A cynic might say that the dismantling of Paris Saint-Germain has already begun.
Less than 24 hours after PSG made its long-awaited first appearance in the final of the UEFA Champions League — which it narrowly lost 1-0 Sunday to pre-match favorite Bayern Munich in Lisbon — news came down that longtime team captain Tiago Silva is expected to sign this week with English Premier League side Chelsea.
The Brazilian defender’s exit is no shock; it was confirmed back in June that the 35-year-old’s expiring contract would not be renewed and that he would leave after eight seasons in Paris. Still, it would be surprising if Silva is the only big name to depart the Parc des Princes before Europe’s summer transfer window closes in October, more than a month later than usual because of the global coronavirus pandemic.
The financial fallout from the ongoing health crisis figures to impact PSG less than it will many other top clubs, what with the bottomless pockets boasted by its ownership group. But even after the most successful season in its 70-year-history — one that took longer than many expected when the sleeping giant was purchased by an arm of Qatar’s autocratic government in 2011 — keeping its squad together won’t be an easy feat.
After luring the likes of Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and David Beckham to France’s iconic capital, PSG dropped nearly a half-billion euros on Neymar and World Cup-winning youngster Kylian Mbappe in 2017. Thomas Tuchel, considered one of Europe’s top up-and-coming managers, arrived the following year.
It took Tuchel just two seasons to build a roster capable of reaching the very top of the club game. Make no mistake: PSG’s ascension this season wasn’t some fluke that could only occur during this unprecedented season. The pandemic robbed the Parisians of a partisan crowd for the second leg of its round of 16 matchup against Borussia Dortmud, but PSG, with a healthy Neymar leading the way, came back to beat Tuchel’s former employer anyway.
Neymar and Co. hit the ground running after the quarterfinals on were postponed until this month despite not playing a competitive game, unlike their competition, since the world went sideways in mid-March. They had finally became a team rather than a collection of high-priced individuals under their German coach. Alas, even that might not be enough to keep them together.
Mbappe has long been coveted by Real Madrid; an agreement to sell the 21-year-old to the La Liga champ was reportedly nearly complete before COVID-19 intervened. Mbappe has since committed to staying in Paris through the end of next season, but things change. Former Real headliner Cristiano Ronaldo is already lobbying his former team to ink the French national team speedster.
Neymar would be an even bigger loss. The face of the club has flirted with leaving almost since his arrival on a world record $200 million-plus transfer fee three summers ago. Barcelona reportedly came close to reacquiring the 28-year-old last summer. Neymar reportedly was disappointed that the reunion didn’t happen.
Barca could well come back in again, whether on not a disgruntled Lionel Messi forces a move away from the Nou Camp in the weeks or months to come. Messi’s departure would certainly give Barca more than enough cash to splash on Neymar’s return.
And while it’s true that PSG are one of the two likeliest destinations for the game’s greatest-ever player, along with England’s Manchester City, there’s no reason to think competing in Ligue 1 would be more attractive to Messi than the Prem. (Tuchel, for what it’s worth, believes Messi will stay in Spain.)
It will be fascinating to watch as the dominoes fall. PSG will add reinforcements regardless, of course; one persistent rumor has Barca’s Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal high on Tuchel’s wishlist. If and when Mbappe or Neymar leave, another global icon will no doubt be recruited to take his place.
Yet what this summer’s run by PSG has proven is that it takes time as much as money to build a cohesive squad capable of standing toe-to-toe with other methodically built and similarly wealthy foes. After coming so close to the summit on Sunday, this Paris Saint-Germain team deserves the chance to stay intact long enough to build on its success and make another Champions League run or two.
"We have to keep this quality to continue on this road,” Tuchel said after Sunday’s defeat.
Whether they get to or not remains to be seen.