Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) exit from the Champions League has become an annual tradition. PSG has one of the greatest footballers ever in Lionel Messi and the star of the rising generation in Kylian Mbappé. However, PSG has failed to establish itself amongst the European elite as football’s greatest club trophy continues to elude them.
3-2 defeat to Real Madrid. 3-3 defeat on away goals to Manchester United. 6-5 defeat to FC Barcelona. These are some of the results that knocked PSG out of recent Champions Leagues. PSG led in all these games entering the second leg but allowed their opponents to come back and win. Their poor collective mentality has prevented them from team success, despite immense individual talent.
PSG’s collapse has become a question of when rather than if. PSG broke down in the span of sixteen minutes against Real Madrid in 2022, giving up three goals when they were 2-0 up. This weak mentality allowed Barcelona in 2017 to pull off the greatest comeback in Champions League history, overcoming a 4-0 deficit to win 6-5. PSG tends to crumble rather than rise when they face difficulty in the Champions League. They lack the mentality all great teams possess to persevere and continue fighting.
Where does this weak mentality come from? The Champions League is only a small part of PSG’s season, with the majority of PSG’s games played in the French domestic league, Ligue 1. Ligue 1 is generally considered to be one of the weaker domestic leagues, with PSG winning the title eight times in the last ten years. PSG is extremely dominant in Ligue 1 because they have financial resources that no team in the league can match.
PSG is so far ahead of their competition in Ligue 1 that they typically don’t find themselves under substantial pressure. PSG isn’t accustomed to the intensity of the Champions League because they rarely play against equally talented clubs. However, PSG faces opponents in the Champions League from more competitive leagues like the Premier League or La Liga. Teams like Manchester United and FC Barcelona battle formidable opponents each weekend. This type of experience translates to the Champions League, where the elite plays the elite. Simply put, PSG isn’t challenged domestically and thus can’t handle the adversity when they finally face top-level foreign competition.
However, while Ligue 1 is generally weaker, the teams that play in the league are by no means poor. Ligue 1 teams like Olympique Lyon have gone to the semi-finals of the Champions League in recent years. Furthermore, Bayern Munich, who have arguably been even more dominant in the Bundesliga, have won the Champions League six times and consistently advance to the latter stages of the competition. Bayern and PSG are quite similar as they both play in domestic leagues that offer little competition due to the immense financial resources both clubs have. The difference between Bayern and PSG is the history. Bayern has a history in the Champions League dating back to the 1960s whereas PSG have only been regular participants in the Champions League since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club in 2011.
PSG has chased profit and popularity to the detriment of constructing a competitive Champions League squad.
When you put on a Bayern jersey, a Real Madrid jersey, or a Barcelona jersey, you feel the weight of the clubs and their history. The Champions League demands that you play for the club badge; the team you represent has real meaning and history that you have to respect. PSG has no such pedigree. They have advanced into the Champions League through artificial means with Qatar Sports Investments pumping money into the club. In this sense, many players join PSG because it is an attractive club financially. However, when they face difficulty in the Champions League, their mentality collapses because the players aren’t willing to put everything on the line for a club they joined due to money or notoriety.
As such, many players do not take the club seriously. PSG is notorious for its drama and players often opting to party rather than seriously train. Despite losing the first leg against Dortmund in 2020, the squad was pictured just two days later hosting a massive party. Reports in 2022 also revealed that players wanted to have a night out in Madrid after getting knocked out of the Champions League against Real Madrid. The club president, Nasser Al Khelaifi, needed to personally intervene to ensure the players returned to Paris. Partying after such important losses indicates a lack of concern about the overall success of the club, something that doesn’t occur with more storied organizations.
PSG has chased profit and popularity to the detriment of constructing a competitive Champions League squad. In recent years, the signing of players such as Lionel Messi, Gianluigi Donnarumma, and Achraf Hakimi were able to bring the club more fame because of the individual’s notoriety. However, by spending a majority of their funds to pay the enormous wages these players demand, PSG recruit average players in the rest of the squad. They possess a star-studded attack and defense, yet field an incredibly average midfield.
Ultimately, PSG needs to change the culture within their club.
This weakness was put on display when PSG was knocked out of the Champions League round of 16 by Bayern Munich in 2023. Instead of their trademark collapse, PSG was completely dismantled by Bayern Munich for the entire match. Over 180 minutes, the attack of Mbappé, Messi, and Neymar was unable to score a single goal. The main reason for this is because Bayern dominated PSG in the midfield battle, preventing PSG from ever getting the ball to its attackers.
A potential solution for PSG might be to focus on developing homegrown talent instead of relying solely on big-money overseas signings. Doing so would foster a more cohesive team culture which would help their players to develop the experience and resilience needed to succeed in Europe. Furthermore, homegrown talent will develop passion and the will to fight for their city. It is no surprise that Kylian Mbappé, one of the key players behind PSG’s league success, is a native Parisian.
The PSG academy is a talent producing machine that has developed notable players such as Christopher Nkunku, Kingsley Coman, and Moussa Diaby into world-class players. Yet, all of them were transferred to other European clubs. Ironically, it was Kinglsey Coman who scored the winning Champions League goals that both stopped PSG from winning their first Champions League in 2020 and knocked them out of the Champions League this year. If PSG had built a team with a foundation from their academy, it is likely that they would have come closer to winning the Champions League.
Ultimately, PSG needs to change the culture within their club. If PSG is to achieve their dream of becoming European champions, they will need to address these issues and develop a winning mentality that can carry them to victory against the elite in Europe. Until then, we can expect more premature departures from Europe’s top league.