This was supposed to be the year that Paris Saint-Germain’s long-time dream of winning the Champions League became a reality. A recruitment drive in the summer redolent of that of a video game saw Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Georginio Wijnaldum and a certain Lionel Messi all arrive at the Parc des Princes for free, while over £80 million was splashed on Achraf Hakimi, Danilo Pereira and Nuno Mendes.
Stopping them from finally lifting that big-eared trophy over a decade on from being bought by the mega-rich Qatar Sports Investments consortium now seemed nigh on impossible. The general consensus was that there would be no stopping the lethal front three of Neymar, Messi and Kylian Mbappé. But the reality is that it just hasn’t worked out that way for Mauricio Pochettino.
If anything, the arrival of Messi was unsettling for Mbappé. With the 23-year-old’s massive ego, he needs to be the star of the show at the Parc des Princes and the Argentine’s arrival in the French capital meant that PSG’s golden boy was feeling threatened more than exciting — even trying to force a move to Real Madrid before the summer transfer window slammed shut at the end of August.
That move didn’t end up materialising though, despite massive bids from Los Blancos, and the Paris outfit were restored as the favourites for the Champions League in the football tips — expected to wipe the floor of everyone and everything that stood in their way en route to the European success that the fans, players and board oh-so crave.
It goes without saying that PSG’s masterplan hasn’t exactly worked out how they had pictured when they drew up the blueprints for last summer’s transfer business. Ramos has barely played, making just four Ligue 1 appearances and none in the Champions League, Wijnaldum is left with nothing more than a bit-part role from the bench and we’re not entirely sure if that really is Messi in attack — two goals in 17 league games would suggest otherwise.
Anyway, being paired with Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 — initially drawing Manchester United before the draw had to be redone due to a technical error — was the first real test of the side’s mettle. And they passed with flying colours for the first 150 minutes of the two legs, boasting a 2-0 lead on aggregate.
But what happened next was just typical of PSG. The in-form Karim Benzema spearheaded a sensational comeback for Carlo Ancelotti’s side — scoring a hat-trick in the final 30 minutes at the Santiago Bernabéu to turn the result on its head and knock Pochettino’s men out of Europe when the tie looked to have already been a forgone conclusion.
Madrid kick on against all the odds and PSG headed back to the French capital with their tails between their legs and serious questions left to be asked of the coaching staff and the players by owner Nasser Al-Khelaifi — who understandably looked far from pleased as he disappeared into the private confines of the Bernabéu as the final whistle blew and the Spanish capital erupted.
Indeed, with Mbappé likely to make his way into the home dressing room next time he’s in Madrid, as it’s just a matter of time before he signs that pre-contract agreement with Los Blancos, this was perhaps PSG’s best chance yet to win the Champions League and it could be a while before they find themselves in the position to do so again.
The 23-year-old will not be to replace, especially since PSG aren’t going to receive a sizable price tag for their star man, having turned down £170 million last August. Erling Haaland will be available for an affordable fee this summer, but when all the options are laid out on the table, it’s extremely unlikely that the goal-scoring Norwegian would pick the Parc des Princes.
Then there are the issues surrounding Messi, Ramos and Wijnaldum. The latter has made it clear he’s not happy with his role, so could seek an exit, while Ramos could also leave a frustrating time for both him and the club thus far. That leaves the curious case of Messi. Now in the twilight of his wonderful career, is a failed stint at PSG really how the 34-year-old wants to sign off?
We think it’s clear that Pochettino is not the man to guide this side to European glory either, and with Manchester United always sniffing around, there could be even more unrest with another new manager set to take the Parisian hot seat — which would be the sixth managerial change since the new owners took control in 2011.
After everyone was so certain this would be their year, uncertainty once again looms over the French capital. Another opportunity gone and who knows when they will be in a better place than they are?