Can PSG keep their star players without Champions League success?
Background photo: Zakarie Faibis, CC BY-SA 4.0
'Real Madrid put PSG in their place'. The headline appeared in Spanish newspaper Marca after Los Blancos dispatched Paris Saint Germain 5-2 on aggregate during the Champions League quarterfinals last season.
It wasn't the first time PSG were embarrassed on the big stage. In the preceding campaign, they crashed out at Barcelona's hands, throwing away a 4-0 advantage at the Camp Nou. Thanks to Neymar's determination and Luis Suarez's acting skills, Barca won 6-1 and La Remontada entered the football lexicon. When a similar incident occurred against Manchester United this season, the reversal this time coming at the Parc des Princes, it didn't appear strange to anyone. The Qatari-owned Parisians have become UEFA's posers.
Another year, another Champions League heartache. It has become a pattern the club cannot break. They enter the competition every season counted among the favourites. Each season is acknowledged as one where they may break through. No matter the stars in the lineup or the tactician in the dugout, it always ends in shocking fashion. They are the mouse to Fate's housecat.
Obviously, this has grown into a huge problem that upsets the fans. The club has invested over €1 billion in transfers since the QSI takeover. Not only have they failed to reach their ultimate goal of conquering Europe, they never come any closer.
In the summer of 2017, PSG made Neymar Jr the most expensive footballer in history when they snatched him from Barcelona. Triggering his €222 million release clause sent shockwaves across the globe. Kylian Mbappe was also signed from Monaco that summer in an initial loan deal worth €180 million.
Neymar enjoyed a bright start to life at his new club. To an extent, the Brazilian has confirmed he is one of the finest footballers on the planet with a return of 49 goals and 28 assists in 56 appearances. Yet, he keeps breaking his foot [literally] when the Champions League knockout rounds come around.
While Neymar applied the controversial dancing-at-Carnaval therapy to heal his latest fracture, Mbappe raised his game to another level beyond his World Cup heroics in Russia last summer. With 36 goals and 17 assists to his name in 41 appearances across all competitions, the 19-year-old is without doubt PSG's standout player.
As these players continue earning plaudits for their rare talents, they draw interest from elite European clubs. Neymar has been tipped to replace Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid while there are also rumors linking him with a return to Barcelona. Mbappe is also targeted by Los Blancos if you read Marca and AS. Given his level of performance right now, every club with the resources should want him if he's available.
Both players have been tipped to win the Ballon d'Or in the future but PSG's repeated failures in the Champions League remain a huge threat to their chances. Even Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo needed trophies to sway voters to their cause and when the decision-makers grew bored with their lack of options, Luka Modric caught their eye by winning the Champions League and making the World Cup final.
Lest you think Mbappe and Neymar mulling their options in that environment is pure media speculation, both publicly expressed their frustration following the recent collapse to Manchester United. Questioning whether the Parisians can keep their stars without Champions League success is legitimate.
Desire to win major trophies and individual accolades motivate every player. If PSG fail to overcome their Champions League hoodoo in 2019/20, it shouldn't be a surprise to see Neymar and Mbappe move to other clubs if they don't force exits this summer.
And it isn't only Neymar and Mbappe who could leave. Marco Verratti and Edinson Cavani also have ambitions. The clock is against the 33-year-old Uruguayan at this point, as well. PSG's project is showing cracks. Can it hold together for one more desperate shot at the ultimate prize?