Paris Saint-Germain are rapidly becoming football’s very own real-life version of Groundhog Day.
Vast sums of money spent in the summer, the promises of European success, the notion that this is finally the time it all clicks and the astronomical investments pay dividends.
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Until it doesn’t.
The bubble burst yet again in the most calamitous of fashions for PSG, as a hat-trick from the man who also now holds the record for the oldest player to ever score a Champions League hat-trick brought the curtain down on their latest European escapade .
In many respects, it shouldn’t have ended the way it did.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side were strolling towards a quarter-final berth, looking untroubled for 61 minutes.
Then, with one moment of idiocy (or arrogance, depending on how you look at it), PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma prised the door open for Real Madrid and Karim Benzema to flip the tie squarely on its head in the space of 17 minutes.
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If anything, PSG’s European failure over the past decade could be distilled into the extremely brief period of time between the kick-off after conceding the second goal and the noise that reverberated a mere 11 seconds later around the Santiago Bernabeu after Benzema bagged his third.
It represented a moment of total fragility from the Parisians that demonstrated yet again that when the going gets tough, they break easier than Humpty Dumpty.
A failure, as football writer Sid Lowe describes, that “for all its implacable logic given the nature of the club, had been unthinkable for much of a match.”
The Guardian’s Barney Ronay labeled it as “one of the more extraordinary collapses of elite football’s modern history, made all the more abject by the divine well of talent in this Paris team.”
PSG can point the finger at everything and anything, but after over a decade of continuous astronomical investment from the wallet of their owners, Qatari Sports Investment (QSI), at what point do they start to glance internally and not view their issues as one that can be solved with one flash of a multimillion-dollar wad of cash?
The waving of their mighty financial wand in the summer preceding this season signalled that if ever there was a year that PSG were to win the Champions League, this iteration of the tournament had to be the one in which they finally were the last team standing.
Jetting in to Charles de Gaulle Airport were Georginio Wijnaldum, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Romas, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Danilo Pereira and Nuno Mendes.
Oh, and a diminutive little Argentinian by the name of Lionel Messi.
What’s extraordinary is that the six new arrivals came at an overall transfer cost of $ AUD114m, with all but Hakimi and Pereira arriving either on a free transfer or on loan.
When Messi announced that he would be leaving Barcelona, it seemed almost inevitable that PSG would be his next destination, given the exorbitant wages he’d request.
But for one of the greatest players to ever play the game, you fork out whatever they want because they are a once-in-a-lifetime player.
Messi would complete a front three that just about any manager would do unspeakable things to have, joining Kylian Mbappe and Neymar up top to complete the world’s most expensively assembled attacking line-up.
Mbappe signed for PSG from AS Monaco for an eye-watering $ 272m in 2017, while Neymar signed for $ 335m in what still remains as the highest transfer fee in world football history.
But instead of goals, which is the bare minimum expected from this front three, PSG got something much, much worse according to Ronay: “Brittleness. Operatic collapse. A sense as Madrid pressed hard, of something glossy, callow and frail. “
It’s not just in this game that the narrative surrounding the front three has been negative.
It took Messi until November 21 to score his first Ligue 1 goal, a mind-boggling prospect when you consider the last time he finished a domestic season with a single-figure goal haul was back in the 2005-06 La Liga season.
Mbappe has generated more headlines for his next move off the pitch as opposed to on it, while Neymar continues to fail at living up to his lofty transfer fee.
The failure to get the front three gelling does come down to Pochettino, but is it fair to pin the blame squarely on his shoulders?
Speaking post-game, PSG sporting director Leonardo maintained that Pochettino was the man going forward, but one sentence leaves room for speculating about a scenario that seems almost inevitable.
“We shouldn’t throw everything in the bin,” Leonardo told RMC Sport.
“We shouldn’t start from scratch after every loss. The objective is to win the Champions League, and until half-time we were fine.
“We have to look to improve this team and maintain morale to play in Ligue 1 and to finish the season well. We should stay together.
“Pochettino is still part of the project for this season. It’s not the time to think about that. “
Sure, the former Tottenham boss might stay in the dugout at the Parc des Princes until the end of this season.
But Leonardo’s failure to mention Pochettino’s future beyond this season could be equally as telling, given the constant reports linking him to the Manchester United manager role.
With the curtain drawn on yet another Champions League campaign, it leaves plenty more unresolved questions.
Kylian Mbappe looks destined to leave.
Out of contract at the end of the season, the 23-year-old could have been getting a close-up glance at his future employers during the match.
His admiration for Real Madrid and desire to play for the club is no hidden secret, and given PSG’s repeated failures in the Champions League, Mbappe’s future almost certainly lays elsewhere.
As for Messi, he’s stuck at the club a little while longer after signing a two-year deal, with an option for an extra year.
But PSG didn’t sign him on weekly wages reportedly worth $ 3.7m only for the club to exit the Champions League Roud of 16 for the fourth time in the last six years.
Nor did Messi sign up to be on the wrong side of these types of nights and build a collection of French domestic trophies.
In fact, the Argentine has been on the other side of one of PSG’s almighty collapses as he got a first-hand account in their 2016/17 Round of 16 tie against Barcelona.
PSG decimated the Catalan side in the first leg, winning 4-0 in Paris.
But in the return leg, Barcelona completed the most improbable of comebacks by scoring three goals in the last seven minutes to win the second leg 6-1 and win 6-5 on aggregate, with Messi himself getting on the scoresheet for the club he loves so dearly.
Mbappe leaving would be a major blow to PSG’s hopes and would undoubtedly leave Messi questioning his club’s ambition if they can’t tie down the French star to a new deal, even if it seems clear he is leaving.
At 34, Messi isn’t getting any younger and now that he finally has a trophy with Argentina, it seems there isn’t much else he has to prove.
It almost feels like a sense of purgatory for Messi too, given there’s not much he can do.
Who else could realistically afford his wages?
So, for now, Messi must take stock and face the brutal reality that’s staring him in the face: playing for this club isn’t the stroll in the park it perhaps should be.
Aside from the players, 2022 loomed as QSI’s most important year in their ownership of PSG.
In the year that the World Cup will be staged in Qatar, winning the Champions League would have been the perfect jewel in the crown, and Messi’s signing was meant to do just that.
Looking ahead, discussion will also turn to which manager will be entrusted with managing what may very well be an unmanageable team.
Zinedine Zidane looms as the most likely and most appropriate candidate, given his vast success with Madrid in the Champions League.
He’s free, he’s French and he can handle egos.
Question is, can he handle the egos attached to the two most expensive players in football, three if Mbappe stays.
Time will tell, but the latest defeat leaves PSG to lick their wounds yet again and enjoy, if they even can, what looks like yet another Ligue 1 title.
And this time next year, we may very well be having the same conversation about the Parisians’ latest European exit.