Few clubs could canter to a treble yet end the season disappointed and frustrated. PSG, however, have made a habit of it. Their ludicrous 7-1 trampling of closest challengers Monaco on Sunday night secured the Ligue 1 title while the addition of the Coupe de France to last month’s Coupe de la Ligue triumph seems set to be little more than a formality. Such an effortless domestic campaign could be perceived as a stabilising success, having been ambushed by Leonardo Jardim’s side last season. This is not the case – the Paris “project” is under more pressure to develop than ever.
87 points took PSG to second last term as their season panned out as it always seems to – unstoppable at home, occasionally ineffective on the road, a European collapse and a pair of simple cup wins (they’ve won the last seven domestic cups). PSG’s 2013 and 2015 league titles required fewer than 87 points, last year’s was an exception owing to Monaco’s irresistible form. This time the Monaco threat has been removed, largely by Monaco themselves. Although Jardim hoped to maintain a challenge into the new campaign, it soon became clear that such significant player losses were not so easily covered. A surprise to no one, including Jardim who accepts that his club moves in cycles – the title win being the culmination of one such cycle allowing the club to sell on their main assets and start again with medium term success in mind, €300m better off. PSG were free to gallop clear.
Paris, of course, took the opposite approach and splurged €400m on Neymar and Kylian Mbappé – their usual ‘solution’. Last season it was €140m on Draxler, Guedes and co, Di Maria and Kurzawa cost nearly €90m the year before not to mention mammoth deals for Edinson Cavani, David Luiz, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and so on ahead of previous campaigns. Results have remained disappointingly consistent over that time however, regardless of managerial or playing staff. The limp Champions’ League exit at Manchester City that hastened Laurent Blanc’s departure was no worse showing than the Remontada debacle in Barcelona under Unai Emery the following year, with the less said about their inept second leg display against Real Madrid this March that will cost the Spaniard his job, the better.
The European defeats of the last three years have largely failed to spark the implementation of wholesale changes at the club – personnel at coach and Sporting Director level aside. Again big money stars are expected, with Doha desiring to pull off a coup for Paul Pogba, FFP-willing. Unai Emery will be replaced and again, whoever the man is who replaces him, he will not immediately have unanimous support from all factions of the club.
Thomas Tuchel appears to be that man, picked by PSG owner Emir Al Thani, at the expense of Sporting Director Antero Henrique’s option Sergio Conceiçao of FC Porto and some of the key players’ preference, the return of Carlo Ancelotti. Again at first glance the German seems a smart appointment given that he carries a reputation for being more innovative and versatile, the type of coach who can build a successful side his way if given the time with the right conditions as opposed to, say, Antonio Conte who might be more likely to bring the immediate success QSI had previously aimed for. PSG could finally develop some identity. But once again, Tuchel looks set to be forced into the same box as Blanc and Emery, underlined by a reported two year offer; the same short-term thinking.
For Tuchel to have a chance at success, his credentials shaky as it is, PSG’s hierarchy would likely have to throw out old processes that have repeatedly undermined Parisian progress. A more holistic, longer-term approach to squad development would be crucial. The consistently unbalanced nature of their transfer targets, signing two attackers last year for the sake of brand recognition, when a goalkeeper, defensive midfielder and left-back were more pressing concerns, underlines this.
The influence of a cliquey squad needs to be broken. Divisions in the camp are so ingrained that Le Parisien designed a Venn Diagram outlining each social group, while the Brazilian contingent supposedly now have so much power that Emery was dissuaded from removing Silva as captain after the loss to Barcelona last season. Meanwhile, some players are afforded too much latitude, none more so than Neymar. From throwing an extravagant birthday party and getting the entire squad utterly drunk nine days before the Real Madrid tie, to trips back to Brazil during domestic cup matches to clashing with Emery in training, the double standard once also prevalent under Blanc for Zlatan Ibrahimovic has again prevailed.
A focus on huge signings and established names also continues to squeeze out developing home grown talent. Emery often feels like a passenger but, to his credit, he has made strides in giving opportunities to more established youngsters; Giovani Lo Celso, Presnel Kimpembe and Adrien Rabiot have been occasional bright spots this year, although none of them have shone consistently throughout the campaign. Nevertheless, Paris generally continue to ignore the depth of their own academy as well as Monaco and even Lyon’s success in this area, whilst overlooking the fact that their European ‘peers’ often have a core of youth graduates interwoven across their past successes.
Despite their inevitable treble and some effervescent league displays, this season has been one of stagnation, even regression, for PSG. A thirst to evolve deserts a club that aspires to become leaders of the European game after successive years of blindly following the same ideas without much tangible progress. Paris lack direction, heart and a clear-playing or development philosophy, indulging in short-termism while pandering to their stars and rejecting what little heritage the club has. In short, there isn’t, and never has been, a “project” worthy of the name. Repeating your actions and expecting different results? That way, madness lies.