign ahead.
Pauleta's departure is an obvious blow up front, but the signing of Guillaume Hoarau from Le Havre has compensated for his departure, and a second striker is expected to arrive shortly. After buying in haste last season, PSG have adopted a more measured recruitment policy, bringing in the experienced midfield duo of Claude Makelele and Ludovic Giuly to help guide the youngsters. But while some promising pre-season friendly results have quelled the supporters' dissatisfaction for now, the first few rounds of the French championship could see the cheers turn to jeers very quickly, a fact acknowledged by club midfielder Jerome Rothen: "If we get some bad results, it could all go wrong for us."
In their first four league games, PSG take on Monaco, Sochaux and Caen away, and Bordeaux at home. It is an opening that is fraught with danger, pitching them as it does against teams who are hard to beat on their own patch as well as a side that are genuine contenders for the title. Given the pitfalls they face in a potentially explosive August, Le Guen and his men will need to apply themselves fully if they are to avoid sliding back down into Hell. Assuming results do go their way, however, and they rediscover their home form, the Parisians could quickly become feared rivals, if not championship candidates, and break into the top three.
The other protagonists: Lyon, Bordeaux and Marseille
The cameras may be trained on Paris at the moment, but Bordeaux and Marseille are in no mood to relinquish their position as the leading pretenders to Lyon's crown. Laurent Blanc's side signalled their intent when they beat Les Gones in the French Champions Trophy last weekend. With a brave keeper between the posts, a defence strengthened by the arrival of the Argentinian Diego Placente, a midfield now boasting the presence of Yoann Gourcuff, and ex-Caen striker Yoan Gouffran lending his prowess up front, Bordeaux should mount a serious challenge.
Things look just as rosy down in Marseille, with established performers like Steve Mandanda and Djibril Cisse, and new arrivals Hatem Ben Arfa and Bakary Kone, recently expressing their devotion to the club, raising expectations of a season to remember at the Stade Velodrome.
Like a certain masterpiece of Italian literature, the 2008/09 French championship race has all the makings of an epic.