They have been here before, of course. The same disappointment, the same flaws, the same mistakes, the same elimination, the same regrets. Paris Saint-Germain know all too well what it is crash out early in the Champions League. It is another round-of-16 exit, this time against a Bayern Munich side that was not even that impressive over the two legs. But Joshua Kimmich & Co. didn’t need to be, because PSG made things easy for the Bavarians in the end.
It is another failed European campaign, like too many before. PSG manager Christophe Galtier, in his first and maybe last season on the bench, can blame the injuries suffered before Wednesday’s game (Neymar, Presnel Kimpembe) and those during the match (Marquinhos, Nordi Mukiele). He could also point to the fact that PSG finished the game with two 17-year-olds on the pitch in Warren Zaire-Emery and El Chadaille Bitshiabu, but Galtier will know that he bears a big part of responsibility for his side’s failure.
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But as the PSG manager mentioned the squad in his postmatch news conference, let’s start there. Kylian Mbappe also spoke about the quality of the two squads: “When you look at the two teams: they have a great team, a great squad, they have a team built win the Champions League. I said in our first Champions league press conference at the start of the season that we would do our maximum in this competition. And this is our maximum … this is the truth.”
Mbappe is right. PSG don’t have a squad as good in terms of quality or quantity as the likes of Bayern Munich or Manchester City. The absence of recruitment in January was mind-blowing as the team clearly needed reinforcements, and some of the signings from last summer (Carlos Soler, Hugo Ekitike) have not worked out. Luis Campos, PSG’s relatively new sporting director and close ally of Mbappe, is under pressure after his first two transfer windows.
It is not a question of spending more money this summer but of recruiting intelligently. Already, the targets in the summer are not like the “bling bling” strategy of the past. While Milan Skriniar will arrive as a free agent in the summer, rumoured targets like Randal Kolo Muani, Manu Kone and Kephren Thuram are all young, all talented and all from Paris.
This group of players needs an overhaul. The squad needs a clear-out and new faces, with some youth and others with more experience. Mbappe will be at the centre of the rebuilding job. He is the project. Neymar will be offered to other clubs but is unlikely to leave due a lack of interest from potential suitors. Meanwhile, Lionel Messi should not have his contract renewed, nor should Sergio Ramos because they are coming to the end of their careers while PSG need stars to take them to the highest level.
This squad has failed the club and their supporters because, collectively, it is not good enough but individually, the players didn’t deliver either. Mbappe himself was well-marked by Dayot Upamecano and the Bayern defence on Wednesday. He had almost zero impact on the game. Messi was ineffectual. Marco Verratti, on the wrong side of 30, has lost his magic. Ramos, who is 36, can only play in a back three now. Then there is the Neymar issue; with his form, his injury record and his huge contract which has another four years to run. The list goes on. Over the course of a Champions League campaign, that is too many limitations for a squad like this.
Despite all of that, PSG actually played quite well in the first half in Munich. They had the better chances — how Vitinha missed an open goal just before the break is beyond belief — and they controlled the pace of the game well, but they could not keep it up after half-time. Verratti gifted a goal to Bayern and, when a boost was needed from the bench to rescue the tie, there was hardly any talent to call upon.
PSG are too dependent on Mbappe and, as much as he loves and needs that, it is not viable against the top teams. You need more than just the best player in the world. As we saw on Wednesday, even he can’t do everything on his own. PSG need a strong collective full of strong individuals. They need some patterns of play, some movement, some control, some certainties. This is not the case at the moment.
But to implement these ideas, you need the right manager. Is Galtier the right one for the job? He has showed already a few times this season that he was not good enough for this level, and he admitted after the game on Wednesday that he lost the tactical battle with Bayern boss Julian Nagelsmann. Galtier will finish the season with the obligatory Ligue 1 title and he has another year left on his contract.
However, right now no one can guarantee that he will still be on the bench next season. What would be the point of keeping Galtier for another year if the club is at the dawn of a new cycle? The Frenchman has always felt like a stop-gap for another, better manager.
PSG need someone who will build a competitive unit with a style and a philosophy, like Erik ten Hag and Mikel Arteta are doing at Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, or like Jurgen Klopp did at Liverpool seven-and-a-half years ago. Zinedine Zidane is still the dream of PSG’s Qatari owners. Could he come this summer? Of course. Would he? Maybe, but only under certain big conditions. Would he be the right choice for a new cycle? That’s far from certain.
The Qataris are obviously very disappointed by the result in Munich but they have not made their mind up yet on the future of the manager. What they do know already is that the summer will have to be a big one. It is time to get to work to avoid going through another night like Wednesday next season.