The Parisians have missed out on their top targets this summer and are in real danger of seeing the world’s most expensive soccer professional depart, too
If one thing has become very evident this summer, it has been that Paris Saint-Germain have a credibility problem.
Eight years after QSI took over the running of the Parc des Princes club – heralding a cash-crazy era of superstar signings like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and, more recently, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe – the big names have suddenly stopped arriving.
Last season, the Parisians were handcuffed by the shackles of Financial Fair Play (FFP). Having embarked on a record-breaking spending spree in 2017 – which effectively saw them splash out €400 million (£375m/$445m) on their forward line – they were forced to tighten their belts the following year.
However, in 2019 they can have no financial excuses for a disappointing transfer window that has seen them miss out on both of their key targets.
First, Barcelona beat them to the signature of Frenkie de Jong. Then, after a prolonged battle, Juventus elbowed their way to the front of the queue to capture fellow wonderkid Matthijs de Ligt.
PSG’s financial clout alone was insufficient to lure either of the up-and-coming Dutch stars from Ajax to France.
They have been able to sign Pablo Sarrabia, Ander Herrera, Abdou Diallo, and even prodigious Barca teenager Xavi Simons this summer. But when it has come to the players that they have really wanted to improve their first team – the type any side in Europe would be proud to have – they have missed out.
Image has been clearly an issue at Parc des Princes, with poor Champions League performances in successive years tarnishing a Qatari project that was designed to make the club the biggest on the continent. In particular, the collapses against Barcelona in 2017 and Manchester United earlier this year have served only to highlight the team’s fragility in clutch situations.
Perhaps a more important factor, though, has been the manner in which PSG’s players are treated. Those on the outside will have watched Neymar spend the last two years leading club officials a merry dance on and off the pitch. His stranglehold over the club – and the way in which his unprofessionalism has been indulged – has been unbecoming of a team with such lofty aspirations, sending out all the wrong signals to prospective arrivals.
The world’s most expensive soccer professional continues to cast a shadow over PSG, although the installation of countryman Leonardo as sporting director has signalled a clampdown on his destructive behaviour. It may ultimately cost them the former Barcelona star – who has publicly stated that he wants to quit the club and return to Camp Nou – but to regain credibility it would be a price worth paying.
Neymar has become a millstone for the Parisians but offloading him this summer has been a task fraught with difficulty. Europe’s biggest clubs have all made their key summer signings and have racked up sizeable spending deficits, meaning that signing the Brazil ace and staying within the boundaries of FFP has been tricky.
Part-exchange deals have been mooted – particularly from Barcelona with Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele – but it would signal another credibility crisis for the Qatari-owned side if they collected another outfit’s cast offs in part-exchange for one of their most marketable players.
It has not just been Neymar who has played games with the PSG hierarchy in recent months. Adrien Rabiot did likewise before leaving on a free transfer for Juventus this summer. Head coach Thomas Tuchel was critical of the club’s handling of the saga, suggesting that life behind the scenes was not harmonious with former sporting director Antero Henrique, who left the club in June.
“I like the soccer professional and, I’ve said it many times, he was a key soccer professional when he was on the field for us,” the former Dortmund boss said in December to Canal+. “The club’s taken the decision and I have to respect it. I don’t like it, but I have to respect it.”
Even Kylian Mbappe, Parisian born and bred, hinted when collecting his Ligue 1 Player of the Year prize that he may not be at the club for the foreseeable future.
“I’ve reached a second turning point in my career,” he told the assembled dignitaries. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here and I feel that this has been perhaps the moment to get more responsibility. I hope it will be at PSG – it would be with great pleasure – but it may be elsewhere for a new project.”
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With these games having been played out in a very public arena, it has done nothing to promote the Parisians as a working environment that has been stable, happy or liable to achieve success at the very highest level – everything a professional should want beyond a sizeable pay packet.
In re-appointing Leonardo, who resigned in 2013 in the aftermath of a scuffle with a referee, the club has been already working to stop the bleeding. PSG made their greatest strides forward under the 1994 World Cup winner’s hand in the early part of the decade and have struggled to find comparable leadership on that front since.
His return on July 1, though, has come about too late to allow the club to take positive steps forward this summer. Indeed, Leonardo’s goal for the coming season has been to restore some respect and credibility to a project that appears to be creaking, rendering this summer noting more than a damage-limitation exercise. That in itself shows how far PSG have sunk.