It seems the Parc des Princes cannot stop producing bad eggs.

Earlier this month, highly-rated young defender Marquinhos became the latest in a string of Paris Saint-Germain youth prospects to complain about their playing time. In context, the act is hardly outrageous. Manager Laurent Blanc opted, in a low-priority cup game, to field fellow youth prospect Presnel Kimpembe in place of David Luiz or Thiago Silva. Instead of Marquinhos alongside him, however, the Paris boss preferred to give Thiago Motta and Benjamin Stambouli the role. The former A.S. Roma man would get a cameo towards the end of the game, in an oft-maligned defensive midfield position.

It is easy to blame Blanc for mismanagement. Le President is a notorious disciplinarian, a self-professed admirer of Sir Alex Ferguson. He takes a hardline stance against anyone attempting to undermine him, fining and excluding Rabiot for showing up late to a cup final and then embarassing him in a press conference regarding his comments about a potential loan move. Given that Marquinhos gave his troublesome interview on the same day as the cup tie against Wasquehal, it seems possible that Blanc could have done this as a disciplinary measure.

So why do snubbed young players sabotage themselves, if the manager’s retribution clearly comes swiftly?

A look at the search trends for recent PSG rabble-rousers Rabiot and Marquinhos clearly shows correlation with transfer season, first of all. Yet Marquinhos’ recent comments have propelled him high into the rankings in January. Likewise, Adrien Rabiot’s contract stalemate kicked off in August 2014, leaving many European teams—particularly London clubs Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal—eager to snap up the unsettled Frenchman. Another small jump came in winter 2015 as Rabiot’s loan comments sparked more doubts about his future in the French capital. The fans and media respond to these rumors even more eagerly when they are made public—although it may be difficult to see this in the context of PSG from a non-Francophone perspective. Looking across the channel, though, one finds similar trends in the cases of Saido Berahino and Raheem Sterling, both of whom have worked with notoriously loose-lipped agent Aidy Ward. Sterling’s numbers predictably rise as he takes on interviews stating his desire to leave Liverpool, and Berahino sees bigger numbers as he publicly feuds with his manager over not being allowed to leave for Spurs.

Simply put, Rabiot and Marquinhos see an issue—the former because of an unfortunate upbringing and the draconian influence of his mother Veronique, the latter because he could arguably be starting anywhere else—and they want to force the private, quiet Blanc to answer it. Media pressure can often force the former Bordeaux manager to divulge serious internal news. In Rabiot’s case, though, public opinion remains on the side of Le President. With Marquinhos, many are frustrated that the youngster has not been afforded more chances.

The opinions of the fans toward virtually the same disciplinary measure (theoretically, at least) are split depending on the player, even though the ideal has always been to bleed through more youth players. Complicating the situation further is the spectre of Kingsley Coman hanging over the club. The talented ex-Parisian now enjoys playtime and the occasional spotlight at Bayern Munich. He has recently turned biting criticism back on Paris,  particularly singling out Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The fans and owners alike want PSG legitimized in the European elite—nothing harms that as much as stories like Coman’s, and the repeated attempts to sweep Rabiot’s behavior under the rug points to an intense desire to not have a repeat situation. Yet there is no small degree of hypocrisy here—Paris must bleed through youth, but Paris cannot ever dare to lose.

Is it fair to say, then, that the ownership and the academy are irreconcilably at odds?

Well, not quite. It is fair to say that the history of the club before the takeover in 2011 (if not outright washed away in the style of much-maligned Red Bull takeovers) has hardly been pushed to the forefront. PSG suffered in the short-term for the incredibly rapid injection of money, and subsequent shuffling of personnel that it went through at the beginning of Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s reign as chairman. Of the squad in 2010-11, the last before Qatar, not a single first-team player remains registered for the first team this season. Beloved former captain Mamadou Sakho may have parted amicably, but that statistic is quite incredible. Of the youth products, only Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Alphonse Areola have managed to hold onto their place, and of course since Sakho, not a single youth player has regularly made the starting XI.

