Recently, Bayern Munich secured a double transfer of Leroy Sane of Manchester City and Tanguy Kouassi of Paris Saint-Germain. While most of the headlines will rightly belong to the high profile transfer of Leroy Sane, Bayern’s coup of the 17-year-old Frenchman from PSG has also raised some eyebrows at PSG’s transfer policy. Kouassi now joins a sea of players graduating from the PSG academy opting to go somewhere else before even making an effort to play senior level football in the French capital.
Tanguy Kouassi and Adil Aouchiche are leaving this summer. Last summer, PSG sold Moussa Diaby to Bayer Leverkusen, Stanley N’Soki to OGC Nice, Christopher Nkunku to RB Leipzig, Timothy Weah to Lille and Arthur Zagre to Monaco. None of these players were more than 21 years old. A year earlier to that, Jonathan Ikone, Odsonne Edouard and Yacine Adli decided to do the same. Even before that, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Matteo Guendozi, Mike Maignan, Moussa Dembele and Kingsley Coman were no different either. All under 21, most of them didn’t make a first-team appearance. They didn’t even sign a professional contract, and all of them were sold for next to nothing.
All these players are regarded as some of the most promising talents in Europe, some of them even having world-class potential and almost all of them have impressed after playing regular first-team football. Nkunku has been one of RB Leipzig’s best players this season, Odsonne Edouard is a fan favourite and a star striker at Celtic while Matteo Guendozi is one of the few silver linings in a faltering Arsenal team. Investing in an academy to produce such players only to sell them for peanuts doesn’t seem to be a plan that PSG had, so what went wrong?
PSG’s change in their transfer policy
When the Qatari owners completed the takeover of the Paris based club, their philosophy was simple – invest in the youth academy and try to find the next Messi from the streets of France instead of looking to buy him for a large amount of money. PSG signed and developed many young players such as Marquinhos, Marco Verratti while players like Presnel Kimpembe and Adrian Rabiot made a pathway from the academy to the first team. PSG’s new owners weren’t focused on buying superstars but instead creating them.
Whenever new owners buy a club of PSG’s stature, one could assume their main objective is to stamp their authority as one of the best clubs in Europe. PSG started dominating the domestic league as soon as the Qataris took over, winning seven league titles in 10 years and judging by the current scenarios, there is no reason why they cannot keep on winning.
Winning the domestic competitions was fine, but PSG’s owners had loftier goals in mind. Seeing that their previous policy of youth + experience didn’t work in bringing them the European glory, they changed their transfer policy altogether, focusing on buying superstars to complete their European dream. Managers were changed, large amounts of money was spent in order to bring in superstars like Neymar, Mbappe and di Maria. This restricted the path for the youngsters who were looking to break into the first team.
“Every case is different, but most of the youngsters who left then succeeded in their new club, Becoming a starter in Paris is difficult, especially in attacking positions like mine. If we think that we are ready to play, we have to play. There is no point waiting. That’s why so many young players like me decide to take another direction: to have game time and express ourselves.” – Odsonne Edouard.
Not just the players, but even the coaches started feeling like their work was mostly disregarded. Luis Fernandez — who was part of some of the most successful periods of the club’s history both as a player (winning the French title in 1986) and manager (lifting the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996) — became the head of the academy in 2017. He only lasted a year, leaving due to being disappointed by the direction of the club.
“The young players are not a priority anymore, We will see the consequences. The reserve team was removed. I don’t know what is the aim of the club’s youth policy because right now; they are getting rid of their young players.” – Luis Fernandez
PSG’s transfer dealings last summer undoubtedly added depth, something which was the glaring excuse for the poor performances last season. But, in a 2-0 win against Metz this season, 17-year old Adil Aouchiche played on a night when they were missing most of their first-team players. Aouchiche put in a confident display, and PSG won comfortably, but it begs the question, wouldn’t Thomas Tuchel have been more comfortable in playing Lo Celso or Nkunku instead of a 17-year old with no prior first-team experience? And what if it wasn’t Metz, what if it was Bayern Munich in a Champions League semi-final?
On a bigger perspective, PSG aren’t doing anything different from most European giants. Most of the clubs in modern football don’t solely depend on their academy to bring in success no matter how good their academy is, and not every academy player can be the next Messi. But, the glaring difference between PSG and these clubs is that players from other clubs get fair chances in the first team before their future is decided, even as a backup. Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid completely scraped off the ‘Galacticos’ approach and decided to trust young players and academy graduates to provide much-required depth for the team. Same with Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer at Manchester United. It’s not even the case of having academy graduates not up to the required standard, a problem which Barcelona’s La Masia is facing right now but PSG are shipping off players with world-class potential without even allowing them to prove themselves.
Over 1/3rd of France’s world cup winning team grew up in Paris. A city which has a lot of footballing talent on their streets but their biggest hometown club have made a habit in recent times to disregard the talents that these youngsters have. PSG’s academy structure sets a precedent for the players trying to make it into the big leagues- That PSG is not their home. There is no scope for Parisians to represent their hometown club in their dream stadium. This is what Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe would’ve felt when they decided to join Le Havre and Monaco respectively instead of joining the academy from their hometown club and seeing the current trend, many other young Parisians would decide the go the same way that these players did so even if there was a next Messi among the streets of Paris, there is a possibility that PSG won’t find him.
Last year, PSG overtook Lyon to be named as the best academy in France and seeing the crop of players that have graduated from their academy, it is easy to see why. But even after having a world-class academy, PSG aren’t able to provide a home for the young promising Paris based players. Finding a balance between academy superstars and global superstars is difficult, but it could be done. Maybe, that’s the final piece of the puzzle to get PSG over the line and win the Champions League, a proper mix of superstars who can win games and hungry homegrown players who will give their all for the badge, even if they lack the ability that the Neymars and Mbappes have.
In their quest for European glory, PSG have forgotten their roots. But, they haven’t yet found the glory they so desperately want. Winning the Champions League is a mystery that they still haven’t been able to solve. Maybe going back to their roots is the answer. Maybe, the answer they are looking for has been at their home all along.
Written by Hrishikesh Dabir
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original Features, Player Profiles, Manager Profiles, Retro articles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.