Now that we’re seeing the roster in action, it seems Paris Saint-Germain’s transfer window plans are working out.
Immediate assessments of Paris Saint-Germain’s 2019 summer transfer window weren’t exactly positive.
ESPN said “clear lessons have not been learnt”, while Bleacher Report tentatively commented that “the summer’s work has probably left Les Rouges et Bleus no closer to their ultimate goal (winning the Champions League) and no happier as a club either.”
Both outlets had PSG down as losers, while a club like Juventus, whose transfer window was so disjointed it ended up with too many players for a Champions League squad, having to leave Emre Can unregistered, escaped criticism.
One of the proposed negatives of PSG’s transfer window is that it sold a number of its academy products. It did, though, make a healthy profit on these players.
Will the sale of potential talent come back to bite PSG, as Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Salah did Chelsea, for example? Possibly, but at this moment in time these sales helped it break even in an era where it has previously been one of soccer’s more frivolous spenders.
So much so that in 2014 the club was fined $66million ($44million of that was suspended) for breaches of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, and the governing body limited its Champions League squad to 21 players.
Then in 2017 an investigation was opened into the club’s spending on the back of the signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, two players costing over $400million across two seasons.
Earlier this year the club won its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to have the investigation closed down, but its spending this summer indicates more financial responsibility, even if some may not agree with the way it has gone about it.
Selling youth academy players is never popular, but as well as trying to produce players who might be able to help the first team, many big clubs use their academies to make money. This improves the standard of coaching these players are getting, and often sets them up for successful careers, even if those are away from the club they grew up with.
PSG has merely capitalized on one use of its youth academy, as many top clubs do. You won’t see many local or club produced players in the first teams at Europe’s biggest clubs.
It’s not all doom and gloom for PSG’s academy players this season, though, and 17-year-old prospect Adil Aouchiche has already made his debut. So amid worries that the club isn’t looking to its youth academy, it still managed to break the record for the youngest player to start a league game.
As well as Aouchiche, Colin Dagba, who signed his first professional contract at PSG after coming through the academy at Boulogne on France’s north coast, has also featured this season, and big things are expected from the right-back.
While the incomings haven’t been the usual marquee signings, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and fans of the selling clubs have generally been disappointed that their player left, which is usually a good sign for the buyer.
Ask Manchester United fans about Ander Herrera. He was one of the players many didn’t want to lose as part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rebuild, especially not on a free transfer, as he was considered a leader and someone who ‘got’ the club. If anything this particular transfer was PSG taking advantage of another club’s poor planning rather than it being folly on their part.
The same could be said of Everton’s Idrissa Gana Gueye. Toffees fans weren’t best pleased to see the Senegalese leave Merseyside. He’s a battling midfield player who will break up opposition attacks, and during his time in the Premier League, at Aston Villa and Everton, has always been known for his defensive, spoiling qualities.
As far as midfielders are concerned, only Etienne Capoue and Wilfred Ndidi made more interceptions than Gueye’s 74 last season, while across the whole of the Premier League only Ndidi made more tackles than Gueye’s 142.
These two players have added grit and determination to a midfield which will have to cover for a lavish attack. When you add Marco Veratti and even Leandro Paredes to the mix, it looks very impressive.
Speaking of attack, PSG has plenty of it, and added a controversial figure to this section of its roster this summer — Mauro Icardi.
Icardi arrives from Inter, initially on loan, for a fee of $5.5million with an option to buy at the end of the season for $72million.
The Argentine striker is a talented player but comes with the reputation of being a troublemaker, albeit a reputation exaggerated by the media to the point that not much is said about how good he is at soccer.
He is an excellent finisher, and wound up top scorer in Serie A in two of the previous five seasons. Underneath all that baggage, there is a very good player, and in looking past the media coverage PSG has got itself a player who could eventually prove a bargain at $72million.
This isn’t quite a ‘moneyball’ signing, but in acquiring a player whose value is currently lower than his talent suggests, due to external, non-sporting issues, PSG has somehow managed to get a top level striker for what is potentially a mid-level price.
And if at the end of the season PSG doesn’t want Icardi, it simply lets his loan expire. If this isn’t a good signing, what is?
So far so shrewd. Oh, and PSG also added one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Keylor Navas, who at 32 years old is at his peak, for just $17million, which doesn’t even put him in the top 15 most expensive goalkeepers of all time.
To round it off PSG also signed 23-year-old Abdou Diallo from Borussia Dortmund — a French center-back who is also eligible for Senegal, and on the verge of an international cap for one of these nations. The left-footer could emerge as one of the best young center-backs around in the coming years.
Towering teenage Polish goalkeeper Marcin Bułka arrived on a free transfer from Chelsea, Sergio Rico came in on loan as Navas’ backup, teenage defender Mitchel Bakker was signed from Ajax for free, and last but not least, newly capped Spaniard Pablo Sarabia was bought from Sevilla for what seems like a bargain at $23million for a midfielder in his peak years.
On paper this has been a good transfer window for PSG, and the team is balanced with youth, experience, and different types of players for different roles, even if it is a touch top heavy. But as the French champions have learned in the past, good players don’t necessarily bring the success on the continent it craves, though it is far from the only team which can attest to this.
Predicting that a team won’t win the Champions League is a fairly safe bet. Even two-legged affairs can produce unpredictable results as PSG know full well having been knocked out in the round of 16 during the past three seasons, despite holding the cards going into the second leg on two occasions.
PSG now has work rate throughout the team to complement star quality. It definitely has the attack, and now has defensive workers in each area of the field, not just in the back line and between the posts.
And it has an enigmatic Brazilian who still has the potential to be the best player in the world — Neymar.
A lot will depend on the quality and improvement of head coach Thomas Tuchel. He will need to deal with these personalities, blending them on and off the pitch while also keeping players happy if they are not playing.
Rather than be another aimless splashing of cash, this transfer window felt more like one which fills the gaps, adds experience, and gives the team backbone and strength to go with its undoubted quality.