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April 23, 2019

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Mbappe shines but PSG falls short

After being the star of France’s 2018 World Cup triumph, Kylian Mbappe has been the standout player for Paris Saint-Germain in a Ligue 1 title-winning campaign that has been slightly marred by the manner in which it limped over the line.

PSG finally wrapped up the title on Sunday after second-placed Lille failed to beat Toulouse, having not won any of its previous three games when the opportunity to confirm a sixth French crown in seven seasons was there.

The Qatari-owned club can still make it a domestic double, with the French Cup final to come against Rennes next weekend, yet this will not be remembered as a vintage year.

While Neymar once again went missing due to injury at the crucial point, Edinson Cavani has struggled with fitness too, and coach Thomas Tuchel has regularly lashed out at the lack of depth in his squad.

The 1-5 capitulation at Lille a week ago was the worst league result for PSG since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011, and the first time it had let in five in a league game since 2000.

A record-breaking 14-match winning run with which the team started the season now seems like a long time ago, the latest UEFA Champions League failure clouding Tuchel’s first campaign in charge.

Mbappe, at least, has been a constant, revelling in his status as a World Cup winner. He only turned 20 in December, but has now won three Ligue 1 titles in a row. He has 36 goals in 40 games this season.

To be fair, PSG has usually been exceptional domestically. However, the problem is that as long as it keeps failing in the UCL, domestic success for a club backed by a Gulf state will continue to ring hollow.

The title has effectively been in the bag for some time, but PSG’s season has been winding down ever since its exit against Manchester United in the last 16.

That, combined with being knocked out in the League Cup quarterfinals, means Tuchel in his first season has actually done worse than Unai Emery, his unloved predecessor, who is now in charge of Arsenal in the English Premier League.

However, according to sports daily L’Equipe, Tuchel has agreed to extend his contract to 2021. Thoughts have already turned to the future, with new signings needed at the Parc des Princes.

The costly Neymar experiment cannot be said to have succeeded until he stays fit for the games that matter, and there will always be speculation about his future.

Mbappe is the one man PSG really cannot afford to lose, but is it time for a clear-out elsewhere? Some of the excitement of the early part of the decade has gone, replaced with a staleness. The days of Thiago Silva, Cavani and Marco Verratti are maybe ending.

Youri Djorkaeff, a World Cup winner for France and a PSG star in the 1990s, offers a frank assessment, suggesting real change is needed higher up.

“If you’re not great in every compartment, from the bus driver to the girls who clean the shirts, you will go nowhere,” he told a Ligue 1 Podcast,.

The Qatar project needs a breath of fresh air, and all eyes will be on president Nasser al-Khelaifi and sporting director Antero Henrique.

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules remain a problem, though, with PSG said to have a hole of around 100 million euros (US$112.5 million) and the need to present a balanced budget by the end of June. The next few months will be interesting.




 

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