A quick mention of Europe’s top clubs and one would obviously have to mention Paris Saint-Germain. However, a cloud of mist that has challenged their status among the elite of Europe remains their inability to conquer the continent and win the Champions League. Much similar to the fate of a certain Manchester City. 20 trophies to their name in the past six seasons (Transfermarkt) but the sad fact remains that none of these trophies for PSG have come outside of France.
Not to take away the fact that PSG alongside Marseille remain the only two sides in the country with European trophies to their names, one would have to go back to 1996 to witness the last time the Parisians had any form of success in Europe. In more recent years, the French champions have been criticized for under-performing on Europe’s biggest stage despite boasting some of the most rated players in the world. It then begs the question: What more can PSG do to be considered a force in Europe? The answer is obvious and it’s the simple fact that they have to win the Champions League or at least get to a respectable stage in the competition.
For all of their spending power and the quality of players they have in their ranks, PSG have never got past the quarter-finals of the Champions League and have failed to get past the last 16 in each of the last three seasons (via Goal). The most disappointing of this scenario came against Manchester United back in March.
Tuchel’s men had started the night, two precious away goals ahead of the Manchester club who needed at least three to have any hope of progressing into the quarter-finals of the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League competition. Even worse, United only had a bulk of second-string players and youngsters to do the impossible job. It was like mission impossible but in the end it became possible and d they got just that, the Paris miracle as it would later be named.
For PSG, it was just a replay of that infamous night in Barcelona where they surrendered a 4-0 first-leg lead to eventually lose 6-5 on aggregate and of course many other cases of being forced to watch their dreams evaporate before their eyes, as far as the champions league is concerned.
That was one night which pretty much sums up their fortunes in the past decade or so. Always dominant domestically with six league titles in the past six seasons but always falling short when they come up against Europe’s finest. It’s their fortunes that have earned the French Ligue 1 the infamous nickname, “the farmers’ league.” Which basically means non-competitive. But why? How can a team be so good and so bad at the same time? What do they need to do to be taken more seriously across Europe?
That has just been Paris St Germain’s reality for some time now, always looking less than the sum of their parts dating back to the days of the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Javier Pastore. What are some possible reasons for PSG’s systematic failure in Europe you ask?
The “Neymar” problem
Since the ownership of the loaded of Arab investors and leadership Nasser Al-Khelaifi, they must have thought to themselves; we want to win the champions league and become Europe’s best and the world’s most revered, how do we do it? Oh, we have money, let’s just buy it. But that’s quite not how the strongest sides are built as history has taught us. Yes, you need a bit of stimulus and funds to get things going, but that’s just one part of building an aggressive, relentless and harmonic unit. Neymar’s switch to Paris from Barcelona for a world-record fee of around £200m is a classic example and perhaps the tipping point that has loudly taught them and the rest of the world that you just can’t buy it.
Players like Neymar can get you windfalls of revenues in T-shirts, tickets and TV money, but without the proper infrastructure and fabric that makes a team tick, it will all be in vain. It cannot directly translate to resounding on the pitch successes. They tried it with English legend David Beckham, the outspoken Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and even Ronaldinho and many more but with little to show for it every single time. It’s not only the players – hiring coaches and sacking them with a mercenary-like approach has proven unsustainable. You remember Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery and Carlo Ancelotti?
All this and more robs a team of what makes it a team. And they must look towards signing players that can integrate with the team long-term as a whole. Signing a player with the mentality of leaving someone else’s shadow is not the right motivation for a “team”.
Perhaps, the French Champions have learnt their lesson the hard way and might be taking a different approach to things.
Tuchel, a step in the right direction
Drawing from their history with managers who have failed to deliver at the UEFA Champions League level, it wouldn’t have been wayward to suspect the former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel would get the sack after the Manchester United fiasco. He surprisingly got a new contract until June 2021. Some reward for a club with a history of little patience with managers. Among many other things, this was no doubt a step in the positive direction for PSG. Or at least a bit more refreshing to notice they are trying out new strategies. The 42-year-old German is still pretty much in the early stages of his career having really arrived on the big scene after the DFB Pokal success with Borussia Dortmund in 2017, his only major silverware upon joining the Parisians
You would guess that such a manager is very much still hungry for further successes and his tactical astuteness and talents to connect with players almost as peers but being firm at the same time, becomes a bonus to anyone looking to build a culture and lasting team identity.
A seemingly new transfer strategy?
PSG have been a bit different in the most recent transfer windows. If that has been the club’s overall new strategy or the Tuchel effect, we are yet to come to a conclusion. One thing is clear, they have not been the first to pounce on the highly-rated stars since Neymar and Mbappe.
They are seemingly more cognizant of strengthening their weaker areas with just the right personnel, regardless of their name or social following. The acquisition of Idrissa Gueye from Everton in the summer is one such transfer. The Senegalese international was consistently one of the Premier League’s best tacklers in the past three seasons and has already added some more steel and personality to their midfield. A solid signing for anyone on any day. Gueye coupled with Leon Paredes’ switch from Zenit Petersburg in January, Pablo Sarabia, Abdou Diallo and Ander Herrera all punctuate that different strategy of going more for substance than just stardom, glitz and glamour.
Most of all this sounds good and all but the real evidence of change, newfound attitudes and prospects can only be extracted on the field of play. It’s safe to say PSG have all the odds in their favour to retain their Ligue 1 crown but the real focus would be how far they can get in the Champions League.