'Goodbye, Lionel Messi. Thanks for the memories. You too, Kylian Mbappe. It's been a pleasure underwhelming with you - even if it wasn't always your fault. And the less said about you, Neymar, the better...'
Paris Saint-Germain may well end the transfer window having moved on from all three of their superstar forwards, a trifecta that really should have won them a lot of trophies, but failed to do so. They have also shed some other dead weight from their squad, as Luis Enrique becomes the latest manager to take up the poisoned chalice that is the PSG job.
Things, though, might be about to change. The former Barcelona and Spain boss has a project to work with. Instead of having three either narcissistic or reluctant superstars, he might not have any. Instead PSG are putting together a young, hungry team that may not draw the same levels of attention, but could grow into a more successful unit than their predecessors.
It isn't all that simple, though. PSG are probably somewhere in between a revamp and a rebuild (there's a difference between the two), meaning their may be teething problems early on. The majority of the new faces will be relied upon to make some sort of impact immediately, but also, the club hope, get better as the months roll on.
For once, however, there's some freedom here, with an undoubtedly talented manager to pull it all together. For the first time in years, everything could click at Parc des Princes.
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Well, PSG should win Ligue 1 every year, and they probably will again in 2023-24. The teams around them appear to have gotten worse, while a new manager should give the Parisians a vital boost. With one trophy near guaranteed, the focus turns to Europe.
The reality is, PSG are, on paper, far less equipped to win the Champions League than in year's past. Even the notoriously unbalanced sides that have crashed out of the competition in previous years had enough attacking quality to make something happen — theoretically, at least. This is a side with far less star power, especially if Mbappe and Neymar leave.
Realistically, they should make it through the group stages, and perhaps the first knockout round However, it's difficult to see them making it past the quarter-final, especially with the quality opponents they will have to face.
Elsewhere, there's room for development. Luis Enrique will hope that teenager Warren Zaire-Emery can become a top-class midfielder, while some of last year's disappointments find their feet in the French capital.
It's difficult to identify what, exactly, success looks like in Paris. One trophy is expected, while the Coupe de France feels like a throw in. A domestic double would certainly be nothing to complain about, but the Champions League is always the barometer of success. A semi-final run, with enough promising performances to suggest there's more to come, would possibly flatter the Parisians a bit — but could be within reach.
More broadly, there are also some bridges to build here. PSG's notoriously vocal ultras haven't been above voicing their displeasure with the side in recent months, cultivating a toxic environment around the club. This is not something that can be amended by one Champions League run, or a series of good performances in the league. But if PSG play some good stuff, and perhaps slightly overperform, it would go a long way to getting the positive buzz back around the side.
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Getting things right for PSG is very difficult, but it can be very easy for everything to go wrong. Ligue 1 isn't as easy as some on the internet suggest, but PSG have more money and better players than the rest of their competition. That is usually enough to win over a now-34 game season. Anything else would be a disaster.
And there is a world in which this happens. PSG's defensive issues from last year could continue, while the loss of Mbappe — and subsequent failure to find some more goals in the XI — might set the Parisians on a worrying course. A group-stage exit from the Champions League would also be disastrous, but PSG are in Pot 1, and should avoid any catastrophically difficult draws.
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If we're to presume that Mbappe and Neymar don't survive at the club until the end of the transfer window, then the main men within the squad are likely to be Marquinhos, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Achraf Hakimi, and it is the right-back who may have the biggest role to play.
One of, if not the best player in his position in world football, Hakimi has been a consistent performer amid the chaos during his two seasons at Parc des Princes, and can provide an attacking thrust from a defensive position that few teams can match.
He must cut out the disciplinary problems that overshadowed the final weeks of last season, but presuming he does, then Hakimi could very quickly become the biggest superstar in Paris.
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PSG remain busy in the transfer market, especially with it still not known exactly who will be sold between now and September 1, and so their key signing of the summer may not have walked through the door quite yet.
Ousmane Dembele, for example, is likely to be added to the squad shortly. The Barcelona winger has a low release clause, and, on his day, is one of the best wide men in Europe. However, there are some concerns. He, like Neymar, has a worrisome injury record, while he also isn't the goalscorer the Parisians need.
Goncalo Ramos, however, could be. The Portugal centre-forward, signed from Benfica this week, certainly has the goalscoring pedigree to suggest he could bang them in for the Parisians. If he can grab at least 15 in Ligue 1 this year, and perhaps a handful in the Champions League, he will have been well worth the €80m (£68m/$88m) price tag.
Still, the safe pick is Milan Skriniar. The Parisians have needed reinforcements at centre-back for a while now, and the former Inter man has shown that he can be top-class on his day. PSG were poor defensively towards the end of last season, and badly needed a new signing to come in a shore things up at the back. Skriniar profiles as that man.
