After winning the French Ligue 1 title for the tenth time last season to match the record set by Saint-Etienne for the most wins in the league, Paris Saint-Germain became more desperate for the UEFA Champions League.
Their desperation for the trophy is long documented, however, having made a plethora of big-name signings in the past for the sake of challenging in the competition. Last season saw them take it to the extreme with a mandate given to Mauricio Pochettino to deliver the title or face the axe, and a raid on the transfer window for some of the best players in the world.
By September 2021, PSG employed Achraf Hakimi, who had tasted Champions League glory with Real Madrid, Gianluigi Donnarumma, who won the UEFA Euro tournament a few months earlier and bagged the award for the best goalkeeper, Georginio Wijnaldum, who was key for Liverpool’s Europen win and Premier League triumph, Sergio Ramos, the legendary Real Madrid captain who led the team to three consecutive triumphs in the Champions League, and Lionel Messi, the man with the second-most titles to his name including four Champions League titles.
Stars fail to deliver coveted UCL
Still, it proved not to be enough as they suffered an embarrassing exit at the hands of the eventual winners of the 2021/22 title, Real Madrid. PSG had gone ahead in that fixture on two occasions, with Mbappe scoring the only goal of the first leg and the first goal of the second leg to put them two goals up.
A 17-minute capitulation from the team led to Karim Benzema running riot to score a hattrick and knock the Parisiens out of the tournament to the chagrin of the fans and the president, who promised harsh sanctions on Pochettino.
The club is once again plotting a restructure, which started with the axing of sporting director Leonardo Araujo and the appointment of Luis Campos. The Portuguese director is the man responsible for discovering Kylian Mbappe among other talents. PSG brought him on board to help their star man feel settled after his shocking renewal with the club and to discover more talents like him.
But so far, it has looked like more of the same as the names they have been linked to in the transfer market by the media are marquee names with profiles that already exist in the team’s set-up.
What the club have failed to come up with is a system, and this is what is keeping them from achieving their goal of continental recognition.
Since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investment and placed in the charge of Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the club have adopted a money-first method in everything they have faced. Poor coaching? Spend money to bring in the most popular coach at the time. Lack of players in a position? Bring in the most popular player in that position with a truckload of money.
They have done this for years without paying attention to how they play to be able to tailor their recruitment strategy to a philosophy. The club is not set up to churn out talents or to hone prospects into full-blown stars. It is set up to use and dump stars, paying no mind to how they fit into the team.
Building a system or developing a philosophy is something that Campos is known for and fans will hope that this step is one in the right direction. Fans also need to understand that this could take more than a season to achieve and that their goal of the Champions League could be delayed by one more season.
In the current star-studded PSG squad, it will interest fans to know that there is a gaping hole in a number of key positions.
There is no backup for Mbappe that can inspire confidence in the side if he gets injured. It is the same for both Messi and Neymar, with whom the 2018 World Cup winner will attack PSG’s opponents next season.
They have quality talent in their ranks like Julian Draxler and Mauro Icardi, but these players are not leaders who can carry a team to glory.
In the middle of the park, despite having fighters like Leandro Paredes, Ander Herrera, Danilo Pereira, Idrissa Gana Gueye and Wijnaldum, Marco Verratti is still very much alone in the middle of the park. When the Italian does not play, the club’s midfield is exposed and they cannot properly break down attacks.
This could be a system issue but at the same time, it speaks of the dearth of midfielders who can play effectively with Verratti in the middle of the park. Their fullback options are also not inspiring enough, with Achraf Hakimi the only player who can pull something special both in attack and defence.
PSG have a lot of work to do because their team, while glamorous, is far from perfect. And if they do not provide the right system for the boys to play in, they will end up making a mockery of themselves again in the next Champions League.