Paris Saint-Germain Football Club
After yet another disappointing Champions League exit, this past transfer window was one of great upheaval for Paris St-Germain. Manager Mauricio Pochettino was let go in favor of Nice’s Christophe Galtier, and Sporting Director Leonardo Araujo was replaced by Monaco’s Luis Campos in an advisory role. Campos and Galtier collaborated to bring in a whopping seven new first team signings, while offloading a similarly large number of players for a net spend of $94 million.
The reason for the massive changes is simple. Last year was supposed to be PSG’s year. While that has been the case every year since Qatar’s investment in the team began, the 2021-2022 season was different in that PSG had far and away the most famous squad in the world. Headlined by the arrival of the great Lionel Messi, it seemed as if PSG had assembled a super team, with legends such as Messi and Sergio Ramos and young stars Achraf Hakimi and Gianluigi Donnarumma joining superstars Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
Even more impressive was the fact that these arrivals had come at relatively pedestrian cost given both their name value and footballing ability; Messi, Ramos, and Donnarumma arrived on free transfers. For a club most known for its willingness to acquire marquee players no matter the cost, this was a spectacular piece of business by the French giants.
However, while PSG improved their financial responsibility, these signings underperformed. While Lionel Messi had a good season, he displayed a notable dropoff from his usual otherworldly standards. Sergio Ramos struggled through injuries, and Donnarumma failed to truly stake his place as the starting keeper. Even in these circumstances, it would’ve been reasonable to expect a quarter or semifinal run by the Parisians, but these signings failed to address the attitude issues that have plagued PSG as a result of their free spending.
Club crest between 1992 and 1995.
Aside from their free spending, PSG are most known for their inability to finish games in high pressure moments. The team has a history of blowing historically large leads. They lost 6-1 to Barcelona after beating them 4-0 in the first leg, 3-1 to Manchester after winning the first leg 2-0 away from home. Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos were supposed to bring the savoir-faire, the leadership and mettle necessary to solidify PSG’s nerves, and finally rid them of their issues with holding leads. Three Karim Benzema goals later, PSG were knocked out in the Champions League Round of 16 in a 3-2 aggregate loss after winning the first leg 2-0. Every player other than Kylian Mbappe (the scorer of PSG’s two goals), was booed when introduced in their next league game.
While this tendency to blow leads obviously grated on the nerves of fans, the larger issue was the perception fans had of the teams culture. From the fans perspective, PSG had become a glorified vacation home. Big name players arrived for impossibly high fees and wages with the attraction of living “la belle vie” in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Players took advantage of the idyllic lifestyle that comes with being a professional soccer player living in Paris, without producing any meaningful results on the pitch or seeming to learn from their losses. While PSG’s Champions League final run in 2020 and semi-final run in 2021 had assuaged concerns, the loss to Real Madrid demonstrated that nothing had changed. Fans were furious and demanded change.
While former Sporting Director Leonardo had managed to curb PSG’s propensity for wild spending, he and Mauricio failed to mold PSG’s dressing room from one of decadence into one of competitive desire. Additionally, despite being gifted the most talented front three in the world on paper in the form of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Lionel Messi, Mauricio Pochettino failed to find a system that would maximize their talents. Thus, with the full-throated support of the fans, President Nasser Al-Khelaifi dismissed both of them. However, the question remained of who would replace them.
As a replacement for Leonardo Araujo, Al-Khelaifi hired Luis Campos in the role of Football Advisor. Luis Campos was the mastermind behind Monaco’s entertaining young squads from 2013-2016, both turning a huge profit for Monaco and massively overperforming in Ligue 1 and the Champions League. He then performed a similar role for Lille from 2017 to 2020, masterminding their 2021 league title. Crucially, Luis Campos is well known for his youth-oriented recruitment methods. For a club that has produced such talent as Christophe Nkunku, Moussa Diaby, Dayot Upamecano, and Kingsley Coman without capitalizing on any of them, this was of the utmost importance.
As a replacement for coach Mauricio Pochettino, Nasser Al-Khelaifi chose Campos’ former colleague Christophe Galtier, the other mastermind for Lille’s 2021 title run. In many ways, Galtier is similar to French national team coach Didier Deschamps: From the south of France, known for his no nonsense attitude and man management skills. Galtier seems to offer the solution to PSG’s attitude problems, while also providing the tactical expertise that could unlock the incalculable potential of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe playing together. Like Campos, Galtier is known to be good at working with young players, helping develop Renato Sanches, Jonathan David, and Mike Maignan during his time at Lille.
The two men’s ideologies are reflected in the transfer business done by PSG this summer. Campos successfully managed to unload several players who were not at the level required for a team of PSG’s stature, while also clearing twelve first team players from a bloated squad. With the support of Galtier, he also managed to bring in seven new first team players: Vitinha, Nuno Mendes, Hugo Ekitike, Nordi Mukiele, Carlos Soler, Renato Sanches, and Fabian Ruiz. All of these players are relatively young, were bought at discount prices, and could feasibly develop into superstars in the future. Effectively, PSG received high upside for low risk.
So far, these changes appear to be working. PSG have yet to lose a game this season, and sit top of Ligue 1 and their Champions League group. Their marquee front three are firing on all cylinders, with PSG scoring a whopping 26 goals in their first 8 league games. Neymar is off to a historic start, while Mbappe is at his usual best. Most encouragingly, Messi is back to his historic best, albeit in a more creative role, with six goals and eight assists in eleven games so far this season. While PSG are yet to be tested against one of Europe’s truly elite teams, something seems different about PSG season. Will this be the year they finally break through?