Messi leaving and another new manager hire to come: PSG’s latest summer of change

Football

Where do we start? We’re approaching another summer and another crucial set of choices for Paris Saint-Germain to make. We’ve been here before of course — it happens after pretty much every bad season and the 2022-23 campaign is no exception, a tough ride both on and off the pitch.

The Champions League escaped the club again, ill discipline burdened the squad again and despite being on the verge of a French record 11th straight Ligue 1 title, PSG have to change. Not only do they need to evolve, but they need to be aiming in the right decision … for once.

So how can the owners fix the mess? Let’s start with the most important thing.

What the fans want more than anything else is to see a proper PSG team next season. Not just 11 individuals on the pitch trying to find each other or improvise: instead, a proper team with patterns of play, a style of football, new ideas and unpredictable movement, with passing triangles, intelligence and structure. None of that has pretty much existed in the last few years, or certainly not consistently enough.

Under Christophe Galtier or Mauricio Pochettino, PSG’s two most recent managers, players would complain about them not putting in enough work on team tactics. Having great stars like Lionel Messi, Neymar or Kylian Mbappe is only one element of a successful team; it doesn’t mean that your team should then just give them the ball and let them figure it out by themselves.

When PSG play with a three-man defense, it’s often a struggle for them to find the wing backs in space and as a result, they rarely switch play to throw opposing defenses off. The nine (!) defeats suffered in 26 games in all competitions in 2023 — one loss every three matches — were down to the team lacking tactics (Lyon, Monaco, Lyon), being unable to press properly (Bayern Munich, Rennes) or beat the opposition press (Marseille, Lens, Rennes, Bayern Munich again). That has to change: PSG should be able to press and also have the answer against an aggressive team, while possessing a clear idea on how to move the ball properly.

To become a proper team, this squad will need the right manager, and the two are strongly linked. After years of the wrong coaching appointments, PSG have to pick well this time.

Galtier (since July 2022) was never good enough, and the former Lille and Saint-Etienne manager will be sacked this summer with a year left on his contract. Mauricio Pochettino (January 2021 to July 2022) had to compromise himself too much to succeed properly. The rot goes back further: Thomas Tuchel (August 2018 to December 2020) paid for his toxic relationship with former sporting director Leonardo and was removed under the pretense of another restructuring. Unai Emery (August 2016 to May 2018) was always the wrong pick. Laurent Blanc (Aug 2013 to May 2016) was never tough enough.

This time, whoever comes in to occupy the bench has to be the right fit — someone with a real identity and philosophy, but also the right degree of adaptability to an evolving team. They also need a strong personality to cope with the spotlight in Paris: the pressure to perform, the expectations of the fans and the club’s Qatari owners, not to mention the politics within the club.

This manager might not exist on the market this summer, but the chosen candidate will have to be as close as possible from the profile above. So whether Nasser al Khelaifi and the big deciders like Thiago Motta, Luis Enrique, José Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Luciano Spalletti, Zinedine Zidane or Julian Nagelsmann doesn’t matter so much. Among these guys, the best one has to be chosen.

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Finally, the players have to fit what the new manager will want. Luis Campos, PSG’s sporting director, and the club’s owner must first appoint the man in charge and then deliver the players he’ll need. But overall, we know what the club wants to do this summer.

It’s already clear that PSG will stop going down the road of just signing superstars. This summer, Lionel Messi will leave after two seasons that fell short of expectations; his time in Paris worked to a certain extent, of course, with a lot of domestic trophies won on the pitch and developing the PSG brand around the world off it, but this is not how you win the Champions League.

Sources told ESPN that most of the transfer targets this summer will be younger players, mostly French and, ideally if possible, from Paris. The likes of midfielders Manu Koné (Borussia Monchengladbach) and Kephren Thuram (Nice), forwards Randall Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt), Moussa Diaby (Bayer Leverkusen), playmaker Rayan Cherki (Lyon) or defender Evan N’Dicka (Frankfurt) are all on the list. There are exceptions, of course, like Bernardo Silva (Manchester City), who is keen to join, and Victor Osimhen (Napoli) or Harry Kane (Tottenham), who will be more of a challenge considering the amount of interest in both.

Zaire-Emery, Bitshiabu are at the core of PSG’s next generation

In terms of exits, Messi is going to leave and the club wants Neymar to follow him, which makes this a huge summer for Campos. So far, probably because he is really close to Mbappe, the sporting director has been quite exempt from criticism. He will have to buy well and sell well (and a lot) once the window opens; otherwise, the second part of the rebuild, in January, will be done without him.

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