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FEATURE | Why an underwhelming summer transfer window might do PSG & Thomas Tuchel some good

Never had PSG given more 1st team playing time to its youth academy prospects since the Qatari takeover than in the early going of this season. The 8 players (Adli, Aréola, Kimpembé, Nkunku, Nsoki, Rabiot, Rimane and Weah) have enjoyed spells on the pitch to different degrees: one of them is a confirmed starter at the club and has been for years (Rabiot), some managed their breakthrough seasons in the previous campaign (Aréola and Kimpembé – the former made the goalkeeping jersey his own while the latter played more games than in the previous season) while the others are making their first cameo appearances (apart from Nkunku). That wasn’t the plan was it?

The plan was to buy megastars from all over the world, doubling their wage earned at their previous employers and let them win the Champions’ League without breaking a sweat. Pretty much the approach that they took with Neymar. Problem being that the Brazilian played barely more than half the league games (20) and you felt he was in no rush to play for his club again as he was preparing for the World Cup of his life (in which he failed to deliver). So what do PSG do?

They are forced to play roughly the same team than the previous season but knew that they need to sell a couple of them if they want to get in line with FFP regulations. Giving youth its chance is also a way for the Qataris to beg for recognition that they can also be footballing nice guys who don’t just put superstar players out on the field, but also local lads. (The Mbappé signing also went this way as he should have been picked upon by PSG scouts had they done their job properly.)

Off the pitch, the managerial position was quite fragile a year ago and only got worse in 2017/18. The lack of the French football public’s tactical understanding was the last straw in Unai Emery’s shorter than expected PSG stint.

Just 2 seasons and one of the most gifted managers in the world got the boot for Thomas Tuchel, an up-and-coming manager who did well in his previous jobs at Mainz and Dortmund. The local response was more “well we need someone, might as well be him!” rather than “now he’s the guy who’s going to win us the Champions’ League! Oui, oui, oui!!!”

Just like Emery, Tuchel bought from his home country. Thilo Kehrer is a highly-regarded German defender, Juan Bernat was the lucky guy to put pen to paper after PSG tried to sign every single left-back in Europe and Eric Choupo-Moting was taken from the footballers-on-the-dole list as Cavani’s understudy.

Off went Ben Arfa, Berchiche (the point of this signing being…), Guedes and Pastore. Motta retired while Lo Celso and Trapp were loaned for the season.

To be fair to Tuchel, his signings may appear as uninspiring as his appointment did, but he has strengthened the squad and rid of deadwood (sorry, Javier). PSG hadn’t purchased a centre-back since the summer of 2015 (David Luiz) while neither Layvin Kurzawa nor Yuri Berchiche was able to make the left-back spot their own last season after Maxwell’s retirement.

Choupo-Moting may seem a ridiculous signing, many pundits are citing cosy agent relationships as the reason for the deal, but there are very few good players who want to be a centre-forward’s understudy week-in week-out. Tuchel will have to manage the Cameroon international carefully though as there is the danger that he is thrown in at the deep end if and when Cavani will get injured (especially if the occasion is a Champions’ League KO tie).

PSG also made their yearly shirt-selling marketing coup in Gianluigi Buffon. Possibly a more important dressing room character than people give him credit for.

The ambition of the club is still very much the same: win the Champions’ League. The league is almost already a given (Bruno Génésio is getting bullied in the streets of Lyon while Monaco are losing to the likes of Bordeaux) while the domestic cups will be a formality as usual.

This time though maybe the public isn’t regarding PSG as the big contenders they usually are due to selling superstars and buying sensibly. Maybe, just maybe, Tuchel will be able to get on with the job quietly and go further than the quarter-finals if the draw is kind to him (it certainly wasn’t to Emery last season).

PSG remind me of England in the past World Cup: fans have been so hopeful of the squad gelling nicely and all pulling in the same direction on the big stage so many times but have turned out disappointed when they got knocked out early by an inferior side on paper that expectations are at an all-time low. Tuchel must bank on this to try to go further than his predecessors. This column wishes him viel glück!

P.B.

 

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