Paris Saint-Germain’s Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi in 2013 stated the club’s objective was to win the UEFA Champions League competition “in the next five years”.
He stated this after the club’s defeat by Barcelona on away goals in the quarter-finals in 2013,
That five-year deadline expired with Tuesday’s limp defeat to holders Real Madrid in the last 16, leaving the French side as far away from being European champions as at any point since Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) bought the club in 2011.
For all their lavish spending, estimated at over $1.2 billion, PSG have still not made it past the quarter-finals of the competition this decade, and there have now been consecutive exits in the last 16, the 5-2 aggregate loss to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real coming after a spectacular collapse saw them crash out in Barcelona a year ago.
The strategy after that defeat was to commit to paying the two biggest transfer fees in football history last August to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for a combined 402 million euros ($499 million), an attempt to buy immediate success on the biggest stage.
It has not worked, with Neymar left watching Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at the Parc des Princes that sealed PSG’s fate from Brazil, where he is recovering from a foot operation.
“All that for that”, was the headline on the front of sports daily L’Equipe on Wednesday, a reference mainly to the bold transfer strategy.
“We believe in our players. We want to continue the project, with the two of them because they are the future of the club,” said Al-Khelaifi on Tuesday when asked if the club’s investment should be called into question.
Seven years after QSI’s arrival, PSG have still managed to beat just three teams in the Champions League knockout stage: Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea.
That is a damning statistic for a club with their means and ambitions.
“We will continue, as much as patience allows, to build a team which can win in the future,” said coach Unai Emery on Tuesday.
“When I came here I said I was sure this team can win the Champions League. But it’s a process.”
Soon to be out of contract, Emery will not be given another crack at the competition in Paris. The club will look for a new coach, and they will be tempted to go for a big name after the failure of the Emery experiment — the Spaniard won three Europa Leagues with Sevilla but has never won a Champions League knockout tie in six seasons of trying.
They also need to revamp their squad again, and replace the likes of Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta, Dani Alves and Angel Di Maria, all in their 30s.
The club insist they are not worried about falling foul of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, even if a premature European exit will mean a shortfall of millions of euros.
“We are relaxed about it. It is more of an issue outside the club than inside. It is March and we have until the end of June. There are no worries,” sporting director Antero Henrique told L’Equipe last weekend.
One thing that is unlikely to happen is Neymar leaving, despite ongoing speculation that the Brazilian has not settled in France.
Al-Khelaifi’s beIN Sports owns the exclusive international distribution rights for television coverage of the French league, and the network is currently in the process of negotiating new deals around the world. In that context, PSG selling a star such as Neymar this year is unthinkable.
But in the meantime another period of soul-searching will begin for PSG and their Qatari owners.
“Now is not the time to talk about change, everyone is upset. We want to calm down before working out what needs to be changed. We have time to think about that,” said Al-Khelaifi on Tuesday.
PSG still have three domestic trophies to go and win before the end of the season, but that seems instantly less appealing once the big prize of the Champions League is no longer up for grabs.
Ronaldo had scored twice — including his 100th goal for Real in the competition — as they won 3-1 in the first leg in Spain last month, and his header early in the second half at the Parc des Princes effectively ended the French club’s hopes of progressing.
Edinson Cavani equalised on the night for PSG, but only after they had Marco Verratti sent off, and Casemiro’s late goal secured an ultimately comprehensive 5-2 aggregate victory for Zinedine Zidane’s side.
PSG never looked like turning the tie around in the absence of the injured Neymar, and it was a horribly flat way for them to exit the competition.
As they limp out, Real’s dream of becoming the first team in more than 40 years to win three successive European Cups remains alive.
A year after their spectacular collapse against Barcelona in the last 16, when they were humiliated 6-1 away in the return after a stunning 4-0 win at home, PSG had hoped to produce a memorable comeback themselves this time.
Yet, shorn of the world’s most expensive player, who is back in Brazil recuperating from a foot operation, they struggled to create chances, and the night will be remembered just as much for the stupidity of a section of their supporters.
Flares were lit en masse on several occasions at one end of the ground, once even leading to a brief stoppage in play, and PSG will face punishment from UEFA as a result.
Without Neymar, this was Angel Di Maria’s big chance to shine after he was left on the bench for the entirety of the first leg, but nothing came off for the Argentine against his former side, his performance symbolic of a wider malaise in the home ranks.
They had only made Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas work once in the first half, from Kylian Mbappe’s shot in the 43rd minute.
In contrast, Alphonse Areola had kept the home side in the game with two fine saves to deny Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema before the interval.
That just delayed the inevitable. Having come close with a header moments earlier, Ronaldo broke the deadlock in the 51st minute, heading in a Lucas Vazquez cross for his third goal in the tie.
The goal had come from an error by Dani Alves initially, and it completely punctured PSG and the atmosphere.
The tie had escaped them before Verratti was sent off midway through the second half, picking up a second yellow card for dissent.
Substitute Javier Pastore’s header deflected into the net off Cavani in the 71st minute to level the scores on the night, but more poor defending allowed Real to make it 2-1 with 10 minutes left.
Unable to clear their lines in their own area, PSG saw Casemiro’s shot go in via a Marquinhos deflection.
With Marco Asensio and Isco both hitting the post in the second half for Real, the visitors more than deserved their win on the night, as well as in the tie.