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Wonderkid to watch
The Parisians started to work in perhaps their most promising youngster last season, without truly giving him the chance to shine. Warren Zaire-Emery is, however, far from an unknown quantity. He made over 20 appearances in 2022-23, and was handed a start against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Still, he was badly misused by former boss Christophe Galtier, chucked in awkwardly at right-wing-back to cover for the first suspended, then injured, Hakimi. This year, though, it appears the teenager might just get a chance at his natural role in central midfield. Zaire-Emery has been a regular fixture in that position throughout PSG's pre-season, and appears to be in contention for regular minutes in the area.
He could be key for a side suddenly short on midfield options. Marco Verratti is flirting with a move to the Saudi Pro League, while new signing Manuel Ugarte may well take some time to bed in. That leaves Fabian Ruiz, Renato Sanches (who could yet leave), Zaire-Emery and Vitinha to fight for two — or maybe three — midfield spots. Zaire-Emery has certainly done enough to warrant a look.
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Feeling the pressure
The man who might be facing the most scrutiny among the PSG squad this season is Gianluigi Donnarumma. The goalkeeper didn't convince last year, making numerous blunders and failing to impress with his distribution.
This has, in fact, been a two-year trend. Donnarumma was one of the standout performers at Euro 2020, but hasn't been the same since. His errors cost PSG in the Champions League against Real Madrid in 2022, while he was prone to various mishaps throughout last season. That was a problem for a team that already had Keylor Navas on its books. PSG eventually sent the Cosa Rican out on loan to Nottingham Forest, but there were times when it looked like the Parisians could have done with him staying.
The good news is Donnarumma gets a fresh start under Luis Enrique, though there might be some natural growing pains here, notably in possession. The manager likes his teams to keep the ball, and won't want his goalkeeper to knock it long much. If the Italian can adjust, all should be well.
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Calling the shots
Another season, a new manager in Paris. Luis Enrique has assumed the job from Galtier, whose PSG reign ended in misery and relative embarrassment following an unsuccessful season.
He hasn't been handed an easy job here. PSG have lost Messi, Sergio Ramos and potentially all three of Mbappe, Neymar and Verratti. They won't have Presnel Kimpembe, who is recovering from a torn Achilles, for most of the season. And while their work in the transfer market has been shrewd, he could still do with some reinforcements in the coming weeks.
For Luis Enrique, the priority should be stability. Everything was a mess towards the end of last season. The fans had turned on the club, and the players looked dejected, so steadying the ship will be a start. But his resume, notably an excellent treble win with Barcelona in the 2014-15 season, suggests that he has the chops to make things work.
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Gaps to fill
An Mbappe-shaped hole will form in Paris sometime within the next few weeks. He wants out, and the club, at this point, are willing to sell him. Any sort of turnaround in this admittedly tiresome saga seems improbable.
That will surely need to be addressed. Mbappe is irreplaceable, both from a tactical and symbolic perspective. Here is a Parisian who can do things with a football that most of the world cannot. He is not only immensely good at the sport, but also something of a hometown hero.
The good news is, Ramos could be an optimal alternative. He won't bang in goals at the same furious rate as Mbappe, but he can certainly provide through the middle.
There is probably also need for another central midfielder, especially if Verratti goes. Bernardo Silva has been a long-term target. He, or that profile of player, could be useful.
Probable line up
Luis Enrique faces a challenge here. He has a lot of interesting players, and probably only three or four certain starters. And with a number of individuals potentially on their way out, the exact XI is up for debate.
Donnarumma, Marquinhos and Hakimi are certain to be in the team when fit. Dembele figures to be a lock, too, alongside Ramos. Left-back will be an interesting one, with Lucas Hernandez preferred over a still-recovering Nuno Mendes in pre-season.
(4-3-3): Gigi Donnarumma; Achraf Hakimi, Marquinhos, Milan Skriniar, Lucas Hernandez; Fabian Ruiz, Manuel Ugarte, Warren Zaire-Emery; Ousmane Dembele, Goncalo Ramos, Marco Asensio
GOAL's Hot Take
The pressure is off in Paris. With Messi and probably both Mbappe and Neymar gone, this has suddenly become a side without stakes. PSG can, effectively, live with just one foot in the spotlight. And that might be a good thing. They will not be Champions League favourites, nor will they even be that relevant on a continental level.
As a result, this looks the most balanced - and therefore potentially the best - PSG team in years. Luis Enrique has been handed a project here, with loads of room to shape a well-oiled team around a series of ambitious, young players.
Addition by subtraction is a bit overplayed in football. Of course, the Parisians would like to have Mbappe. But there is a fine line between world-class footballer and unnecessary distraction — one he was treading for large parts of last season.
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How it will go
It's admittedly hard to predict how this all comes together. The football will probably be nice under the new manager, although growing pains are inevitable. However, PSG should do enough to win Ligue 1, and probably have a domestic cup run in them, too.
As for Europe, a Champions League knockout stages defeat, probably in the quarter-finals, seems the likely scenario. Ramos should offer a healthy goal return and Dembele ditto with assists. Also, look for Zaire-Emery to develop, Fabian Ruiz to have a bounce-back season, and Hakimi to take his game to the next level.
More importantly, this might just be a likable side, one that will be good this year, and potentially great in three.