PARIS— Now that Paris Saint-Germain have completed the job of retaining the Ligue 1 title, they can focus on the latest rebuilding job in the French capital, where sweeping changes are needed to the faltering Qatari project.
PSG’s 11th domestic league triumph — their ninth in the last 11 years — was secured despite Christophe Galtier’s team losing six games in 2023 while nearest challengers Lens have taken most of the plaudits.
“It has not been our best season but it has still been a good one,” insisted captain Marquinhos recently.
It has been largely forgotten now, given their latest elimination in the Champions League last 16 at the hands of Bayern Munich, but PSG were superb at the start of the campaign.
They were unbeaten before the World Cup, when Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar appeared driven by the prospect of the approaching tournament in Qatar.
Yet the unravelling that followed was dramatic, with Neymar again cut down by injury and Messi being suspended for missing training after taking an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia.
The mood around the club in recent weeks has appeared sullen, with fans disaffected.
“When we take stock, we need to analyse the first half of the season and what state the players were in when they came back from the World Cup,” Galtier said on Friday.
“But I understand the disappointment. It has been a very strange season.”
Mbappe front and centre
The coaching job has at times seemed too big for Galtier, who arrived last year in the wake of Mbappe’s decision to snub Real Madrid and sign a new three-year contract.
Mbappe — scorer of 40 goals this season — might wonder now if he made the right choice, although the question of his future is bound to come up again soon.
According to reports, the 24-year-old’s contract will run out next year unless he exercises an option to stay until 2025.
However, PSG must now seek to rebuild with Mbappe the focal point more than ever.
The ageing and out-of-contract Messi is expected to depart and the physically frail Neymar, now 31, is fading as a force.
All eyes will be on what Luis Campos, PSG’s Portuguese recruitment guru, does in the transfer market.
He is restrained by Uefa’s Financial Fair Play rules and by the fact that PSG have an array of unwanted players on big contracts who are set to return after a season on loan.
The saving on Messi’s annual salary of an estimated €30 million euros (RM148 million) net would provide some leeway.
Much has been made of the willingness to focus on younger players hailing from the Paris region, a prolific breeding ground for talent.
This, after all, is a club who have been stung by the decision to let so many prospects leave in recent years, from Kingsley Coman and Adrien Rabiot to Moussa Diaby, Christopher Nkunku and Mike Maignan.
Galtier on the way out?
The holy grail is the Champions League, in which PSG have gone out in the last 16 five times in seven seasons, regularly coming up short at the crucial moment.
“Lots of teams want to go all the way but only one can do so,” said Galtier.
“To win the Champions League, or to give yourself a chance, you need to be on form in February and March and we were not.”
PSG have been here before, and Nasser al-Khelaifi, club president since the Qatari takeover of 2011, surely cannot afford to get another rebuild wrong.
Qatari interest in buying Manchester United, via Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, has led to questions about the potential impact on PSG.
Meanwhile, the club’s owners continue to be thwarted in their attempts to buy the Parc des Princes from the city of Paris so they can expand capacity, raising the possibility of a move to the larger Stade de France.
All of which means some uncertainty about what lies ahead, although Galtier at least knows his future is likely elsewhere.
Under investigation over allegations that he made racist and discriminatory remarks to players when in charge at Nice last season, which he denies, Galtier’s authority has diminished over the campaign.
A new coach capable of commanding the dressing room’s respect is required, and Jose Mourinho and Luis Enrique have been linked with the job.
With PSG having gone backwards in two years with Messi, it remains to be seen if the latest rebuild succeeds where past attempts have failed. — AFP