At least on paper, that points to a serious dearth of talent left standing in the Parisian academy —but the simple truth is that they have been replaced. The Camp Ooredoo (formerly Camp des Loges), PSG’s training facility, is sponsored wholly by Qatar in a deal worth around €10 million. Much of that money has been channeled back into the academy, with the ground slated to be moved out of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The new academy would cost upwards of €50 million and the long-term relocation could potentially reach a cost of €300 million. Virtually all of this comes from chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s pocket, and with good reason. The hastily-constructed side handed to Carlo Ancelotti in 2011 is now waning, its rejects far removed and its stars beginning to fade. Half a decade on from the Qatari takeover, the discarded prospects have only increased in number.

Per the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) in 2014, Paris is ranked fifth in Europe in number of academy-produced players that have made first-team appearances for a club across the continent’s top 5 leagues. In the top 3 are the typical academies – Barcelona in first with its famous La Masia, and Real Madrid and Manchester United not far behind. In fourth is Olympique Lyonnais, another French side, which serves as a useful foil for this discussion.

The French Ligue 1 has the highest ratio of home-grown first team players among the top 5 leagues in Europe. This statistic is supported by Lyon, with 15 of its 33 top-flight produced players still at the club and featuring as of 2014. Paris Saint-Germain, however, is tied for third-lowest in terms of youth products retained with 5—and that number will have only gone down with Zoumana Camara’s retirement and the departure of the ever-quiet Clement Chantome. Elevating them to fifth place in the rankings are a whopping 22 players abroad, most of them plying their trade at a fellow Ligue 1 side, just below the grade and forever consigned to being an asterisk on a commentator’s team sheet in case they score on the club that never gave them a chance.

In fairness, the club has redefined success. Of that there can be no question. The league title is virtually a given, and even though both domestic cups are little more than formalities, those trophies help ease the blow of a potential lost UEFA Champions League match.

Stambouli won the Ligue 1 with Montpellier in 2012—he is a perfectly serviceable French midfielder, and yet he looks behind the pace of the rest of the team when he starts. Since cleanly winning all 4 of France’s domestic trophies in 2015, “Ligue 1 tier” is a step below Les Parisiens. This impossibly high standard is what keeps Presnel Kimpembe, who played a fine 90 minutes of league football against AS Saint-Etienne, consistently out of the side.

” But I do not pay attention to anything that is said or written in the media. For now, I just work…I am aware of the expectations, and the challenge, I do not put myself under more pressure than that. I would rather take pride in training at this level.” – Augustin

Even the golden boy, 18-year-old Jean-Kevin Augustin, has had many admirers turn briefly against him after a poor showing against Wasquehal. The pressure is impossible for an emerging talent, even one with such a tried record of professionalism. Likewise even though he may frustrate fans, Rabiot is Marco Verratti’s favorite young player for a reason. He has the talent and mindset to maintain a genuine place in the squad, despite constant friction between himself and the club. All of this contributes to Nasser Al-Khelaifi’s intense desire to elevate the academy: the French standard is no longer the Parisian standard.

At the time of writing, Paris is top of the table with not a single defeat. They remain the last undefeated club in any of Europe’s top 5 flights. Rabiot and Augustin have survived their fellow academy graduates because they can cope with the immense pressure and scrutiny that comes with even a peripheral role in Paris. The Parc des Princes is notoriously unforgiving, and lacks the culture of youth development that the likes of Barcelona and Manchester United enjoy. They must constantly shake off disappointments, and tread carefully enough that they do not end up at fault for a loss that ends the invincible run.

The effect of this new definition of success has led to a most concerning trend—former prospects, rather than fizzling out or transferring to another club for a modest fee, seem to simply disappear. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck is perhaps emblematic of this, enjoying first-team action in 2010/2011 and then finding himself frozen out after the club’s takeover. He made the occasional cameo appearance last season before ceding his spot permanently to Ezequiel Lavezzi. Despite having been offered the mercy of a loan move to Saint-Etienne, he has fallen out of favor there as well, and manager Christophe Galtier has hinted that the young forward’s time is up.

