The very name of Red Star Belgrade is seductive to a football follower of a certain age.
Memories drift to grainy pictures of the old Marakana Stadium, and the crackle of TV commentary down an analogue phone line.
Being defeated by Red Star in the old European Cup 1973 forced the rethink at Liverpool which eventually led to that club conquering Europe four times over in seven years. And in 1991, Red Star were the former Yugoslavia’s last great side, winning the European Cup by first playing dazzling football to beat the likes of Bayern Munich and then parking the bus to beat Marseille on penalties in a final played in Bari, Italy.
The following season, the last of the European Cup era, saw a team shorn of stars headed for Italy and Spain as the Balkans conflict destroyed so much more than football tradition.
This season is the club’s first visit to the Champions League group stage, and it returns to an unimaginably different footballing landscape.
Back in 1992, Paris Saint-Germain were, like now, an aspirant club, with a wash of metropolitan cash and flash, but nowhere near the dominant French force of the current day. That was Marseille, funded in what now seems a rather quaint fashion by the often-nefarious activities of entrepreneur and bon viveur Bernard Tapie.
“OM” eventually collapsed amid match-fixing allegations and financial irregularities, but had been a prototype of the modern-day super club. But latter-day PSG would be far beyond the dreams of Tapie; the club is financed by an entire state in Qatar, one of the richest in the entire world.
The concept of PSG in 2018, as patronised by Jay-Z, Beyonce and the like, borders on the preposterous.
They have the two most expensive players in the world in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and a progressive, much admired coach in Thomas Tuchel.
Yet only the foolhardy would stake any money on France’s champions winning this season’s Champions League.
A glance at the Ligue 1 table suggests why the Champions League, the end-game those Qatari financiers must surely desire, is beyond them. PSG have won all eight matches this season, scoring 27 goals and already with a goal difference of 21.
There is nobody to touch them, raise their level such that they can cope with facing a serious rival when the knockout stages come round.
The quarter-final, reached for four successive years from 2012-13 to 2016-17 has been the club’s limit. The furthest the club has reached remains 1994-95 when George Weah and David Ginola were in the team.
Last season, with Neymar ruled out with an injury that kept him out until the World Cup, Real Madrid destroyed them in the last 16, and the year before that, Barcelona came back from four goals down to win 6-5 on aggregate.
Tuchel, who was sacked by Borussia Dortmund after failing to get on with the executive class, is the latest coach to try and turn around a squad dominated by highly talented players capable of dominating French football but never able to supply the application to progress in Europe.
Unai Emery was poached from Sevilla having won three Europa Leagues, but was swamped by the club’s star system. The pressing system he favoured did not meet the approval of his players, and they ended up playing a hybrid, rather tepid style that Arsenal fans are currently getting familiar with.
Emery, studious and quiet, did not have the personality to make a series of ringmasters dance to his tune.
And one of Emery’s prime problems was Neymar himself, whose £200m fee seems to have given him carte blanche to behave like a spoiled prince in the Palace of Versailles, partying and playing poker when committing himself to football and the Champions League is what the Qataris paid for.
His spell in Paris, even allowing for last season’s injury problems, has done nothing for his personal goal of wresting the Ballon d’Or from Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Domestically, he has been in rare form this season, scoring seven goals, but at Anfield two weeks ago, he was ineffectual while Mbappe at least got on the scoresheet. The aspirant world number one is probably not even the best player in his own team these days, which was not part of the plan when he defected from Barcelona.
Though perhaps his cause is not helped by the cast around him. Edinson Cavani remains a reliable goalscorer, but is pushing on in years.
Marco Veratti is a superb central midfielder as can be Adrien Rabiot, but there is something of mid-2000s Real Madrid about PSG’s squad, where galacticos are surrounded by lesser talents.
Stoke City reject Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, a 40-year-old Gianluigi Buffon and Juan Bernat, signed from Bayern Munich, represented some rather underwhelming summer business.
Betting 400 million euros on Neymar and Mbappe caused such serious imbalance that emulating Red Star’s crowning yet ultimately melancholic triumph of 27 years ago is still significantly beyond the PSG project’s reach.