After Paris Saint-Germain’s 3-0 defeat to Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the Champions League, many fans are beginning to wonder whether the Parisians are destined for failure in Europe.
Especially with the $432 million investment on the marquee signings of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar Jr, as well as the acquisition of world-class players such as Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos and Achraf Hakimi in recent years, PSG's record in the Champions League has been far from satisfactory.
In fact, the club have exited the competition at the round of 16 stage for the fifth time in the last seven editions, a beyond underwhelming and inexplicable record for a team populated with some of the best players in the world.
Additionally, since Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) full takeover in 2012, the club has been home to some of the sport’s most established professionals and modernized facilities, yet have been unable to emulate their domestic success on the continental stage.
Hence, here on Main Stand with writer Agastya Bajaj, we assess if PSG have met QSI’s ownership expectations a decade after their takeover, highlight the contrast between the club’s domestic and continental performance and reveal what’s next for this MNM project.
The QSI revolution
Before the full Qatar Sports Investments takeover in 2012, PSG were reportedly worth an estimated $100 million and were an established mid-table club.
Following the takeover, QSI have completely turned PSG into a powerhouse in world football, revolutionising the club’s performances on and off the pitch.
In this period, the club has undergone a complete transformation, with regular investment in top-level talents such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva, and the construction of state-of-the-art facilities like the newly designed Paris Saint-Germain training center.
The Qatari regime has also heavily invested in PSG's youth academy, developing homegrown talent with the aim of having players who are “proud to represent PSG and fight every day.”
Players such as Christopher Nkunku, Mike Maignan, Kingsley Coman and most recently, Zairre Emery, are some of the many famous names to emerge out of the newly refurbished PSG academy.
PSG have also become one of the most successful clubs in Europe, winning multiple domestic titles and reaching the Champions League final for the first time in the club's history in 2020.
Conversely, prior to the takeover, the club were floating around mid-table and had only won two league titles.
A decade after the takeover, the club have won a record 10 league titles, six Coupe de France trophies, six Coupe de la Ligue titles and nine Trophee des Champions victories.
QSI have also managed to capitalise on the side’s location and unprecedented volume of domestic success, transcending the club into one of the most recognizable global brands.
Lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of Qatar Airways, Accor and Jordan coupled with marketing packages with celebrities such as Tom Holland, Kendall Jenner and Stephen Curry, have completely catapulted the club’s global stature.
This has given the club appeal and impetus to make high-profile signings such as Messi and Mbappe, cementing their place as one of the most influential clubs in the sporting scene.
According to Forbes, the Parisians are also the seventh most valuable club on the planet, boasting a $3.2 billion net worth, a significant contrast to the $100 million suggested earlier in the piece.
The club also amasses the fifth-highest revenue in football, generating $654 million annually, despite most French clubs not even cracking the upper echelon of generated wealth.
The Champions League revolut
However, although these successes should not be taken lightly, the main goal for the ambitious (that’s an understatement!) PSG hierarchy has been to win the UEFA Champions League.
Even back in 2014, chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi expressed a strong desire to win the Champions League “within the next four years at most.”
Yet despite the $1.5 billion spent in signings since their takeover, the Parisians have been unable to win the competition, let alone cement their place at the business end of the tournament.
In the early years of the takeover, the club managed to establish themselves as regular finalists, clinching four successive best-of-eight finishes before respectfully losing out to the likes of Barcelona.
However, in 2016 the landscape completely changed.
The club were drawn against Barcelona in the round of 16 of the Champions League, and after spending a whopping $135 million in the transfer market, many believed this could be the year PSG win the competition.
Especially after taking a comprehensive 4-0 lead in the first leg at home, many began to honestly believe this was finally the year for Paris, with the famous “MSN” trio on the verge of being humiliated.
However, in the second leg, the unthinkable happened. FC Barcelona produced “La Remontanda”, beating PSG 6-1 to prevail on an aggregate and produce the greatest
comeback in UCL history.
As the season progressed, the humiliation worsened for the Qatari owners. Not only were PSG unable to replicate their domestic success on the continental stage, but their domestic rivals Monaco made an unprecedented run to the Champions League semi-finals, which only piled the pressure on PSG.
As such, in the following season, QSI spent a record $232 million in the transfer market, constructing a “Galacticos” style team with Neymar at the forefront of it.
However, even with a squad full of superstars, the club encountered the same fate, losing in the round of 16 again, with Real Madrid annihilating PSG 5-2 on aggregate in the 17/18 season.
Undeterred, the Qatari owners shattered their own transfer market record again, splurging $262 million on several players in the 2018 transfer window.
Yet, even with their unmatched spending, the club suffered defeat in the last 16 again, succumbing to an injury-plagued Manchester United side in the final moments of the second leg.
With these repeated knockout stage failures/capitulations, the club began to develop the reputation of “bottlers” in Europe.
It also led to QSI’s ownership model of “regularly upgrading the squad with superstars and sacking managers after a continental defeat” being questioned by many.
However, in the 19/20 season, PSG reached their first-ever Champions League final by
defeating Leipzig and Atalanta in the process.
Although PSG finally managed to compile a string of impressive performances in Europe, the side fell short to Bayern in the final, resulting in a bittersweet end to their season.
Despite the potential to build on their first-ever Champions League final appearance, PSG sacked their manager Thomas Tuchel just a few months after the final, citing poor league performance and marking their fifth managerial change under this ownership regime.
