Why would Kylian Mbappe stay at Champions League flops PSG? Nasser Al-Khelaifi's project is fundamentally flawed

Nasser Al-Khelaifi Kylian Mbappe PSG HIC 16:9
PSG have a suffered a fifth last-16 exit in seven years, proving that the president's obsession with superstars is simply not working

Is it time to rip up the Paris Saint-Germain masterplan and start again? Well, they're arguably already half way there – because the entire project is already in tatters after Wednesday's last-16 loss to Bayern Munich.

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This year, PSG's campaign ended with a whimper. There was no excuse for Nasser Al-Khelaifi to go looking for the referee. There had been no contentious call. There hadn't even been a characteristic capitulation.

PSG had simply been beaten by the better team – with an emphasis on the word 'team' – meaning another painful inquest is now inevitable. Because make no mistake about it, things were meant to be different this year.

Earlier this season, coach Christophe Galtier argued that PSG's new project shouldn't be judged solely by Champions League results. But how could it not be? It was Al-Khelaifi himself who told L'Equipe that they had to win the European Cup within four years – back in 2014.

By their own metric, then, the sporting project at the Parc des Princes cannot be viewed as anything but a humiliating failure.

  1. The dream World Cup final

    One could, of course, argue that the purchase of PSG has arguably been a bigger success than the club's Qatari owners could have expected, but only from a commercial and marketing perspective.

    Just last December, the eyes of the sporting world were fixed upon Lusail, as two PSG players played pivotal roles in the most dramatic World Cup final ever played.

    It would be tempting to say that you can't buy publicity like that. But you clearly can. Qatar did, and to great effect.

    However, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe couldn't combine to lead PSG to Champions League glory this season. For all of their individual excellence, they couldn't even get them into the quarter-finals.

    For the fourth time in six years since Mbappe joined PSG – in the same summer that the club broke the world record to sign Neymar – the French side have fallen in the last 16.

    And it's difficult to shake the feeling that things have been moving in the wrong direction since losing the 2020 final to Bayern, their conquerors again on Wednesday night.

  2. Piling up 'stars like a spoiled child'

    Piling up 'stars like a spoiled child'

    The hope was that Messi would prove the missing link, but even though he has been delivering on a consistent basis this season after a trying first year in France, the fundamental flaw in PSG's project has been exposed.

    As the Collectif UltrasParis pointed out in a scathing statement after last season's last-16 exit, "This is a club that piles up stars like a spoiled child, without concern for a coherent sporting plan.

    "This is a club that dreams so big that it feels like the season starts in February while it despises domestic trophies."

    The now-annual Champions League exit backlash is, thus, a mess all of PSG's own making, with the club creating such a disconnect with its supporters that many of them didn't even stick around to celebrate last season's Ligue 1 title success.

    Having faced calls from the ultras to resign less than a year ago, Al-Khelaifi made sweeping changes at the end of the season, firing Leonardo and Mauricio Pochettino as sporting director and head coach, respectively, while at the same time handing a colossal contract and an unprecedented level of power to Mbappe.

    “We want to create a new era of Paris Saint-Germain," he told CNN last May, "a new project."

    Unfortunately for Al-Khelaifi and his cohorts, this new project is yielding the same old results.

  3. Mbappe the foundation of the whole project

    Mbappe the foundation of the whole project

    PSG still have an imbalanced squad and a top-heavy team, so much so in fact that it has been argued, quite justifiably, that Neymar's recent injury was a blessing in disguise for Galtier, the latest coach to be entrusted with the unenviable task of trying to win the Champions League with a team containing three forwards either unwilling or incapable of pressing or tracking back.

    Is it any wonder, then, that PSG are so porous? It's hardly a coincidence that they've bowed out of the Champions League without having managed to keep a single clean sheet in this season's competition.

    Of course, Neymar's injury is likely to spell not only the end of his season, but also his six-year stint in Paris. Messi is still mulling over his future and as for Mbappe, well, he's the one thing now holding the PSG project together.

    If he decides he's had enough, that really will be it. Al-Khelaifi made Mbappe the "foundation" of the club's future, meaning if the forward leaves, the whole house of cards will come crashing down.

    Mbappe has insisted his future is not tied to Champions League success, but what other motivation does he have to stay at PSG?

    He's already become his hometown club's record goalscorer. The objective, as he's admitted himself, is to lead PSG to a first-ever European Cup. It would mean more to him than lifting the trophy elsewhere.

    But is it really possible under the current management, or at least while they continue to sign stars rather than players suited to a particular system?

  4. Synonymous with Champions League failure

    The ultras concluded last year that "Al-Khelaifi is not the man for the job" and their opinion is unlikely to have changed after his latest setback – precisely because so little has changed.

    The PSG supremo stated that his only objective ahead of the current campaign was for the team to be "stronger than last season". But they've not even cleared that low bar.

    PSG have fallen at the last-16 stage once again, and the most shocking aspect of their latest loss is that it's not in the least bit surprising.

    Such defeats are arguably expected at this stage, inevitable almost. This is a club that has become synonymous with not only superstars – but also Champions League failure.

    And unlike so many other clubs, it's not as if they can point to a lack of investment. Their underperformance is not about a lack of money, but rather how it's been spent.

    Say what you will about Manchester City and their own Champions League odyssey, but their owners have invested wisely and have been reaping the rewards of a holistic approach implemented more than 10 years ago.

    PSG, by contrast, still appear to be playing Fantasy Football when it comes to recruitment, trying to cram as many guaranteed goalscorers into their starting 11 as possible.

    The fans are clearly frustrated with the obsession with high-profile players, particularly as they ended up blocking the path from the academy to the first team, as underlined by the presence of Kingsley Coman in the Bayern starting line-up at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night.

    El Chadaille Bitshiabu and Warren Zaire-Emery did come off the PSG bench, but a cynic might argue that their presence owed as much to the holes created by the club's scatter-gun approach to squad-building as to the pair's prodigious talent.

  5. Nobody left for Al-Khelaifi to blame...
    Getty Images

    Nobody left for Al-Khelaifi to blame...

    After last year's loss to Real Madrid, Leonardo argued that there was no need for PSG to "throw everything in the trash and start again from scratch after every defeat", and that's a fair point.

    But why does the club expect to obtain different results when they keep doing the same thing over and over again? Their uneven approach to recruiting players and hiring coaches is clearly not working.

    Indeed, when it was pointed out to Unai Emery in an interview with L'Equipe that he was among three former PSG bosses (Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel) who had reached the quarter-finals of last season's Champions League, he replied, "That means they are all very good coaches. If they didn't make it with PSG, it's because there's something else..."

    Something wrong, essentially, something rotten at the very core of the club.

    Nine years after promising a Champions League triumph by 2018, Al-Khelaifi is still trying to get to the root of the problem.

    In his increasingly desperate search for solutions over the past five years, he's pinned the blame on coaches, sporting directors and even referees.

    After this latest European embarrassment, maybe it's time he looked a little closer to home...