Paris (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain have equalled the French record by winning their 10th league title, moving level with the mark established by the Saint-Etienne team of Michel Platini, but rarely has a such a historic achievement in football felt like such an anti-climax.
That is partly because the championship was effectively decided after PSG won their first eight games to sit nine points clear by the end of September.
It is also because domestic success no longer carries the same weight for the capital club, who did not sign Lionel Messi, or turn down 180 million euros ($195m) from Real Madrid for Kylian Mbappe in the final year of his contract, just to reclaim the Ligue 1 crown from Lille.
The Qatar-owned club only really have eyes for the Champions League, and their collapse in losing to Madrid in the last 16 has made it a long end to the season.
“Winning the Champions League is a fundamental objective for Paris Saint-Germain so it will always be a big disappointment if we don’t win it,” admitted coach Mauricio Pochettino this week.
The European exit has stoked anger among supporters, who greeted last weekend’s key win over bitter rivals Marseille with indifference.
The ‘ultras’, the club’s most vociferous fans, recently decided to stay silent to express unhappiness at what they perceive to be an underperforming side and at the club’s management.
Even before the Champions League exit, supporters held up banners to protest against the “overpaid mercenaries” in the team and to call for sporting director Leonardo to leave.
It is remarkable that there could be such an atmosphere at a club that has won an eighth league title in 10 years, having started the season by recruiting Messi.
Yet what is also remarkable is the hollow experience of attending a game at the Parc des Princes, with disaffected supporters in the stands and a team of brilliant players on the field who should thrill observers but struggle to do so.
– A future without Mbappe and Pochettino? –
Messi has been a shadow of the wonderful player he was in Barcelona.
A player who was expected to tear apart defences in the French league had offered a paltry three goals before Saturday’s game against Lens, an astonishing performance for someone who had scored between 25 and 50 league goals per season over the previous dozen years.
He has never looked entirely happy, while Neymar has again struggled with his fitness and other big-name signings like Sergio Ramos and Georginio Wijnaldum have flopped.
PSG’s revenue last year of 556 million euros made them the sixth-richest club in the world according to Deloitte’s Football Money League.
Their budget for this season is believed to be over 600 million euros and, according to estimates, that is roughly equivalent to a quarter of all Ligue 1 clubs’ budgets combined.
PSG therefore have little excuse not to win the domestic title and their focus is, naturally, on the Champions League.
Mbappe, though, has continued to be absolutely thrilling on all fronts and is on course to be Ligue 1’s leading scorer for a fourth straight season.
As his contract expires he is entitled to base his next move on where he thinks European success is most likely.
“The Champions League was a major aim for us, and we fell short,” he admitted after the defeat in Madrid.
They are impatiently awaiting his arrival at Real, but PSG still hope to change his mind, and the fact his mother and younger brother were in Doha this week suggested Mbappe could yet stay put.
“We would like him to stay for a long time, the club would be delighted. But it is up to the player, the club and the different parties involved,” Pochettino said on Friday.
The truth, though, is that PSG face another rebuilding job, regardless of where Mbappe’s future lies.
Pochettino is expected to leave despite having a year remaining on his deal, but they must get the best out of Messi and Neymar, two superstars who no longer represent the future.
Mbappe does, and in Doha, as Qatar prepares for its World Cup, they know that only too well.
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