It’s incredible to think but, in eight years of Qatari ownership, Paris Saint-Germain have never gone beyond the Champions League quarter-finals.
Perhaps their best chance came in 2016/17 when they thrashed Barcelona 4-0 at home in the first leg of their round-of-16 tie. It looked as though a potential tournament rival had been expelled in dominant fashion.
We all know what happened next. One of the most remarkable comebacks – and collapses – in modern European football history. La Remontada – the Comeback. Barça won 6-1 to progress 6-5 on aggregate.
Neymar swiftly joined PSG that summer to become the world’s most expensive player at £198million. His challenge was simple: win the Champions League for the first time in the French club’s short history.
But, at the time football was put on ice, nothing had changed. PSG are through to the last eight after beating Borussia Dortmund. Despite that, they’re already being linked with a host of big-name summer signings. In the absence of actual football, we dipped into virtual reality to see if a Football Manager 2020 experiment would give us the answer.
Could PSG finally land Ol’ Big Ears with Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly and Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bolstering their already star-studded squad? All three have been heavily linked.
Working on the basis Edinson Cavani would have left, we removed the Uruguayan from PSG’s roster. That still left them with Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, Mauro Icardi, Aubameyang, Ángel Di María and…Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting up front. Not bad huh?
After a flawless start to the Ligue 1 season – winning five from five, scoring 13 and conceding just three – the real business began with PSG drawn against FC Porto, Bayer Leverkusen and APOEL Nicosia in Champions League Group B.
The Champions League campaign began well enough, brushing Porto aside 3-1 with a brace from Di María and a killer third from Julian Draxler. Les Parisiens followed that with another routine win, 3-0 over APOEL thanks to goals from Marquinhos, Marco Verratti and Mbappé.
So far so good. Plain sailing in fact. But this is PSG and there’s always catastrophe around the corner when it comes to the Champions League. Successive 1-1 draws against Bayer Leverkusen left them in a good if not ideal position. Worse was to come, though.
Two Ze Luis goals in the first 18 minutes at Porto’s Estadio do Dragão left PSG with a mountain to climb. They got it back to 2-2 thanks to Neymar and Koulibaly only two ship two in five minutes. Idrissa Gueye pulled one back in stoppage time but it was too little too late.
That left the capital side with it all to do at home to APOEL. A 5-1 win was almost enough to close the gap but Bayer stunned group winners Porto 2-1 with a stoppage-time Kai Havertz winner on the final matchday to clinch second spot.So another season without success for PSG in Europe as the trophy they crave in Paris continues to elude them.
At the time of writing our fictional stooge hasn’t been sacked, earning a C+ in our overall appraisal which, considering the talent packed into the squad the previous summer, seems generous. Squad morale isn’t too bad except for one notable exception: Aubameyang.
Probably the most exciting addition of the summer, the Gabonese forward was a peripheral figure in his first season back in France, scoring seven times from just six starts. The former St. Étienne star is officially ‘unhappy’ with his playing time and it’s little wonder.
Donnarumma and Kouibaly immediately became first-team regulars, making 53 and 51 starts in all competitions respectively, while earning ratings of 6.88 and 7.14. By no means earth-shattering, but solid additions nonetheless.
On reflection, what’s the lesson? Perhaps fittingly giving the COVID-19-induced hysteria going on in the world right now: take only what you need.