Can PSG succeed without Neymar and Mbappe?
Background image: Kilyac, CC BY-SA 4.0
When Paris Saint-Germain swooped for Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in 2017, the target was to accelerate their road to European dominance. Two years later, PSG still can't get out of second gear. The world-class duo has done little to achieve the Champions League success the club's Qatari owners crave.
Worse, stories swirl about their potential departures. All claims that Ligue 1 is too easy will be validated if they do.
Two generational talents, both have commensurate ambitions. Deserting PSG after big paydays might appear disloyal but we all want to be our best selves. For Neymar and Mbappe, that might only be possible elsewhere.
On the other hand, perhaps PSG doesn’t need Mbappe and Neymar as much as everyone assumes. In Mbappe's case, the results are damning evidence. Neymar can't be judged in the same light considering injuries kept him from the Champions League knockout rounds in both his completed Ligue 1 seasons.
As well, Thomas Tuchel’s system doesn’t revolve around one particular player. Rather, it requires everyone to pull equal weight. Angel Di Maria and new signing Pablo Sarabia found their calling within it. Neither is as talented as Neymar nor Mbappe but each delivers when it matters. Di Maria, in particular, raised his game with twelve goals and eight assists in all competitions. The Argentine produces magic on a consistent basis. Sarabia is taking his time adapting to the much bigger surroundings at the Parc des Princes. Provincial life with Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames is a different environment but his stunning strike against Real Madrid suggests he's finding a comfort zone. Their dynamism works in the manager’s favour. Versatile forwards who can influence play from anywhere in the final third, their movement displaces defenders.
Mauro Icardi’s arrival also brought in goals. With ten in all competitions, the Argentine’s clinical presence lightens Edinson Cavani's load.
In limbo under Unai Emery, Julian Draxler evolved into Tuchel's X-factor. Idrissa Gueye provides the bite previously lacking in midfield. Rather than relying on his top stars to produce the goods, the German’s flexible system allows everyone to contribute.
Leonardo’s re-introduction as director of football should revolutionise PSG's transfer ideology. Les Parisiens don’t spend unruly sums just to show off anymore. Selling Neymar or Mbappe would finance further squad depth rather than [impossibly] identifying like-for-like replacements. UEFA's Financial Fair Play bloodhounds would need to find another scent to track as well.
In all fairness, the French giants won’t find anyone near Neymar or Mbappe's quality no matter how hard they search. But, as recent seasons prove, a one [or two] man show doesn’t win elite competitions. Tuchel will hunt for more team players.
Jadon Sancho appears at the end with Borussia Dortmund. Under the German’s guidance, he could tap into his ultimate potential. His ability is unquestioned. The youngster keeps producing magic in scoring or setting up chances but he isn't enjoying life on a struggling side. He’d keep the spark flowing for Les Parisiens for years.
Kai Havertz is another sublime asset available this summer. He’d elevate PSG going forward. It’s understandable if the teenager is reluctant to leave Germany but Draxler would be a suitable guide and mentor as he acclimates to the French capital.
Of course, ushering in youngsters won’t guarantee immediate success. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi desires European dominance but reaching the Champions League summit isn’t an overnight phenomenon. Unless Tuchel is afforded the necessary time to forge a squad and an identity, Les Parisiens will remain lost in the foothills.