There are times when it can feel as though the latter stages of the Champions League are a little like a game of pass the parcel. If you’re involved often enough then, in seasons when there is no obvious great side, the music will stop on you eventually. At least a couple of Real Madrid’s recent successes, and Chelsea’s in 2012, fall into that category, and it may be happening for Paris Saint-Germain this season.
Perhaps that’s unfair. PSG at the moment is a very hard side to read, with its resilience in Champions League games entirely out of keeping with some very patchy domestic performances (paradoxically, of course, facing a greater challenge at home may be case-hardening PSG for the challenge abroad). If there are a couple more years of consistent Champions League success, it may be that these last nine months come to be seen as the gestation of PSG’s golden age.
What does seem sure now is that Neymar will be part of that immediate future. His contract expires in June 2022, but the expectation is that he will agree to a new deal.
“I don’t think this is even a topic anymore; I obviously feel very comfortable, at home at PSG,” he told Brazil's TNT Sports after PSG had edged out Bayern on away goals in the Champions League quarterfinals on Tuesday.
PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi was similarly optimistic that agreements for extensions would be reached with both Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, whose contract is up at the same time. He said there was “no reason to leave” for either player and specified, “I think that next year Neymar will be at PSG and he will stay here for a long time.”
That is certainly not how things appeared a couple of years ago when Neymar was openly unhappy at PSG and angling for a move. Circumstances, though, have conspired to make staying on the only realistic course of action. He was signed for a €222 million fee in 2017 as a statement: PSG wanted to break the world transfer record and must have known the inflationary impact that price would have on the market—something that played into the hands of clubs not solely dependent on traditional revenue sources.
The question now is whether that mark will ever be breached in the future. COVID-19 has forced a reassessment of finances and has highlighted those who were living beyond their means. Barcelona, with debts of almost $1.5 billion, is not likely to be in a position to take Neymar back to Spain anytime soon. Political changes, meanwhile, have effectively removed China as a potential destination as clubs are discouraged from excessive spending. Essentially, a 29-year-old has few options left; Neymar is unlikely to find a better deal than the one he is already on in Paris.
It may be different for Mbappé, who is 22 and could potentially be one of the leading two or three players in the world over the next decade. Whatever Al-Khelaifi says, there is still a ways to go before a new deal is agreed for him, with Real Madrid reportedly interested and Harry Kane, who is increasingly frustrated with Tottenham’s stagnation, mooted as a possible replacement.
That’s if Mbappé wants to leave a situation that appears fluid. The talk was that he felt he had outgrown French football, but as the map of the game’s power is redrawn postpandemic, it’s by no means obvious that a transfer to Spain, at least in the short-term, would be a step up, particularly not if Mauricio Pochettino is beginning to cultivate a serious European power in Paris.
Certainly, reaching the Champions League final last season and the semifinal (so far) are greater achievements than anything a club noted for choking at key moments has achieved before. Assessing quite how good those performances have been is not easy, though. Under Thomas Tuchel last season, PSG squeaked through its quarterfinal against Atalanta, and although it beat RB Leipzig comfortably enough in the semis, the 1–0 scoreline in the final did not represent the gap between PSG and Bayern at the time.
This season, though, the victory over Barcelona was emphatic while the tie against Bayern was a classic. That it could have gone either way in a sense magnified PSG’s achievement, as that is precisely the sort of matchup it would have lost in the past. Pochettino has made a habit of coming through tight ties. If that is the result of a resilience he has managed to instill, then the future in Paris could be very bright indeed.
Mbappé was brilliant in the first leg against Barcelona; Neymar excelled in the second leg against Bayern. It may be that they feel the tide is rising and that that could elevate them. In the history of PSG, this feels like a vital couple of months.
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