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What Stands in the Way Between PSG and Total Success

PSG has loaded up its squad for a run at continental and global domination, but it’s one thing to play it out on paper and another to confront some issues in reality.

The Supreme Team has been assembled. Now comes the hard—and what should mostly be fun—part.

Not since Real Madrid’s binge in 2009 has a single summer transfer haul resulted in so many high-profile stars reshaping a global contender. Twelve years after Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Kaká and Raúl Albiol headlined a class that transformed the Spanish power, PSG has hit back with a legendary class of its own. Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum have taken what was already a fine collection of individual stars and supersized it, mostly through the help of a perfect storm of out-of-contract standouts and the cash in reserve to pay their outlandish wages. Only Hakimi's signing from Inter Milan required a transfer fee, and Messi’s sensational arrival after the abrupt end to over two decades with Barcelona put what was already a phenomenal class over the top.

If there’s an analogy of sorts in U.S. sports to make, it’s when Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors, an elite, all-world talent linking up with others at or near his level to form an inevitable championship side. There are some holes in that, surely, and it’s far from apples-to-apples, but the point is that when this is your daily winner in training, the rest of the league and sport as a whole will be looking on with awe at the collection of talent and most will be hopeless to stop it. 

That’s not to say that total success is, in fact, inevitable, though, and with the pomp and circumstance surrounding of all of the signings beginning to subside, there are some issues to wade through.

PSG is still about a week or so away from being at full strength, with Messi not making his debut in Friday's match vs. Brest (whose coach, shall we say, was aroused by the possibility of Messi coming to Ligue 1). Reports suggest that his first official appearance will come Aug. 29 at Reims. The luxury of having such an embarrassment of riches is that PSG can afford to rest and rotate its attacking stars and still likely not miss a beat as it goes through the majority of its Ligue 1 campaign, but building continuity and finding the right balance on the field will take time and require repetition.

Regardless, PSG is ramping up for what it hopes is a clean sweep of all trophies domestic, continental and global, and after the investment made in the club, that’s truly the only acceptable outcome. As for some of those issues that could derail that goal, or at least make it considerably more difficult to achieve, here are a few:

Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar at PSG training

How will Mbappé’s contract situation be resolved?

Everything seems like it’s in a state of euphoria and ecstasy at the Parc des Princes as of now, but there's some pretty important fine print on this season. It could be Kylian Mbappé’s last at the club. His contract runs out at the end of June, and he’s yet to sign a new deal, despite PSG executives and directors preaching calmness and certainty about the situation. They say that given PSG’s investment elsewhere, he should have no reason to want to leave, but that doesn’t mean that’s how he actually feels or what he actually wants. Manager Mauricio Pochettino didn’t exactly echo the same sentiment Thursday, keeping things at his prematch press conference this week positive but mostly confined to the present. The shimmer on this summer will look awfully different if Mbappé doesn’t carry on with the club.

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“Kylian is relaxed, he is our player and I don’t see him being anywhere else this season,” Pochettino said. “Kylian is preparing for tomorrow’s game. The only conversations I have with Kylian are about football. He has a year left on his contract, if he doesn’t renew it. We are happy with him, and from what I see he is happy with us too.”

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There have been no indications yet that Mbappé is going to sign anything anytime soon, and the longer he goes without a new deal, the more intense the speculation surrounding the club will be that he won’t sign one at all and has one eye elsewhere—most likely on Real Madrid. Would the pros of adding so many established stars be outweighed and tempered by the con of the 22-year-old Parisian and face of the France national team jumping ship (especially right before a World Cup in Qatar, which effectively runs PSG)? If nothing else, it would take the club’s long-term centerpiece out of the picture. Messi is 34, and his tenure in Paris is temporary, and Neymar, who is under contract until 2025, is approaching 30. If there’s one piece of business essential to guaranteeing PSG's future, it’s extending Mbappé for the long haul, but the future could wind up being sacrificed for a run at a more glamorous present.

Who takes the penalty kicks?

The one thing about a team with that much ego and star power on the field at the same time is that it could manifest itself in some awkward ways. One of those ways is on penalty kicks, should a moment arrive in a big game. If it’s a league game vs. a bottom-half table team, then, sure, play roulette, see who comes up as the winner and carry on. But when it’s a tense knockout affair in the Champions League, is it Messi’s ball? Does he defer to the more entrenched Neymar or Mbappé (the latter of whom sealed France’s Euro 2020 exit after having a PK saved)? The rapport they all seem to have would indicate that they can sort this without a problem, but it’s an instance where Pochettino’s man management skills may prove to be as valuable as his tactical ones.

And beyond the attacking stars, the best PK taker on the team might be its new center back. Ramos is as clinical as they come from the spot, at one point making 25 in a row for club and country before having a pair saved in a November 2020 match for Spain.

To have so many viable and capable options is a good thing, but it wasn’t that long ago that a penalty dispute between Neymar and Edinson Cavani threatened PSG’s tranquility.

What comes of Keylor Navas?

Navas has been here before. Winning multiple Champions League titles wasn’t enough to dissuade Real Madrid from going out and spending big on Thibaut Courtois, and while PSG hasn’t had the same level of European success as the Madrid teams Navas backstopped, that’s hardly the steady goalkeeper’s fault. Yet it’s a bit of déjà vu for the Costa Rican international after PSG brought in Donnarumma, Italy’s Euro 2020 hero, on a free transfer from AC Milan. Donnarumma isn’t in Paris to sit, and, as he showed in the Euros, the 22-year-old is very much a key figure in the present and future of the position. 

Navas is under contract until 2024, and if he doesn’t secure a late transfer elsewhere, he could wind up holding off Donnarumma for a little while or rotate in and out of the squad to keep both fresh. Regardless, though, it’s clear that PSG does not see a long-term future for the 34-year-old, who remains one of the world’s top shot-stoppers. Of all things to potentially derail PSG’s mission, sorting the goalkeeper battle will not be the fatal blow, but it is an area that still merits monitoring as the weeks progress.

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