Maybe this will be the kind of summer that Paris Saint-Germain really need. After an underwhelming season in which they reclaimed the Ligue 1 title from Lille despite some spells of poor form, but crumbling at Real Madrid in the Champions League last-16 and being knocked out of the French Cup at home by Nice, the French super-club have arrived at an uncomfortable crossroads.
Some things have to change.
Qatar Sport Investment bought the club 11 years ago and have accomplished a lot since taking over: there have been a lot of trophies (eight of the last 10 league titles, six Coupes de France, six Coupes de la Ligue), lots of great players (Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Lionel Messi), the incredible rise of the PSG brand and much more. But there are, in a sense, just as many disappointments: the lack of success in the Champions League (just two semifinal appearances in 10 seasons), the constant churn of managers (Laurent Blanc, Unai Emery, Thomas Tuchel) and the difficult relationship at times between the club and their Ultras, just to name a few.
It feels like now is as good a time as any for those in charge to take decisive action and put the club on a more consistent, positive track. It might be an automatic transition if Mbappe does decides to leave and to join Real Madrid. PSG are still optimistic they can keep their prodigy a little longer, but they could certainly lose him too. His contract expires at the end of June and while he has had positive talks with club officials, it's not gone unnoticed that he was in Madrid this week with teammates (and all former Real players) Achraf Hakimi, Keylor Navas and Sergio Ramos.
If he ends up staying, great: he'll be the centerpiece around which they build and strengthen. If he leaves, however, they will need another marquee signing and someone to lead the next phase of this project, something neither Lionel Messi or Neymar can really do as they approach the ends of their careers. Erling Haaland is no longer an option, having agreed to join Manchester City on July 1, and sources tell ESPN that Robert Lewandowski (who wants to leave Bayern Munich) and Mohamed Salah (whose negotiations for a new contract at Liverpool are not really progressing) would be on the PSG shortlist if Mbappe heads to LaLiga.
It's clear, of course, that Lionel Messi and Neymar will stay. The Argentine and Barcelona star had needed time to adapt to a new life, a new club, a new football and a different role -- being more of a creator, less of a goalscorer -- but the expectations at the club are that his second season should be better than the first one.
For the Brazilian, it's a different story. He is finishing the season well, with eight goals in his last eight games (all competitions), but he's been too disappointing for most of the campaign. PSG would probably listen to offers for him, but credible and acceptable offers aren't likely.
Ramos will also still be in the squad next season, while Nuno Mendes' buy-option (€60m) has been triggered and he will complete a permanent move from Sporting CP this summer. Midfield anchor Marco Verratti won't go anywhere either, while sources have told ESPN that right-back Hakimi is happy in Paris and doesn't want to leave. Georginio Wijnaldum should be given another chance in 2022-23 despite some frustrations over his role earlier in the season.
In terms of new signings to refresh this squad and make it competitive in Europe, PSG have a few targets in mind.
Aurelien Tchouameni would be the perfect candidate to revamp their midfield, but they're not in pole position for the Monaco wonder-kid, who would cost around €60m. Yet Paul Pogba, who is a free agent once his Manchester United contract expires at the end of June, is more likely, with sources telling ESPN that talks are progressing well. The French star is definitely keen to move back to Paris where he grew up. PSG have already had many talks with Ousmane Dembele's agent over the possible arrival of the Barcelona winger, who is out of contract in the summer as well.
Arnaut Danjuma is another name of interest. The Dutch forward has impressed at Villarreal and is the right age (25), with the right profile, to reinforce the team, especially if Mbappe and/or Mauro Icardi move on. PSG also need depth at right-back and Nordi Mukiele, who is out of contract at Leipzig next summer, is one of their targets, sources tell ESPN. He is Paris-born and raised, and has always aspired to one day play for the club.
The most important business this summer, however, will involve outgoing players. Leonardo, PSG's sporting director, isn't as good at offloading players as he is getting them to join, and as rumors swirl about his own exit before the window opens, it remains vital that the club can recoup some money by thinning the squad.
Winger Angel Di Maria will leave once his contract expires in June, while fringe players Julian Draxler and Keylor Navas (both tied to the club until June 2024) will likely depart in order to get more game time before the 2022 World Cup. It could be the same situation for Senegal defender Abdou Diallo, too, while the club is desperate to find new clubs for full-backs Layvin Kurzawa and Colin Dagba. Youngsters Edouard Michut and Junior Dina Ebimbe are also set to depart given the lack of first-team opportunities.
Zabaleta: Real Madrid still need Mbappe despite LaLiga win
Pablo Zabaleta feels Kylian Mbappe's pace would still be a vital addition to Real Madrid's title-winning squad.
Midfielder Leandro Paredes is out of contract in 2023, and is still getting interest from teams in Italy. Defender Thilo Kehrer is in the same position, with a return to Germany (he was at Schalke from 2016 to 2018) on the cards. There is also a question mark over the future of midfielder Idrissa Gueye, who only has one year left on his existing deal. Among the forward ranks, it's unclear what will happen to Icardi. The Argentine has had a poor year -- just 13 starts, five goals and no assists in all competitions this season -- but still has two years left at the club. The club will listen to offers, but sources tell ESPN they don't anticipate much interest in the 29-year-old.
Finally, there will be a decision made over the manager and the sporting director.
For Mauricio Pochettino, the writing's on the wall. At the moment, it's extremely likely he won't be on the touchline next season after failing to take this squad to glory in Europe. However, if PSG can't find a suitable replacement -- e.g. they can't convince Zinedine Zidane to take over, and they get nowhere with the likes of Antonio Conte, Diego Simeone or Joachim Low -- then he might stay, almost "by default." He still has a year left on his contract, but he has told staff he would not honour it if he doesn't have more control at the club, including over the construction of the first-team squad, and if he can't impose more of his ideas, including those around player discipline.
Everything outlined above leads to the sporting director, Leonardo, and his future at the club. The Brazilian is a slick communicator and is trying everything he can right now, privately and publicly, to keep his job. If he was to get sacked -- something that looked likely a few weeks ago in the aftermath of their Champions League exit, PSG are big fans of Andrea Berta, the Atletico Madrid sporting director, and Michael Edwards, formerly at Liverpool, is also of interest, sources tell ESPN.
However, Leonardo's biggest problem, though, is that Pochettino is not keen to keep working with him, and reportedly, neither is Zidane. So he could yet depart due to the status quo or the new appointment on the bench.