With the UEFA Champions League knockout rounds on the horizon, we take a look at why this could be PSG’s final shot to win the coveted trophy in the near future.
Many thought a move to Madrid was inevitable — a question of when, not if he’d make the move to the Spanish capital. After Real Madrid failed to secure its latest galactico, the club has been pursuing Mbappe quietly, like a wolf tracking its prey.
For PSG, this means a few things, but most importantly, it could very realistically lose the one player on the roster who can single-handedly drag it to titles.
The PSG turnaround since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investments has been years in the making, but things seemed to be heading to a crescendo when the club signed Neymar and Mbappe with the two highest transfer fees in the history of the sport.
Two of the game’s brightest stars had made their ways to Paris, with the ultimate goal being to hoist a UEFA Champions League title. Six years later, and PSG has fallen short season after season, even with the addition of Lionel Messi in 2021.
Mbappe is the sole star remaining from what was supposed to be the next great front three in football, and if the rumors are true, he may already have one foot out of the door.
— Madrid Zone (@theMadridZone) January 31, 2024
Don’t get me wrong, PSG still has a seriously stacked roster of international footballing stars, but in comparison to Mbappe, they are supporting actors, not star pieces that put bums in seats and iconic moments in the memories of adoring fans. In a way, it feels as if PSG has changed its recruiting style and has gone after a completely different profile of player.
Gone are the splashy signings of stars at or near the end of their primes (Angel Di Maria and Zlatan Ibrahimovic), and in their place are young starlets like Randal Kolo Muani, Kang-In Lee, and Manuel Ugarte, who have the potential to become world-beaters if they grow into the immense expectations of the Parc des Princes and PSG’s rabid fans.
If Mbappe leaves, PSG needs to win the Champions League this year. Otherwise, it may be seen as arguably the greatest failure in modern football.
Let’s flash back to 2012, when Ibrahimovic just signed for PSG. The Qataris have invested serious amounts of oil money into building a club that will displace the historical greats of European football and bring trophies to the magical city that is Paris. Each supporting signing is hailed as another piece that will catapult the club onto another planet of success. It is the start of PSG labeling itself as the go-to destination for big time signings, and for a while, it was hard to disagree.
Few clubs, if any, could compete with the allure of Paris and the riches that came with being backed by a country like Qatar. While this period in the club’s history saw it become the giants of France, PSG never quite got its hands on continental silverware.
Soon, a new era started with Edinson Cavani, Neymar, and the last remaining star — Mbappe. Surely, this team, with brilliant supporting members in Marco Verrati, Blaise Matuidi, and Thiago Silva, could win the Champions League, right? After all, the club’s wage bill and transfer fees looked more like the GDP of a developing nation than that of a sports team.
But as we know, PSG could never get over the hump. Blown leads, collapses, and bad luck plagued the side in the Champions League, and the team became the butt of plenty of jokes across social media. Each year felt the same: lots of promise, huge expectations, and a spectacular failure that would send PSG back to the drawing board for next season’s iteration of the tournament.
In a change of events, PSG made a Champions League final in 2020, but couldn’t get past Bayern Munich. For many, myself included, it felt like this would create Mbappe’s villain arc. Heartbreak would inspire him to become the best in the world, and he would triumphantly show that only he could drag PSG to the title it so desperately needed.
However, PSG decided that he needed help, and adding Messi to the fold forced Mbappe to take somewhat of a back seat as the world fawned over the reunion of Neymar and the GOAT. But, as the story has always gone for PSG, no matter how inflated the roster becomes, there always seems to be another club to pop the balloon. In this case, it was Manchester City.
With Neymar in Saudi Arabia and Messi playing in MLS, Mbappe has the opportunity to complete his villain arc. Now, I am not going to predict how PSG will fare in this year’s competition, but I will make predictions for how the club will fare if it does not win the trophy.
If PSG doesn’t win, the club risks losing the immense commercial appeal that it has built up over the past decade. It will have no major stars, no continental glory, and a history of boasting about successes without actually being able to ascend to the level it promised.
PSG became the global mega-brand that it is because it positioned itself as a group of luxurious, footballing rockstars that lived the ornate Parisian lifestyle of beauty and wonder. That image has started to crack as people are now seeing the club as an over-spender that imitates a posh lifestyle. If you could boil it down to one word, pretenders would be the best way to describe PSG.
Mbappe’s legacy is also in the balance. Sure, regardless of this season’s Champions League result, he will become one of the greatest to ever play the game, but he will also be the man who couldn’t win the Champions League with the backing of the Qataris and needed to go to Real Madrid, where every star craving silverware chooses as his next step.
It will be a blemish on Mbappe’s resume that will be brought up by every person who entertains the conversation of who is the greatest of all time, and one in which there will be no defending him. He had all the tools at his disposal. He needs to win to protect his sparkling resume and his chance to seriously enter the “greatest of all time” conversation.