Paris Saint Germain are not the champions of Europe. If you’re a fan of PSG, reading that statement probably feels a little bit like groundhog day. Ever since the club was bought by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011, winning the most prestigious competition in club football has been the team’s sole objection. This year was as close as they’ve ever gotten to that aim. After years of falling short in the quarter-finals, they made it all the way through to the final of the 2020 competition only to be beaten 1-0 by Bayern Munich. The result wasn’t a huge surprise. Bayern Munich is probably the best team in the world, as illustrated by their 8-2 domination of Barcelona, and they deserve the famous trophy. For PSG, this might be the right time for a bit of introspection.
Since their takeover, Paris Saint Germain has won the French football league championship seven years out of the eight that have passed, with Monaco’s victory in the 2016-2017 season the sole blemish on their record. They’ve turned the French league into something akin to the Scottish league or the Italian league, where the same team wins every season, and it’s a shock if they don’t. They’ve also arguably driven down quality in that division, as the best players who play for sides other than PSG leave to ply their trade elsewhere in Europe. This lack of competition is why some onlookers unkindly describe Ligue 1 as a farmer’s league, and suggest that it’s of vastly inferior quality to the English Premier League, La Liga, or the Bundesliga. It also might be why PSG has struggled to land the Champions League trophy. The weaker the competition at home becomes, the less prepared the team is to face stiffer competition in Europe.
The owners of PSG must now be asking themselves the same question the Saudi owners of Manchester City are, which is what the point of continuing to pour money in is if the prize is never going to come. Both teams have won as much as they can domestically, but Europe’s top prize continues to elude them. The owners have enormous resources, but find themselves in the position of an online slots player who’s had a good winning run. After a jackpot has been banked, every online slots player has a decision to make. Do they take what they’ve banked and walk away, or do they continue to spend money at their chosen online slots website in the hope that something bigger will eventually come out the other end? Eventually, every gambler’s bankroll is depleted. Eventually, every rich owner bores of spending huge amounts of money and not getting what they want. We’ve seen that happen to an extent with Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. We now may be about to see it with PSG’s Qatari backers.
Aside from the question of whether the owners can bear to spend money on another season of history potentially repeating itself, there’s also a question mark over whether the club’s best players can be persuaded to stay. Chief among their concerns has to be the question of 21-year-old French superstar Kylian Mbappe, who is seen by many football fans as the next best player in the world after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s a World Cup winner with the French national side and has won Ligue 1 four times at age where most of his peers are still at university, but he’s never played outside France, and he’s unlikely to be viewed as a ‘great’ player in the world stage until he does. He may stay for now, but there will come a point where he wants to test himself in a more competitive league or to join a club that gives him better prospects of European honors. Rumors that he could be persuaded to make big money move to Liverpool have never gone away no matter how much he denies them, and he’s known to be an admirer of the club’s German manager Jurgen Klopp. If that carrot is being dangled in his face, how much longer can he resist biting it?
Mbappe’s Brazilian teammate Neymar’s future must also be in question. The world’s most expensive footballer pushed as hard as he could for a move away from Paris at the end of last season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do so again after the crushing disappointment of another failure to ascend the European summit. Those who are close to him say that he regrets ever leaving Barcelona, and Barcelona would do whatever was in their power to bring him back if the opportunity presented itself. At the age of 28, Neymar’s next move might be the final high-profile one of his career if we assume he’ll stay for two or three years at his next club. A chance to go back to Barcelona as a returning hero in the club’s rebuilding process would be hard to turn down, but there are also suggestions that Real Madrid might be interested in his services. Even Manchester City and Manchester United have been mentioned as possible destinations, although a move to England seems less likely than a return to Spain. A Paris Saint Germain without Mbappe and Neymar would be a lesser team than it is today. Those players would be impossible to replace, and there are no current outstanding candidates to fill the hole that they would leave if they went in search of new opportunities. That would leave PSG as a club with diminished commercial appeal – which would, in turn, leave the club’s owners considering their next move again. This season is as close as PSG has ever come to the promised land, and they missed out by the cruelest and narrowest of margins. Sadly for them and their supporters, it might also be the closest they ever get. If one of either Mbappe or Neymar leaves the club, it follows logically that the other will decide it’s also time for them to move on. That would leave PSG further away from winning the Champions League than they have been in the past decade, and it would be an appropriate time for the owners to pull the plug. As bad as it might seem right now, in the long run losing the Champions League might not even be the worst thing that happens to PSG this summer. What happens next might be far worse.