Paris (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain are still optimistic they can win the Champions League for the first time when the tournament is played out in Lisbon in August, even if the coronavirus crisis has left the Qatar-owned club apparently weakened both on the field and off it.
The decision to bring an early end to the French season in late April, with more than a quarter of matches unplayed, did not prevent PSG from being crowned Ligue 1 champions for the third year running, but it was hardly how they wanted things to end.
Without having had the chance to celebrate, the Parisians return to training on Monday, over three months after their last game, the 2-0 defeat of Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League last 16, second leg.
Their players have since spent months confined at home before having some time to take a holiday.
PSG’s rivals in England, Spain, Germany and Italy are back playing again. In contrast, Neymar returned to France last weekend after three months in Brazil and headed straight to join teammates Marco Verratti, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes and Marquinhos in the glitzy Mediterranean resort of Saint-Tropez.
Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe posted photos of himself on Instagram along the coast in Monaco.
They return this week to a club having to deal with the financial consequences of the pandemic and the early end to the season, with the resulting losses of ticketing and broadcast revenue.
Within PSG, it is estimated they stand to lose over 200 million euros ($224m), an enormous hit even for a club ranked the fifth-richest in the world in the latest Deloitte Football Money League.
– Old heads move on –
That will probably ensure there are no headline-grabbing transfers coming soon, although they recently made Argentine striker Mauro Icardi’s loan move from Inter Milan permanent for a reported fee of up to 58 million euros.
The financial situation has also helped make up the mind of sporting director Leonardo over the futures of Thiago Silva and Edinson Cavani, two of the biggest figures of the Qatar era whose contracts expire this month and will not be retained.
“Maybe we are making a mistake, I don’t know, there is never a perfect moment,” Leonardo told Le Journal du Dimanche.
It is hoped Brazilian defender Silva, the club captain, can be persuaded to stay to feature in the Champions League latter stages, but club record goal-scorer Cavani has reportedly opted to walk away at the end of June.
The exodus will not stop there.
Right-back Thomas Meunier, reportedly bound for Dortmund, will not stick around. Highly talented 18-year-old defender Tanguy Kouassi is expected to sign for Bayern Munich.
However, the prospects of either Mbappe or Neymar leaving appear less than slim, given the financial challenges faced by PSG’s European rivals.
“He is the future of PSG. That is what everyone wants. Ideally we would extend his contract,” Leonardo said of Mbappe.
What Mbappe and PSG want now is the Champions League, and after years of underachievement in Europe they are targeting glory when the competition is played out in a “final eight” straight knockout format in Lisbon.
– ‘More difficult’ –
However, between now and a quarter-final somewhere between August 12 and 15, Thomas Tuchel’s team will only have two competitive games, with the French Cup final against Saint-Etienne and League Cup final against Lyon both set to go ahead in late July.
“We have felt good ever since the season began. Unfortunately, we know what happened with the coronavirus and everything had to stop,” Di Maria told sports daily L’Equipe.
“The other major leagues are restarting. That must not be an excuse but it does make things more difficult for us,” he added.
Like Lyon, PSG are therefore completely out of step with their Champions League rivals, although that could still work to their advantage.
For example, Spanish and English clubs will have completed an exhausting dash to get their seasons finished in late July.
Perhaps Mbappe, Neymar and their teammates will be fresher than ever and therefore primed to go on and win the final in Lisbon on August 23.