Where Paris Saint-Germain find themselves once again…
Bayern Munich 2, Paris Saint-Germain 0. Paris are out of the Champions League…again.
Yet another year in Europe’s premier footballing competition has led to yet another humiliating failure for PSG. After a promising but unlucky 1-0 home loss in the first leg, Les Parisiens fell to a humiliating and lifeless 2-0 defeat in Bavaria. They are now out of the Champions League once again, eliminated at the Round of 16 stage for the fifth time in the last seven years. After nearly 11 years of Qatari ownership, Paris still find themselves no closer to the European Cup they have long dreamed of winning. This was not their biggest failure, and it was not even as improbable as their meltdown in Madrid last season, but it was still a failure.
This leaves PSG in a very familiar position asking a very familiar question: what now? Out of the Coupe de France, out of the Champions League, and with a six point lead in the league. Even with their loss to Lyon today, it feels like Paris have enough to maintain that lead. Unless a significant collapse happens, it appears that PSG will end the 2022/23 season with just another Ligue 1 title to their name. While this should be a historic league title, the one that will take their total up to 11 and make them the most successful domestic side in the history of French football, it just does not feel that way. While Paris have failed to win the league twice during the Qatari Era, their domestic dominance in all other years feels like an afterthought in many ways. Their existence has only trivialized the major league championship in France. While some will celebrate this milestone, others will demand more. Simply winning the league title is no longer good enough.
This is not what they paid Neymar and Messi all of that money to accomplish. This is not what they went through all of the trouble to retain Kylian Mbappé to accomplish.
The main questions, and the main speculation in the French media, continue to revolve around the fate of manager Christophe Galtier. Galtier was a very respected manager when he arrived in Paris, even aside from the famous league title he led Lille to in 2021, but there were some doubts when he was hired about whether he had the capabilities to successfully manage a big, star-studded club like PSG. Would Galtier, a traditionally pragmatic and conservative manager in style and approach, be able to get the most out of the attacking talent in this team? Does he have the capabilities to manage the dressing room and have the political skills needed to navigate the relationships within the club that he would need to succeed in Paris? Early returns seem to indicate that the answer is no. While you could question some of his managerial decisions against Bayern, and while you could have some empathy for how many injuries and other issues he has had to manage the team through, Galtier strikes the image of a man in over his head. His press conferences now resemble those of Tuchel before the German’s departure from Paris, a man who is being overwhelmed, drowned, swallowed by everything around him. It is hard to believe that the hierarchy of the club has much faith in him either. Luis Campos, the club’s sporting director, leaving the director’s box to go on the touchline and shout directions at the players during PSG’s win over Lille last month certainly outwardly gives off the impression that those in charge of the club do not trust Galtier to steer the ship.
PSG continues to insist that Galtier will not be relieved from his position unless the club fails to win the title. Do I fully believe that? No. But regardless of what they say, it appears clear to all observing that Galtier’s time in Paris will end sooner rather than later.
The issue is that, for PSG, the buck does not stop with the manager. The share of responsibility for this latest European failure does not rest solely on the players or Galtier. It has been 11 years, and those in charge at PSG have not fully comprehended that the best way to build a team is not to throw very expensive star players all over the pitch and hope they figure out a way to play together. The intense desire for those at PSG to build a team like they are playing FIFA Ultimate Team gets more perplexing the longer it goes on. It is as if they desire to build a fashion brand, their own “FC Hollywood”, a club that attracts celebrities and influencers to the stadium rather than one that is well-equipped to win at the highest level. Until PSG fully learn this lesson, then there is no manager who they could replace Galtier with who will give them the immediate results they seek.
We will go into the summer with the same narratives and conversations that have surrounded Paris SG for the last several seasons: a potential managerial change, the not-so-subtle flirtatious advances by the Emir toward Zinedine Zidane, viewing the France legend and boyhood Marseille fan as their dream manager, questions around the future of their star players, the same “we will reinvent the sporting strategy” narrative parroted by the club as it has been for years, a desire by those close with the club for them to embrace the “Parisian DNA” that they have so readily abandoned in favor of the star-studded line up they now have. All of this same media circus will happen when, in reality, the solution is much more simple.
Just build a team that makes sense.
Find complimentary players that work with what they have. Fill the needed roles in the team. Work out the ideal formation that suits the stars who will remain and build to the system. Can they have the “Paris DNA”? Sure. I mean, given the unbelievable list of players who came from the PSG academy and are away from the club now, and even considering the even more incredible list of players born and raised in Paris or its banlieues who never once wore the PSG shirt, it would make sense sporting and culture wise to bring a few of them in. Forget about the “star caliber” of the player, or their social media following, or how big of a name they are or how many shirts they will sell. Build based on the sporting profile of the player and how well they will compliment what you already have.
And, frankly, this means getting rid of Neymar and Messi. The experiment has failed. It is abundantly clear for all to see. Accommodating both of them plus Mbappé is simply not possible. Messi’s contract is expiring, and it should be perfectly fine for PSG to let the Argentine walk away from Paris on his own terms. Neymar’s contract is not expiring, but it should be a priority for the sporting leaders of the club to find a solution that allows Neymar to leave the club in the summer. Instead of feeling a need to sign superstar names to replace them, just find talented players who compliment Mbappé and their current players in attack. Build the team around Mbappé. Not only is he one of the 3-4 best players in the world right now, not only has the club spared no expense to keep him as the centerpiece of this project for at least the next two years, not only has Mbappé been the leader of this team both on and off the pitch over the last two seasons, but he is also frankly the only one of those three who seemingly actually wants to be there. Neymar’s recent off-pitch antics certainly give off the image of a player who no longer cares about the project, and you can frankly question whether Messi actually wanted to be there in the first place. Embrace Mbappé as the centerpiece of the team that he is paid to be, and find talented players who can emerge as stars in a major team to build around him. This should not be as difficult as PSG make it seem.
But alas, we are back here again. Will PSG finally learn the lesson that is staring them in the face? Will Qatar finally figure out how to get the European Cup they desire? Will any of this happen before Mbappé decides to leave? It all remains to be seen.
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