Ligue 1 Review | Bradley Barcola future uncertain with Luis Campos PSG project in flux

Marginalised and offered up for sale just a year on from a mammoth move, Hugo Ekitike’s PSG career has made little sense so far. New signing Bradley Barcola should be wary of a repeat, especially with sporting director Luis Campos’ position under threat. Paris’ possible self-inflicted regression could be closely linked to his own.

Ekitike, now 21 years old, was signed from Reims last summer despite a minimal CV and even less game time – equal to just over 15 Ligue 1 games. Those minutes produced 10 goals and four assists. An impressive haul but, with such a small sample size, it was difficult to differentiate what constituted a purple patch for an unknown quantity scoring off the bench and genuine quality.

Inexperienced and desperately needing game time to develop, Ekitike’s struggles as an intermittent option were hardly surprising. The fact that PSG looked to recoup the €30m they paid for the French striker (this off-season after a year’s loan) following just one season shows how little he impressed. However, the reasoning behind binning Ekitike after only 1,395 PSG minutes is difficult to fathom.

Do PSG really know Ekitike’s worth with (training aside) only a second tiny sample size in challenging conditions to assess him on? If Paris and Campos believed in Ekitike’s signing, it should have been a long-term investment with guaranteed game time and assessed over multiple years. Instead, PSG’s characteristic short-termism could ruin a talented player’s development – treatment usually reserved for their own academy graduates. This expansion to other club’s young talents is a worrying development.

As an exciting forward with little experience needing careful nurturing, Barcola’s arrival this week mirrors Ekitike’s. An energetic wide forward boasting some astute passing and precise execution at speed, Barcola edges Ekitike with nearly 22 games’ worth of Ligue 1 minutes (and arguably more talent) but, like Ekitike’s, his best form was condensed into an 11-game run last season which saw five league goals and nine assists in total. His previous 25 league outings, admittedly mostly as a sub, produced just three goal contributions.

Barcola, also 21, is undeniably gifted but needs room to breathe, make mistakes, and learn his craft in an environment that isn’t as pressurized as PSG’s and doesn’t demand elite-level performance and results in every game. Like Ekitike, Barcola will be on the fringes of PSG’s first team with Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé, Marco Asensio, Kang-In Lee, and probably Randal Kolo-Muani, who can play off the right too, all ahead of him. Midfielder Vitinha has been seen in wide areas under new coach Luis Enrique as well, while new striker Gonçalo Ramos will push Asensio and Mbappé into wider roles more often too.

When does Barcola expect to play? He managed a cameo in PSG’s 4-1 win over his old club Lyon, in which he was roundly booed throughout, but the minutes he needs to grow are very likely not to be available. Meanwhile, both his and Ekitike’s signings make sense for PSG. Their fees (Barcola cost €45m) can be amortized over long contracts that carry relatively low wages. For the club, it’s a fairly low-cost gamble with the potential for a significant return, sportingly and/or financially.

The player, however, has much more to lose. Ekitike is even further down Enrique’s list than Barcola having been unable to secure a move, and will likely further damage his development, perhaps irreparably, by sitting on the Paris bench for a second year. Both players should be concerned by reports that Paris are considering replacing Campos as the club’s ideological spearhead too.

Campos is responsible for a major shift in policy at the Parc des Princes, away from the largesse of Qatari ownership, referred to as ‘Bling-Bling’ by president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and towards a more holistic and substantive philosophy. Less agreeable elements like Neymar have been moved on while the likes of teenage academy graduate Warren Zaïre-Emery have been afforded prominence – a fact that should give Barcola, and even Ekitike, optimism.

With ‘Bling-Bling’ so ingrained, however, the revolution will be (and has been) slow. Although an odd fit for a bigger club like Paris, Campos’ common-sense approach has nevertheless been increasingly evident in 2023. To sack Campos is to reject that much-needed, if painful, change, and, in all likelihood, the development of the young players Campos has targeted too. Suggestions former PSG player Maxwell could take over are especially exasperating and hint at a complete regression to QSI’s original ideas.

In theory, Barcola has the talent to explode at PSG, but Ekitike’s journey is more than a cautionary tale. With his champion Campos under pressure, plus a host of established quality between him and the minutes he needs, Barcola’s dice roll of a transfer sees him enter a world that usually makes little sense for young players. But unlike his new employers, he has everything to lose.

Adam White | GFFN

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