So dominant in French soccer, Paris Saint-Germain continues to fall short in the UEFA Champions League.
An all too familiar story was rehashed on Wednesday as the French giant endured yet another humiliating round of 16 exit following Bayern Munich’s 2-0 victory – 3-0 on aggregate.
Second-half goals at the Allianz Arena from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Serge Gnabry took the game and tie from the visitors, consigning them to a fifth elimination at this stage in the last seven seasons.
On European soccer’s biggest stage, PSG superstars Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé were easily controlled by the Bavarians.
Mbappé couldn’t get the better of Bayern defender Dayot Upamecano, while every time Messi got on the ball he was invariably crowded out by a posse of German players.
Meanwhile, Neymar Jr. was altogether absent for the match – the fourth time in his six seasons with PSG that he’s been absent from a key European match.
French sports newspaper L’Équipe, notorious for its tough player ratings, gave Mbappé and Messi a 3/10, while midfielder Marco Veratti earned a 2/10.
“At PSG, when it comes to the knockout stages of the Champions League, defeat is a culture,” wrote L’Équipe journalist Vincent Duluc in a brutal analysis of the French club’s performance.
PSG started brightly, with Mbappé going close early on and Bayern defender Matthijs de Ligt making a terrific goal line clearance late in the first half to deny Vitinha.
But Bayern dominated the second half and, when Choupo-Moting headed home in the 61st minute, the game was up for PSG, with Gnabry applying the coup de grâce.
“At the moment, I’m only talking about this season,” Mbappé told reporters as he batted away questions about his future at PSG.
“Nothing else matters to me. We are disappointed,” the 24-year-old added.
Has the superstar experiment come to a dim end at the Parc des Princes?
When Qatar Sports Investment (QSI) acquired PSG in 2011 and lavished money on bringing some of the world’s most talented players to Paris, a Champions League title seemed inevitable.
But 12 years on and well over a billion dollars spent later, the club is no closer to achieving the success that it craves.
After years of dominating Ligue 1 but failing to break past the quarterfinal stage of the Champions League, PSG went for broke, breaking the world transfer record, to bring in Neymar from FC Barcelona for $263 million.
The following season, the Brazilian international was joined by Mbappé for $214 million.
Another two seasons of round of 16 disappointment followed before the club finally smashed through the glass ceiling in 2020 to reach its first Champions League final.
However, a narrow loss to now familiar foe Bayern in Lisbon’s Estádio da Luz, where the final was staged, was then followed by a semifinal exit at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
QSI doubled down by signing Messi and also Sergio Ramos – one of the Champions League’s most successful players of all time.
That strategy hasn’t worked as PSG were knocked out in the round of 16 last year by a Karim Benzema-inspired Real Madrid and this season by a functional, if not inspiring, Bayern.
With Messi and Ramos both soon out of contract and Neymar’s continuing injury problems, whether this trio of stars will remain at PSG remains to be seen.
Last summer, the club did appear to pivot somewhat from its galacticos policy, recruiting the likes of Fabián Ruiz, Vitinha and Nuno Mendes to provide more discipline and running in the side.
The relatively unheralded but domestically successful Christophe Galtier was also recruited as coach, but his future now looks in doubt after defeat by Bayern.
So QSI and PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi find themselves at yet another crossroads.
Qatar has now accomplished what many thought the purchase of the club was all about: growing the sporting profile of the tiny Gulf state ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
With a now lessening need to bring eyeballs and star power to the club, will the club perhaps place its faith in the tremendous pool of talent that exists in Paris and its suburbs and build a more coherent team? Or will it continue to pursue the game’s biggest names?
What must be tough to take for the PSG hierarchy is that two of its former players – Kingsley Coman and Choupo-Moting – scored two of the three goals for Bayern across the the two legs this season.
“I don’t know if it’s a lesson to be learned, but there’s a lot of frustration,” said Gaultier after the match.