Paris Saint-Germain and the Elusive European Dream

Every club throughout world football will have different goals and achievements to work towards, whether it be league titles or the push for promotion. For Paris Saint-Germain, domestic success has already been found quite often. The UEFA Champions League is the ultimate prize for Les Parisiens, but reaching that level has certainly not been an easy task.

Owned by Qatar Sports Investments since 2011, this decade has seen a massive change in nearly every aspect for PSG. Tremendous investment and resources have led to a significant improvement in their overall form, and the trophy cabinet has certainly benefitted from this change in fortune as well.

Since the takeover, the current ownership group have captured five Ligue 1 titles, four Coupe de France trophies and six French Super Cups. Some of the game’s best talents have been at the helm as manager, now led by former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel. Since Qatar Sports Investments became involved, Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery have also coached PSG.

The team is bursting with quality at the moment, particularly up front. Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani form a formidable front three, capable of putting extreme pressure on the opposition.

The midfield talents of Ángel Di María and Marco Verratti are aided by a strong back-line, headlined by team captain Thiago Silva. PSG added spectacular experience at goalkeeper this past summer as well, securing the services of Juventus legend Gianluigi Buffon. All this adds up to a collection of players that the club’s hierarchy feel can challenge for a European title, but their results during the past few years have shown a squad not yet prepared for the next step.

They have qualified for the past seven editions of the Champions League tournament, and have yet to progress beyond the quarter-final stage in any of them. Despite the abundance of talent within the team, there is a similar pattern that comes about. More often than not, it has been a certain Catalan club that have caused them the most grief.

Barcelona have been there to spoil the party for PSG several times throughout this decade in the Champions League knockout stages, and none were more gut-wrenching than their meeting in the Round of 16 during the 2016-17 campaign. After a 4-0 first-leg win in Paris, Barcelona came back to win on aggregate thanks to a magnificent 6-1 result at the Camp Nou. In many ways, that match has come to define PSG’s current reputation in Europe.

Their dominance in Ligue 1 has given them a false sense of confidence and unreal expectations in the Champions League amongst the fans. This is in no way a complete criticism of the French top flight, which features excellent squads with Lyon and Marseille for example. But the tactics from PSG are lacking, and there is a correlation between urgency and necessity in their domestic league and in European matches.

The current line-up is built somewhat like a youngster playing FIFA’s career mode, and the financial takeover cheat boost has been activated. The two most expensive transfers in the world are found on the front-line with Neymar and Mbappé, with their fees combining in the region of £318 million. The club paid another £55 million to land Cavani in the summer of 2013 from Napoli.

While they have undoubtedly put together an outstanding attack, the team’s tactics are limited by imagination and order. Against Guingamp in league play, Neymar may be able to net a hat-trick all on his own to deliver three points. However, against the likes of Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, this approach will likely not produce anything but failure.

This term’s opening group-stage match against Liverpool at Anfield was another snapshot of potential problems, as the occasion almost seemed too great for the PSG players. A bit of late magic from Mbappé was almost enough to steal a point away from home, until Roberto Firmino gave the Reds a victory with a stunning stoppage-time strike. This is not a “lazy” side, with several hard-working individuals in the line-up. But Ligue 1 is not forcing PSG to be properly prepared for Europe, and it is showing when the competition starts each season.

Paris Saint-Germain ultimately aim to be one of the world’s top football clubs, building a brand of success that they hope will be a world-wide phenomenon. The UEFA Champions League will help to make that a reality. Thomas Tuchel’s team are immensely talented, although the drive to reach the sport’s summit does not appear to be totally present in the French capital. Perhaps that will change soon. If not, expect another rough exit this season.

By: Roy Emanuel

Photo: AFP PHOTO / Anne-Christine POUJOULAT