Unlovable PSG are as far away as ever from getting the best out of their stars
Paris Saint-Germain can make you sad. In the recent defeat by Bayern Munich we saw none of the class this team should display given their players. On one hand it was a disappointment; on the other it wasn’t a surprise because PSG’s early exit from the Champions League happens all the time.
Only in 2020 have the club reached the final. In that unique season, two German and two French clubs contested the semi‑finals, largely because the English and Spanish clubs had not played for a few weeks and were not in the rhythm of the competition, nor in training. This year, PSG lost twice against Bayern in the round of 16 without scoring a goal.
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PSG have a fundamental problem. The team play uninspired football. Marco Verratti is a case in point. He is actually a good footballer – ball-secure and strong in tackling. In the Italy team that won the European Championship he was one of the strongest players. In a PSG shirt, however, he overestimates himself and has not internalised the role of the defensive midfielder. As a result he lacks connection with his teammates. In the second leg in Munich Verratti lost the ball before both goals were conceded. Afterwards he claimed foul play, although even his teammates saw no grounds for his complaints. Essentially, he took far too many risks in dangerous situations.
Verratti is a symbol of the modern PSG. Neither the defence, midfield or attack have developed a sense of the whole and a sense of responsibility for the result. Sergio Ramos, once the epitome of a great centre-back, still demonstrates his defensive skills but they are presented in isolation. PSG are not a team.
Kylian Mbappé is a story in himself. He undoubtedly has world‑class skills, and he grabs hold of Ligue 1 with ease. But his talent is not embedded. In Munich he was constantly waiting for the ball to fall at his feet. It is difficult to imagine how his career will blossom in Paris.
But it can be done. Everyone in the national team is working for success under the guidance of Didier Deschamps and thus also for Mbappé because they know his dynamism, shooting and changes of pace are unique in world football. To underline Mbappé’s importance to France, he was named their new captain by Deschamps on Tuesday.
Mbappé is integrated in France’s team like Lionel Messi is in Argentina’s, where the head coach, Lionel Scaloni, curates his genius. One for all, all for one. Messi also showed his extra class in moments in Munich, but his skills are used without purpose or direction. The individuals at PSG simply do not know how to collectively score a goal and, generally, how to contribute. Messi was helpless and desperate at the Allianz Arena.
So PSG have the two players who thrilled the planet in the World Cup final, plus Neymar, Brazil’s best footballer of the past decade, as well as Real’s Madrid’s former captain and a four-times Champions League winner, plus two current European champions. They are all among the most famous footballers in the world and have fans and followers all over the globe. But in two duels with Bayern nothing remotely otherworldly emerged. Nothing that aroused enthusiasm. Nothing that you want to be a part of, as was the case at Real under Zinedine Zidane and Carlo Ancelotti, and at Manchester United under Alex Ferguson, and at Bayern under Jupp Heynckes, or at Barça under Pep Guardiola.
One can feel sorry for PSG fans. Their hope that something will grow together dies anew every year. They surely believe in something else. PSG are as far away as ever from something to love, despite years of investment.
This exorbitantly expensive team resemble a luxury department store, displaying precious exhibits that everyone marvels at but no one can afford. It guarantees high attention and spectacle, but only works economically. If so much money is spent but the opposite of quality is achieved, that is not good.
Politically, the PSG investment may have paid off. Football’s popularity makes it a suitable instrument for other purposes. The country of Qatar benefits from Paris in its security politics and geopolitics. That is the way of the world. And Qatar are not finished given the interest of the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in Manchester United. The means are certainly there.
Football, however, is something else. Great teams that people identify with develop in a process. This can only succeed with cooperation, solidarity and community. These are the values of Europe, but not of PSG.
And so the club remain a bland experience. Messi said that, in retrospect, he regretted not enjoying his early years at Barcelona under Guardiola, when he and his teammates won the hearts of many fans. This wistful realisation came to him in Paris.