Paris Saint-Germain is going in a different direction. They are moving away from the ‘bling bling’ signings that have blighted the club and are determined to build a hungry young squad – with a French core – built around Kylian Mbappe.
Lionel Messi was never exactly ‘cheeky’ but he was a big name, the biggest name, and while the feeling within PSG is that his two years have been quite successful, also because he signed on a free transfer opportunistic about half of his Barcelona salaries, it’s time to move on.
Messi has also made money for PSG – estimated at around €10m net in his first year, when sponsorship deals and commercial boost are factored in – but this hasn’t proved sufficient when compared with the relative disappointment on the pitch.
PSG have had two seasons of the triumvirate of Mbappe, Messi and Neymar and although it was a remarkable combination they have not delivered the holy grail of a Champions League triumph.
PSG are now losing Messi – there is no desire for him to sign the 12-month contract extension that has been on the table since January – and are ready to sell Neymar. Passing on the Brazilian could prove problematic and it’s a delicate, complicated issue. In principle, however, it does not fit the future approach.
Even so, Neymar’s contract was automatically extended on 1 July 2022, taking him through 2027 when he will be 35 years old. The striker signed a new three-year contract in 2021, after being persuaded by PSG to stay on despite his efforts to return to Barcelona, and it included two further 12-month extensions which have been activated.
While there is interest in him from the Premier League, he still appears to be a hugely complicated deal to close.
Sergio Ramos is also out of contract this summer, although it appears PSG are keen to keep the 37-year-old Spanish defender, especially as the centre-back they signed for the summer, Milan Skriniar from Inter Milan, has been injured and is not there a guarantee that he will be fit for the start of next season.
Ramos also doesn’t have the same salary level as other super stars and is relatively low maintenance. He has good influence in the dressing room and, given his age, could be prepared to be less of a regular starter and more of a squad player.
However it is likely to prove the exception. Persuading Mbappe to sign a new contract last summer, pushing back Real Madrid for doing so, was part of a new policy devised by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
The Qatari has a saying of “collective interest before individual interest” and wants it to apply to PSG with a change of culture. Hiring Christophe Galtier was part of that thought. While Galtier has struggled since the start of the year and may not survive, bringing in a French manager was seen as part of the change in direction.
PSG are also eyeing two 17-year-olds – the exciting Warren Zaire-Emery (born in Montreuil in the eastern suburbs of Paris) and El Chadaille Bitshiabu (from Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in the south) – who will play against Bayern Munich, albeit in the ‘being eliminated from the Champions League, as examples of encouragement to young players.
It is a key task for sporting director Luis Campos although, curiously, there is renewed talk that he wants to replace Galtier with Jose Mourinho with whom he first worked at Real Madrid and was in the running last year following the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino. When Mourinho was manager of Tottenham Hotspur he wanted Campos as sporting director.
However, Mourinho doesn’t seem to be adapting to PSG’s new policy, which is also partly affected by the financial restrictions they face in order to comply with UEFA rules.
The key to this is making PSG more sustainable and in particular all recent transfer windows have been built around young players and free transfers. Those checks are partly why they’ve never been up for auction for Jude Bellingham, who looks set to join Real Madrid, or Harry Kane.
The changes are set to accelerate this summer with more young players being signed especially, hopefully, French players. PSG have been keenly aware that the Paris conurbation produces more footballers than any area in Europe, yet few show up in their colours.
Mbappe, who hails from the suburb of Bondy, will remain the flagship. The 24-year-old is irreplaceable in Al-Khelaifi’s eyes and the team will be built around him. With Mbappé now captaining France, he demonstrates his growing importance to club and country and PSG will do anything to keep him.
There is also an acceptance that there has been something of a disconnect between the players and the fans and that – with the policy change to introduce even more discipline – is partly behind the decision to suspend Messi for two weeks for his unauthorized, ill-timed and ill-advised trip to Saudi Arabia.
In fact, the PSG Ultras have called a protest in front of the club’s offices. “It is time for things to change and for the institution of Paris Saint-Germain to rediscover its soul, its Parisian spirit and its splendor,” said the CUP (Collectif Ultras Paris) in a statement, which echoes much of what the club is. now doing.