PSG are broken and Messi, Mbappe and Neymar can’t fix them

Another year, another premature ending. Paris Saint-Germain are once again out of Europe before spring has sprung, the fifth time they have been knocked out of the Champions League’s last-16 in the past seven seasons, and the worst part is that they have never looked further from the ultimate prize of conquering Europe.

There is a theory that PSG have never recovered from the nightmare in Barcelona – La Remontada – and that all the disappointment and the chastening experiences can be traced back to 8 March 2017, when Paris Saint-Germain went to the Nou Camp with a 4-0 lead and lost; the night they reach 90 minutes with a two-goal cushion and conceded two more goals; the night they realised that rewriting football’s world order was going to take more time, more pain, more money.

Time has passed and money has been spent, not least on two of their opponents that night, Lionel Messi and Neymar. But there is still one missing ingredient: call it organisation, cohesion, harmony. Money can buy a club but it cannot buy a team, and PSG’s disjointedness comes to light against teams like Bayern Munich, as it did in this 2-0 defeat.

Christophe Galtier has wrestled with many of the same problems that faced his predecessor Mauricio Pochettino – luxury problems, fantasy-football problems, like how to fit Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar into the same team. If winning Ligue 1 is the goal then the answer is to set them up any way you like – 4-4-2, a diamond attack, a free-flowing false-nine-isosceles of doom – and they will probably beat Ajaccio away.

But an increasing body of evidence suggests PSG need to push the reset button if they are to ever win the Champions League – that they must find a whole new approach built around a strategy which unites the entire club, from the coaching team and the players to the recruitment team and the hierarchy. The Galaticos methodology must give way to an underdog mentality, giant egos must be replaced by humble enthusiasm, and collectivism must supplant individualism.

But how simple is that to enact, and could this really be the end of an era? Mbappe walked straight down the tunnel after the final whistle blew, stripping off his captain’s armband as he went. He will wonder whether he is still in the right place to fulfil his potential as one of the greats of this game. Mbappe’s contract could finish next year or be extended until 2025 at the player’s discretion, but he remains permanently courted by Real Madrid.

Kylian Mbappe walks off the pitch after defeat by Bayern Munich (EPA)
Kylian Mbappe walks off the pitch after defeat by Bayern Munich (EPA)

Messi trudged off not far behind, and L’Equipe wrote on Thursday morning that this may have been his last European game in a PSG shirt. His contract is up this summer, although he has the option to extend for a further year. There have been mixed reports since the World Cup, with some suggesting he has already agreed to stay at PSG and others claiming his father is in talks with Barcelona about a sensational return, while he is known to have received lucrative offers from the Middle East and the US.

And then there’s Neymar, whose sister’s birthday is the least of PSG’s worries. Now 31, the often brilliant Brazilian is becoming a burden. He has played only 48% of Ligue 1 minutes since joining in 2017 and has been out of action for days totalling more than two years with injury. Almost all of that time has been spent with groin and ankle problems, and he has now been pushed to undertake surgery that has curtailed his season.

PSG are keen to sell Neymar but his exorbitant contract still has two and a half years left to run, and it is unclear who would want to buy him. He may stay, and yet it is also unclear whether he can produce a consistent season for the club.

Galtier, meanwhile, may well pay the price for this defeat with his job. “My future? It’s really too early to talk about it,” he said after the game. “It obviously depends on the (club’s) management and my president. There’s a disappointment. The club had a lot of hopes for this competition. I stay focused on the end of the season with a lot of energy and determination.”

Successive managers have tried and failed to instil a chemistry, but if insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then the only conclusion is that PSG need to start afresh.