After a convincing 5-0 victory for Paris Saint-Germain against Galatasaray in the Champions League, they will be looking to strengthen their foothold in the championship which has eluded them since the inception of the ‘new’ PSG – a club bankrolled and funded lavishly for the sole purpose of European domination.
The QSI group invested prudently, selecting a club with European heritage and experience in the big time while being in one of the most glamorous places in the world – this was the perfect model of a new and sustainable approach. The ambitions were sky-high, building a talented squad – tailor-made to bring home the Champions League trophy for the very first time in Paris has probably been harder than they realised. Football in the country, as a whole has not troubled seasoned winners such as Real Madrid, AC Milan, Liverpool, etc in the Champions League since the 1992/1993 season, where Marseille won the first and only trophy while being representatives of France.
Is it fair to say that the club and the hierarchy have delivered on their promise? French domination was always on the cards for Paris Saint-Germain, establishing themselves as perennial champions has not particularly been a debilitating task, but the Champions League has slipped by them so clearly over the years. From pretenders to serious contenders to laughing stock, all in one season – their fans have seen it all, all, except their team lifting the Champions League trophy.
Is it because they play in a relatively inferior league? Is it their mentality? How can a club show such promise in one instance and fall off so spectacularly in another? I find myself asking these questions every so often. Year after year, PSG show incredible potential to go on and win the whole thing, and in the end, they fail. Teams of a similar ilk ask themselves the same questions. Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Juventus and maybe even Barcelona are few of the teams that fail to deliver on the biggest stage due to a particular, inexplicable reason.
If Paris Saint-Germain does go on to challenge for the Champions League title, they will not get a better chance than in the 2019/2020 season. They have finally been blessed with balance, a structure, and a sound hierarchical mindset to steady the ship. Consequently, the players add to a wonderful blend of youth and experience. Many record that there is finally a bit of cohesion within the squad, in which players act as a unit rather than 11 individuals. PSG find themselves at the top of Ligue 1, comfortably ahead of second-placed Marseille; they also amassed a total of 16 points in the group stages of the Champions League, conceding only twice to Real Madrid in their only draw of the campaign.
Here are some of the observations that suggest that PSG are pressed for time in their pursuit of the Champions League.
- Edinson Cavani, soon to turn 33 in January has received a lot of offers elsewhere. The Uruguayan is at the end of his contract, and after finishing his stint as one of the undisputed greats of the relatively young Parisian club, PSG would hope that they latch on to Mauro Icardi and his permanent signature. The Argentine has expertly deputised in the centre-forward position in place of Cavani and has proved himself to be a worthy heir to PSG’s greatest-ever goalscorer. Icardi has 15 goal contributions in only 17 appearances for the club, making up for Cavani’s absence/dip in form since August. Reports from Italy suggesting that Icardi might return to Inter Milan, only to be shipped off again to a different club, must surely concern the fans and the club at the prospect of losing two world-class strikers in such a short period.
And their vulnerability does not begin and end with the two players; PSG as a squad could face a potential exodus of players soon enough, and with that – a valuable chunk of the identity from their biggest players could be lost.
- Neymar’s move to Barcelona has been the world’s worst kept secret. He wants Barcelona, Barcelona want him. After negotiations fell over in the summer, they would surely try to bring him over once again to remedy their barren European run. Neymar’s 8 goals and 5 assists in 11 appearances have seemingly dampened the frustrations of the fans towards him. Perhaps they realise that he is the X-factor that PSG has so clearly lacked in the knockout stages. The synergy between the Brazilian and Kylian Mbappe has been the talk of the town, the two superstars have linked together beautifully – combining for 7 goals and 8 assists in their last four starts together. Neymar, Icardi, and Mbappe form a notorious faction and could confidently rattle the greatest of defences, especially Dortmund’s – who struggle defensively when faced with pace.
- Speaking of pace, rumours this week suggest Kylian Mbappe rejecting a new contract at PSG. The 20-year-old phenomenon is perhaps the most sought-after player in the transfer market. The striker scored his 100th career goal earlier this week and has perpetually been linked with a move to a whole host of clubs, including Real Madrid – a club he allegedly supported throughout his childhood. The striker is regarded as one of the greatest talents discovered in recent memory, along with players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammate, Neymar Jr. PSG want to establish Mbappe as the face of the club, but whether they can hold onto him is a completely different question. Many believe that the French champions are a stepping-stone for Mbappe – a club, that would provide enough work experience that enables him to play among teams in the very exclusive, ‘elite’ brackets in Europe. The onus is on PSG, they have been and have intended to be the very antithesis of a selling club; a club that mercilessly snatches off prospects with their allure and charm, not the ones with their hands tied, hoping for a generational talent to impetuously stick by, while waiting for the club to rectify their undelivered, false promise of global domination.
