Asensio links a strong reminder of PSG’s past mistakes
Lionel Messi is going, and so is Sergio Ramos. Neymar is extremely likely to follow them out of the door. Paris Saint-Germain are finally getting the message; their plan to supercharge to the top of European football by amassing the biggest squad of stars in the game hasn’t worked. It is time for a new strategy.
Quite why they thought it would is a mystery. The Qatari ownership has committed the same mistakes that were made by Real Madrid in the mid-2000s. They too were desperate for Champions League glory, albeit aiming to clinch a tenth title, rather than the first which has become a borderline obsession in Paris. And they too went about it by trying to cobble together a team full of the biggest names in the world and hope for the best. But it didn’t work then and it hasn’t worked now, because the best teams in Europe have to be just that: teams. Where they have had a coherent structure, plan and identity, with every player putting their ego aside, PSG had in-fighting, politics and little more than a hope for individual brilliance on occasion.
But now it is time for a new strategy. It has long been a point of criticism of PSG that they are based in one of Europe’s best areas for talent; so many top players have emerged around Paris and had to go elsewhere to fulfil their potential because their profile didn’t fit into what has developed into a huge vanity project. There are a number of examples of such players who would instantly improve PSG’s quality but crucially make them a more cohesive unit. Signing the right players, and not necessarily the best known, will be key.
Another factor in PSG’s inability to close the gap on their European rivals is the lack of depth to whatever direction they go in. They have fritted between strategies since their huge takeover in 2011. When they have tried to go for lesser names in the past, it hasn’t come with any better forethought for what they may bring to the team. They were opportunistic signings, made simply because they were available for what appeared to be good prices. Julian Draxler, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Jesé Rodriguez all arrived in the summer of 2016 under Unai Emery.
In fairness, the Spaniard had been brought in off the back of his success with Sevilla, particularly in terms of Europa League success, where similar players, and Krychowiak himself, who were perhaps unwanted or needed something of a break, thrived.
But it was that season which saw PSG humiliated in the Champions League by that stunning Barcelona comeback, inspired by Neymar and probably a key reason why they went out to sign him the following season. It was a deal that shattered the existing paradigm in the transfer market and is still reverberating today. The 2016 window showed how the right quality is needed, and a year later they opted for a contrasting approach. PSG have so often lacked an intelligence in their recruitment, an ability to find the nuance that so often makes the difference.
Worryingly, the rumour over their first signing has a distinct feel of 2016 about it. Marco Asensio is set to leave Real Madrid this summer when his contract expires. At the age of 27, that represents a failure considering where they hoped he could go a few years ago. There were hopes that he could help fill the void left by Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2018, and that he could become a mainstay for Spain, but injuries robbed him of that potential. Whilst he has consistently averaged over 30 league games a season since the year before Ronaldo left, many of those all were as a substitute, and only once did he reach double figures for goals. That sort of impact will not make him a worthwhile signing for PSG.
Just like every year, big changes for afoot at the club. Christophe Galtier is expected to be replaced as coach with Luis Enrique reportedly in the running. Whatever happens, they need to make smart signings and sales if the latest transition is to yield the success they desire. The reported arrival of Asensio is too strong a reminder of past mistakes.