Mauricio Pochettino was appointed PSG manager for the remainder of the 20/21 season.
Pochettino's side made a deep run in the tournament, avenging Bayern in the quarter-finals before miserably receiving a manhandling to Manchester City in the semi-finals.
PSG also lost their first league title since their mass spending spree that season, provoking unpalatable noise around the Parc de Prince.
Conversely, Thomas Tuchel joined Chelsea in the same season and won the entire Champions League.
With most of the footballing world (including Tuchel) further criticising the QSI model and squad full of superstars, in the 2021 window, instead of altering their methodology, the owners consolidated it.
The club decided to sign a wealth of superstar talent such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos, forming the modern-day Galacticos side.
However, even with some of the best and most in-form players in one squad, they let another 2-0 lead slip to the eventual champions Real Madrid in the round of 16.
This defeat, more than anything, incensed the ownership regime and the fanbase, prompting the sacking of Pochettino and the hiring of French manager Christophe Galtier.
QSI also decided to eliminate some aging superstars and place a larger emphasis on domestic talent and youth, a decision prompted by the arrival of new sporting director Luis Campos.
As such, in the 2022/23 season, PSGrelied on the output of the dynamic trio of Messi, Mbappe and Neymar to spearhead the club to success.
The three have already amassed over 100 goal contributions before March, each producing historical campaigns and leading the side to comprehensive victories in every competition.
Lionel Messi also produced the greatest modern-day international campaign to win the World Cup, while Kylian Mbappe and Neymar also had sensational tournaments in Qatar.
However in the club’s two biggest games of the season, Bayern Munich in the Round of 16 of the Champions League, the trio was scoreless and Neymar suffered yet another injury in Parisian colours.
This marked PSG’s fifth round of 16 elimination in seven Champions League campaigns.
With their domestic dominance overshadowing their continental shortcomings, what is next for Paris Saint-Germain’s project?
Speaking to reporters after the game, PSG coach Christophe Galtier revealed: “There’s a lot of disappointment in the dressing room. I don’t know if it’s a lesson to be learned, but there’s a lot of frustration.”
It is widely expected that Galtier will not be relieved of his duties til at least the end of the season, unlike the fate of his predecessors such as Tuchel, Emery and Carlo Ancelotti.
There is a growing expectation that Galtier will be dismissed at the end of the season though, with certain members of the club’s hierarchy unhappy with his tactics, per sources close to the club.
Many sources also believe the planet’s most expensive player Neymar Jr, will be one of the several big names to depart the club over the summer.
Le Parisien had reported that Chelsea owner Todd Boehly inquired with PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi about the Brazilian forward's availability, but The Athletic has clarified that the player has no intention of leaving and is committed to staying in Paris.
It seems that many figures inside PSG, including Luis Campos, would like to get rid of Neymar in the summer, setting up a potential transfer saga to come.
One of those big names will not be Kylian Mbappe, who is expected to remain at PSG next season.
Lionel Messi’s future still hangs up in the air, with the soon to be eight-time Ballon d’Or winner set to make a decision on his future in the next few weeks.
Messi is currently engaged in discussions with the Parisian hierarchy for a potential one season contract extension, however, a return to FC Barcelona is also becoming likelier by the day.
There are some outlets who report that Messi could join the Saudi Pro League, with Al Hilal set to offer him the biggest contract in sports history.
A potential reunion with former FC Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City isn’t out of the realms of possibility, however, it seems like that ship has sailed.
As we revealed several months ago on Main Stand, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Messi join Inter Miami before hanging his winningest boots.
However, in the short term, even with wholesale personnel change impending, Parisian ultras believe the players and board should still take accountability.
Many ultras allegedly plan on jeering the squad at their home game this weekend, revealing their frustration to the ownership on their frustration about the project.
The club’s lack of stability and constant squad overhaul, going from a team with minimal superstars to few superstars to a squad stacked of stars and this season relying on the front three, could be culpable for Paris’ lack of success and rhythm in the Champions League.
“PSG has one of the biggest budgets in Europe and there is no solution on the bench,” former PSG player Edouard Cissé said in an interview with L’Equipe newspaper.
“You have to turn the game around and you can only put in Zaire Emery, who is my daughter’s age. You really have to ask yourself questions.”
The club’s erratic performances in Europe could also be attributed to their lack of style of play.
Unlike Champions League winning clubs such as Barcelona and Liverpool, the PSG hierarchy does not require managers to adhere to a certain philosophy, and if they did, it could also repel the rate of poor recruitment.
PSG great David Ginola also echoed this sentiment in Canal Plus, criticising the club’s culture and commitment:
"There has been a real problem for years. There are players in this team, I wonder about the recruitment policy.
"How can we have so little strength in depth? We are still capable of living up to our ambitions and having players who are up to the task.
“Tonight Vitinha was not up to it at all. If we want PSG to win the Champions League, the players have to be more invested in the club, more committed."
The next few weeks will be pivotal in revealing how QSI proceeds with the PSG project.
Could a potential Qatari takeover of Man United also change or undermine Paris’ importance to them?
As Kylian Mbappe illustrated, “I said it at the beginning of the season… that we were going to give it our all, and that was our all… That’s the truth,”
This project will need some renovation if the club plans to challenge for the Champions League title.