- Les Parisiens could also lose their captain and perhaps, their only leader in Thiago Silva. The Brazilian stalwart has added a sense of identity within the team since he made his debut in 2012. Fans are hoping against hope that their captain renews a deal for another year. The club possesses a surprisingly young and inexperienced back-line amidst a team of matured personnel with adequate know-how. Marquinhos, Abdou Diallo and Presnel Kimpembe have been efficiently blooded through the ranks over the years, but are far from a finished product. In an otherwise older squad, the average age of the 6 centre-backs amounts to a mere 24.6. The presence of a leader like Silva is imperative, every so often, one sees a side crumble under pressure where there is a lack of leadership; PSG certainly wouldn’t want to lose a strong presence within the dressing room, especially when they have been handed the rather unjust moniker of ‘bottlers’ in European competitions.
- Angel Di Maria has arguably been one of the best performers in Europe’s top 5 divisions. The PSG number 11 has had one of his best starts to a new campaign. 11 goals and 10 assists in only 23 appearances mean that the Argentine has racked up better numbers than Kevin de Bruyne and Martin Ødegaard – midfielders who have sparkled in the first half of their campaigns and who perform in a similar position. An attack-minded midfielder with an appetite for goals and assists is pleasing on the eye and vital for PSG’s goal contribution, but for how long could they rest their expectations on players such as Di Maria? He turns 32 by the time PSG face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League’s Round of 16.
- Paris Saint-Germain’s average age is of huge concern to the board. They have the 18th oldest squad in their league of 20 teams, with an average age of 27.2. Most of the players have already hit their prime, or are past it; so much so that a reshuffle seems imminent, much like how Atletico Madrid let go of their core of players and replaced them with a newer generation of talents. A squad upheaval takes time, as is evident in their case – Diego Simeone and his men are 5th in the La Liga despite having spent 243 million euros in a single transfer window. Chances of winning a title significantly reduce after a squad overhaul due to a lack of identity and cohesion in the team, PSG should believe that they can confidently take on Dortmund and any other club in Europe, they have to. They might rue the missed opportunity of winning the Champions League with a side littered with talent, arguably the best in all of world football.
The club lies in danger of hitting a dead-end, a natural passing-by of a footballing generation that defined the PSG-dominant era. Termination of contracts, unsettled players and a threatened manager all contribute to a potentially compromised Paris Saint-Germain. While these problems do not threaten the club in any way presently, it could call PSG’s sustainable project into question.
The appointment of Leonardo as the sporting director in the summer facilitated the transfers of Idrissa Gueye, Keylor Navas, Abdou Diallo, Pablo Sarabia, Mauro Icardi and Ander Herrera; all for a combined 95 million euros – PSG’s lowest summer expenditure in almost six years. This very un-PSG-like move is a sign of better things to come, no longer does the club want to be seen as a hub for footballing celebrities looking to earn a more than a decent paycheck. The board has a clear mindset on transfers and seem to be hell-bent on refreshing the squad, without repeating the mistakes of the past that might have cost them trophies or disharmony within the dressing room.
If they do end up losing the aforementioned world-class talents within their ranks in a short period, do they bolster the squad with a like-for-like, world-class replacement that would cause them to spend big once again? Leonardo and PSG’s work to repair the damages would come undone. They would once again, be seen as a club drowning their troubles by throwing cash around and hoping for a quick-fix, instead of vouching for a sustainable, long-term approach.
But if they don’t replace their star players with a like-for-like replacement and instead go for a more sustainable approach, they would presumably forsake the target of lifting the Champions League trophy for a few more seasons. The same trophy, that the board and the owners have longed for since the QSI takeover, possibly hoping for a triumph before the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
The round of 16 tie against Dortmund is a proper test for PSG, their first of many in the Champions League this season. Victories in the knockout rounds could be a defining moment for the club in the competition, especially if they manage to collect some of the biggest scalps in Europe on their road to Istanbul. A casual prognosis of the club makes one think that they can run away with the Ligue 1 trophy once again and should realistically target winning the Champions League – with a squad that is quite possibly their greatest, and one which is running out of time.
Written by Anaamaya Mishra