Bahebeck’s falling stock mimics that of Hervin Ongenda, who went on loan to Bastia last season alongside Alphonse Areola as part of an agreement with then-manager Claude Makelele. As the former PSG player and coach was quickly thrown out, the two loanees set off on diverging paths which Jonathan Johnson details wonderfully. Now consigned to a bench role much like Bahebeck’s last season, Ongenda—still under contract until 2017 – risks fading from the football world just a few years after being considered one of French football’s top prospects. Even as recently as 2013, French Football Weekly‘s comprehensive youth ranking Le 50 put Bahebeck on their list, alongside one Neeskens Kebano—now plying his trade in Belgium. All three of these players have seen their market values spiral downward, and where clubs such as Barcelona earn the occasional payday from products such as Gerard Deulofeu (now at Everton), PSG—decidedly not a club that sells—lets its players languish.

Perhaps these young men are left to fade because their roots are in the old academy. While Augustin and Kimpembe were both in the academy before 2011, many of the other current U19 stars were brought in by Qatar-funded scouts.

Alec Georgen and Lorenzo Callegari have recently signed their first professional contracts

Alec Georgen, Odsonne Edouard, Lorenzo Callegari, all of whom have been touted as stars of the future, joined the club precisely in 2011. Edouard in particular made highlights by propelling France to victory in the U-17 European Championship last summer. The additions to the academy are not exclusively French, either; Kais Ruiz, at 12 years old, was one of many talented La Masia prospects affected by FC Barcelona’s youth ban, and one of many quiet additions to PSG’s academy. The revolution in the Camp Ooredoo may be an external one, in fact, with the Catalan club as the model. Carles Romagosa, a former La Masia coach and director, was hired in September 2015 as a new head of youth development. Principles from top European academies have been bled into the French capital, beginning with mass recruitment and now with a direct injection of Johan Cruyff-esque philosophy.

This attitude has even brushed onto the first team. While a good bit of chaff came with the golden wheat of the pre-Financial Fair Play signings in 2011-2013, most of that has been dealt with, and Blanc’s squad is solid and talented. PSG’s transfer strategy now turns towards thoughts of cultivating the next crop of youth stars. Most fans of the team will have not heard of Brazilian anchor-man Gustavo Hebling, much less that he signed for PSG in August of 2015. He’s now reportedly on loan to PEC Zwolle for 2 years. While some will point to his agent, Mino Raiola (also managing Ibrahimovic, Blaise Matuidi, and Gregory van der Wiel) as the deal’s orchestrator, the efforts to find younger first-team players are clearly extant. Serge Aurier and Layvin Kurzawa, both officially signed last summer, are 23; recent transfer rumors point as much to Rolando Mandragora (now at Juventus) as Antoine Griezmann.

And yet, for all this eye to the future, one must ask just what the club expects to gain from all of this. Why does the sudden pursuit of young talent not seem so clearly contradictory to Paris’ short-term goal? Blanc has exactly one mission—the league is his to lose, the domestic cups are low-priority. Success in these matters has already been bought. Save for the occasional thought of an undefeated league season, Blanc’s future hinges on bringing the Champions League trophy to Paris for the first time.

So how does one reconcile a budding youth policy with the signing of Angel Di Maria? That’s not to say that the former Real Madrid man has been a mistake—in fact he’s been sensational, easily one of the best players to wear the rouge-et-bleu in recent years. Not only does he mark in the double digits in goals and assists, but he’s performed exactly as asked in continental competitions. In terms of shaping this team into a more adaptive, competitive unit, Di Maria has become the first name on the team sheet. He has proved to be worth every penny of his considerable transfer fee.

