Paris Saint-Germain: A Perennial Failure
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Ever since they were purchased by the country of Qatar itself, French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) had always appeared to be destined for greatness. After the team languished in a decade of mediocrity and mismanagement, the massive budget of Qatar seemed like the perfect tool to turn the team into European royalty and finally bring the coveted UEFA Champions League trophy to the City of Light. However, defeat to Bayern Munich in both legs of their round of 16 tie signaled an 11th consecutive year since the Qatari takeover in 2011 that the French club went home without a Champions League trophy. Les Parisiens still have a lot of work ahead of them if they are to taste continental glory. But with so much money poured into them and backing from an entire nation, how has PSG consistently fallen short?
For starters, Paris Saint-Germain’s roster has been rife with great names since the very beginning of the Qatari acquisition. Zlatan Ibrahimović, Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, and David Beckham are just some of the superstars PSG has signed over the past decade. This season was not any different, as Les Parisiens sported a team of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Marco Verratti, and, most prominently, the attacking trio of Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi, and Neymar Jr.
However, with such notable figures comes equally notable egos. PSG is so loaded with talent that even elite players are competing for game time. The toxicity and drama that this locker room tension could lead to was already hinted at for many years. Mbappé and Neymar argued on the pitch over something as trivial as who would be the primary penalty taker in 2022. After the 3-1 defeat to AS Monaco, days before their Champions League round of 16 fixture, Neymar and captain Marquinhos had a verbal war with sporting director Luís Campos. Simply put, due to their tendency of purchasing big-name players, Paris Saint-Germain has found themselves in a situation littered with poor team chemistry. In a sport where teamwork is the most valuable asset, it is no wonder that they have never been a legitimate threat for the most competitive trophies.
Furthermore, PSG has been a victim of their domestic success in France. Thanks to the Qatari takeover 12 years ago, the Parisian team has a transfer budget that is twice as large as that of their domestic competitors. This has allowed the club to splash their cash in the transfer market and sign superstar player after superstar player—so much so that the French league, Ligue 1, is considered by many soccer fans as a guaranteed title for the Parisian team, simply because of the individual talent they have. However, this monopoly over French success has actually become a detriment to PSG, as it has affected their preparations for the Champions League. Because the skill gap between the Parisians and their league opponents is so large, they are not able to challenge themselves regularly against big sides. This has translated into their failures in Europe due to inexperience dealing with European juggernauts, such as Bayern and Real Madrid, when they are in the latter stages of the tournament.
The non-competitive position PSG has found itself in has also contributed to the club’s deleterious reliance on superstars rather than on building a truly cohesive team. This strategy has always paid off in Ligue 1, where purchasing two or three extremely skilled players was enough to achieve domestic success. However, individual talent is nowhere near as crucial during the pivotal knockout rounds of the Champions League in which PSG’s opponents are of equal strength technically. Therefore, other factors such as team chemistry and mentality play bigger roles in deciding such key games. But, as mentioned before, the Parisians severely lacked these qualities, which duly resulted in their many early eliminations in the Champions League.
This strategy centered on individualism especially falls apart when, as has happened this year, PSG’s glamorous superstars underwhelm massively. In goal, Donnarumma, a Yashin Trophy winner and European Championsip winner with Italy, has failed to provide an improved contribution over predecessor Keylor Navas. Captain and defender Marquinhos has been below par in high-stakes games, and central midfielder Marco Verratti appears to be past his prime and has lost his ability to control the game. Finally, when happily attacking, Neymar, Messi, and Mbappé are capable of winning games by themselves. But, defensively, their unwillingness to track back and help their teammates in regaining possession is deeply frustrating. Combine all those flaws of the team with their tendency to infighting and attracting unpleasant drama, and you have an incompetent mess of a squad.
Finally, the most detrimental reason of all for the Parisian club’s continental shortcomings is the club culture instilled by the actions of the Qatari ownership over the past decade. Since the takeover in 2011, the Qataris have invested a total of €1.3 billion into PSG’s transfers alone. This has birthed a club culture focused on glamor and the latest superstars instead of on assembling a competitive and determined team. This upheaval has also led to another management mistake by PSG’s board: the neglect of the club’s promising youth academy and its talented graduates by constantly wasting frivolous amounts on imported players.
The club would soon pay the price for this serial negligence. Kingsley Coman spent nine years in the PSG academy, only to leave for Bayern Munich due to insufficient opportunity. In a moment of sweet revenge for Coman, his goal won Bayern Munich the 2020 Champions League against none other than PSG itself. To rub more salt into the wound, Coman would then contribute to Paris Saint-Germain’s elimination from this season’s edition of the tournament by scoring the first goal in what would be a 3-0 Bayern victory on aggregate.
Money cannot buy success outright in a competition as prestigious and competitive as the Champions League—winning in such a competition needs the collective effort of an entire team, extreme determination, and a deep desire for achievement within every player. Embarrassingly, PSG lacks all of those qualities and has underperformed miserably in the biggest competitions because of it. However, their circumstances certainly could have been different if the club had an ethos that promoted the active building of a cohesive team sprinkled with talented graduates from the club’s youth academy that know what it means to play for Les Parisiens.
Overall, despite the 14 domestic titles won in France, Paris Saint-Germain has been seriously mismanaged considering what they could have achieved with their amount of financial backing. That said, there are signs that the club is starting to improve in its approach to building a competitive squad. They have started selling aging and disruptive players such as Mauro Icardi and Leandro Paredes, whilst replacing them with sensible, young transfers such as 25-year-old fullback Nordi Mukiele and 26-year-old midfielder Carlos Soler. PSG also seems to have finally taken the hint to start investing in its youth academy. One of the first to benefit was 16-year-old Warren Zaïre-Emery, who made his Champions League debut in October this season, becoming the youngest player to ever play in the tournament. However, decade-old habits will die hard and require a lot of time to uproot the entire culture of the club to finally create a team genuinely capable of grabbing hold of the coveted Champions League.