Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi: going, going, gone. PSG’s phoney war on the “bling-bling” era at the club is finally over.
Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi is at last clearing the decks of the big egos and mammoth salaries and offering a more rational approach to squad building than simply buying the biggest stars and throwing them together in an unbalanced melange in which it is hard for even the planet’s greatest players to show their best level. Just ask Messi.
When faced with a problem, PSG’s answer has often to simply throw money at it. Mbappe’s stout refusal to depart before the end of his contract has brought about a long-overdue reckoning behind the scenes at Parc des Princes.
“Dreams are one thing, reality is another. Perhaps we should change our slogan… dream bigger is good, but today we must be realistic, we don’t want flashy, bling-bling anymore, it’s the end of the glitter,” Al-Khelaifi told Le Parisien in 2022.
It seemed a strange comment given the top-heavy side that he had helped to construct, led by Mbappe, Neymar and Messi, who sucked up the financial resources of the club and left the rest of the squad appearing substandard. And so it proved.
PSG were easily beaten by Bayern Munich in Europe, while they limped to the Ligue 1 title by a single point over a Lens side with a fraction of the resources but one thousand times the heart, soul and squad-building intelligence.
While there were flourish – the 7-1 win over Lille stands out – this was simply the silver lining on a cloud of incoherent mush that nearly saw them lose to a club whose only title success arrived in 1998 and was celebrated on an open-top tractor. Farmers’ league indeed!
FAILURE TO DOMINATE
With the problem having long stared the Ligue 1 champions in the face, only now has it dawned on Al-Khelaifi et al that this is not the way an elite team functions.
Over the 12 years that QSI have owned PSG, the list of embarrassments has been long. There have been indulgent parties, fallouts and failed title bids. Les Parisiens have enjoyed unparalleled financial dominance in French football, and while that has led them to win the title on nine occasions, it has also been squandered to Montpellier, Monaco and, most recently, Lille.
Ultimately, it has been this failure to make the most of their dominance that left Mbappe so frustrated – both those on the field and off it have angered the 24-year-old. His resentment towards the board has been borne of the failed promise to land Robert Lewandowski and Bernardo Silva last summer, while the lack of professionalism of his teammate has also drawn his ire – publicly at times.
Speaking after the Champions League first-leg loss to Bayern Munich, he said: “Everyone should eat well, sleep well and prepare as much as possible.” Hours later, Neymar appeared playing late night poker in a Paris casino, and yet it was Marco Verratti that these comments were aimed at.
Mbappe, of course, has been as much part of the problem as anyone else at the club. His embarrassing standoff this summer has left him looking like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
“In terms of his image, the one who loses the most is still Mbappe,” agent Bruno Satin told Le Parisien. “He is severely blurring his image by showing this spoiled child side of his face. His mucking about is also affecting his image in Spain.
“All this is the consequence of management errors. PSG gave everything to Mbappe, who would probably have done better to go free last year if he wanted to go to Real. And now it’s hard for everyone to fix this mistake.”
Now PSG are getting serious with Luis Enrique installed as new coach. They appear open to the world’s best player staying for another year on the basis that he signs a new contract until 2025 and are willing to insert an exit clause that will allow him to leave for Real Madrid next summer. But they will no longer bow to his every whim. Mbappe, it is accepted, will wind up at the Bernabeu one way or another.
Other problematic players are going too: Verratti is on his way out and Neymar is going. Messi, who showed limited interest in playing for a team in which he was not the focal point, has already left for Inter Miami.
It has taken Al-Khelaifi a year, but he has kept his promise. PSG’s bling-bling era is finally over.