The success of this landmark signing is what makes it so contradictory to the direction Paris seems to want to head in. “Big name signing” has become a buzzword as Ibrahimovic nears the end of his contract, with the rumor mill still swirling about whether he will depart. The idea is that Le Parisiens need to account for a certain nebulous “star factor,” as they did in their early ascent, bringing in Javier Pastore, Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, and Edinson Cavani in succession. While this trend was foregone somewhat by European financial restrictions, recent reports predict a continuation of last summer’s Financial Fair Play rulings which eased restrictions on PSG’s transfer budget. Should this come to pass, Nasser Al-Khelaifi would be able to free up a potential transfer budget of around €300 million. That would almost certainly go towards another expensive star, such as Griezmann, Neymar, Eden Hazard, or even the waning Cristiano Ronaldo.

The best-case scenario in PSG’s eyes is that these landmark signings kill the elephant in the room. If expensive transfers pave the way for a Champions League trophy to bring home this season or next, one cannot imagine any complaints. The current staff have learned from the wanton mismanagement of Coman—the current batch of youth are, if underplayed, at least competently dealt with. Once the next generation of academy players begin to bleed through (and older members of the squad such as Ibrahimovic and Cavani give way), if Paris frees itself of the immense pressure to conquer Europe, the spotlight will inevitably retract. One or two seasons of consolidation and some younger acquisitions would cleanly usher in a new, more stable, era.

In stark contrast, five or six more seasons of incessantly chasing a European cup would be devastating. As Cavani’s case shows, a massive fee clouds any manager’s ability to properly use his squad. It hardly took two years for Blanc to see the Uruguayan didn’t exactly fit in Paris—it’s only now, when the player has been sufficiently removed from his transfer fee, that Blanc can freely drop the ex-Napoli man. If current Manchester United flop Memphis Depay had chosen PSG instead, there is no doubt that he would have been afforded much more time in the side—no matter how disappointing—than he actually warranted. This conflict of interest is exactly what Coman refers to when he complains about his former club; multiply that by several increasingly anxious seasons of throwing money at a Champions League, and one can see history repeating itself. Rabiot, Augustin, Marquinhos, even the recently resurgent Lucas Moura would all have every right to leave if they were forced to give up a position in the squad to an expensive newcomer.

At the heart of this potential future divergence is the need to legitimize Paris Saint-Germain as an entity. The club has followed to a tee the trends of Manchester City and Chelsea F.C. before it: a massive injection of cash by a billionaire foreign owner, several years of revolving-door transfers followed by consolidation and stability. Chelsea, taken over in 2003, won the Champions League for the first time in 2012, whereas Manchester City have yet to win it. Both, however, have had much domestic success in a league much more competitive and lucrative than the French top flight. In this way, Paris is a complete outlier; with no one even close to challenging them in France, their success as a project is completely judged in Europe. Until Les Parisiens join the many storied clubs to lift the cup, they are considered simply another batch of pretenders. The future of the club beyond a Champions League trophy, after having virtually existed for several years for the explicit purpose of gaining one, is almost nebulous.

However, the decision to invest so heavily in the academy acknowledges that there is another path to legitimacy, and one that is not so blunt. PSG’s youth investments are crucial to dispel the plastic-club reputation, and to refute the popular image that a rich club is a wasteful, free-spending one; in truth, financial sanctions against Paris were so short-lived simply because the club is undeniably well-run. Most of all they are being built up to lay a path beyond the inevitable European victory.

The current crop of Parisian youngsters are genuinely a talented and exciting group. Adrien Rabiot is special, umbilical cord notwithstanding, and learning from an equally special midfield. But he’s not alone—in addition to the post-2011 acquisitions, Areola, Christopher Nkunku, Kimpembe, even the potentially revivable Bahebeck and Ongenda, they all have proven qualities. It falls on the club’s shoulders, after such massive investment, to model itself on the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich—super-clubs, yes, but self-sufficient ones with storied academies and a culture friendly to youth development; teams that would not be as relevant as they are today, not nearly, if they did not have the potential to produce the next golden generation.

The club from the French capital is one of the youngest in Europe, and its history waits to be written. With the new academy, Paris will have every opportunity to break the mold of other taken-over clubs. The club must seize its chance to redefine success: to make the choice between short-term glory and a legacy as part of the global elite.

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