Paris Saint-Germain were convinced that persuading Kylian Mbappe to stay would finally deliver them Champions League glory, but the failure to build a strong enough team around the France superstar has contributed to another early European exit.
Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to Bayern Munich in Germany saw the Qatar-owned club lose their last-16 tie 3-0 on aggregate and go out in the first knockout round for the fifth time in seven years.
PSG’s run to the 2020 final now looks even more like an anomaly, coming in a pandemic-hit season when the Champions League was reduced to a mini-tournament behind closed doors.
There were celebrations last May when Mbappe agreed a new three-year contract to stay with Lionel Messi and Neymar in the French capital rather than join Real Madrid.
The appointments of Portuguese super scout Luis Campos as head of recruitment and Christophe Galtier as coach to replace Mauricio Pochettino were supposed to be followed by the building of an exciting new team.
It is hard to argue now that PSG are stronger with the likes of Vitinha and Fabian Ruiz than they were with Angel di Maria and Leandro Paredes last year.
“It is not about the construction of the squad. It is just the story of the season. We were missing important players. The squad, over the two legs, was seriously weakened,” said Galtier on Wednesday.
– ‘This is our maximum’ –
He had a point, with Mbappe only able to make a cameo appearance off the bench after a thigh injury as PSG lost 1-0 to Bayern in the first leg.
Neymar is missing with an ankle injury, while Presnel Kimpembe is out and fellow defenders Marquinhos and Nordi Mukiele both came off during Wednesday’s game.
“It has been a very busy season. Players’ bodies have been asked to do a lot. There was the World Cup, and obviously when you get to the last 16 it is good to have everyone available,” Galtier said.
PSG placed their hope in Mbappe and Messi turning the tie around in Munich, but the latter had little impact while the France superstar saw just 32 touches of the ball.
“As I said in my first Champions League press conference this season, we were going to do our maximum. The truth is this is our maximum,” admitted Mbappe, whose own future will now again become the subject of increasing speculation.
Others are left wondering why a club of PSG’s means could not build a deep enough squad around Mbappe to remain competitive despite the injuries.
“If Paris Saint-Germain have ambitions of winning the Champions League, they need to sign players who are up to the required standard,” said David Ginola, a former star for the club and now a pundit for broadcaster Canal Plus.
“I think they will get the success they are looking for the day they stop betting everything on one player. When are we going to talk about a team?”
– Messi to depart? –
One reason PSG were unable to build the team they wanted, even with the wealth of their Qatari owners, is money.
With so much spent on Mbappe’s new deal and the need to respect UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, they failed to sign the central defender they desperately needed.
Messi is out of contract after this season. There have been talks about extending that deal, but he will be 36 in June and it may be wise to invest the money required elsewhere.
There may be doubts about Galtier’s own future, with the coach aware that winning Ligue 1 alone might not be enough.
“We know how important the Champions League is to PSG,” Galtier said.
“There is a lot of expectation. If we only win the league, has it been a bad season? The big regret is that we were not able to compete with all our strength in this tie.”
There are no guarantees a full-strength PSG would have beaten Bayern, or gone on to win the Champions League.
In 11 seasons in the competition in the Qatar era, they have won only seven two-legged knockout ties.
“There is no reason why Paris Saint-Germain in 2023 will learn the lessons they have not learned for 10 years,” wrote Vincent Duluc in sports daily L’Equipe.
“There is also no reason to deny that for PSG, when it comes to the last 16 of the Champions League, losing is a culture.”