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PSG faces difficult rebuilding task without Mbappé as curtain falls on superstar era


PARIS (AP) — Kylian Mbappé will become the latest expensive superstar to leave Paris Saint-Germain without a Champions League title.

The question now for the French club is how to rebuild without its record scorer: keep pouring money on big-name signings or find another way to compete with Europe's best?

When he leaves at the end of the season, Mbappé will join Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva, Ángel Di María, Neymar and Lionel Messi in having failed to deliver the elusive Champions League trophy — despite the club's Qatari investors spending more than 2 billion euros ($2.15 billion) in transfer fees since taking over in 2011.

Now that era of Galácticos could end when Mbappé plays his last game for PSG in the French Cup final against Lyon on May 25.

Replacing him will be difficult, no matter how much money the club spends. The France forward has scored 255 goals for PSG, and his prolific output helped deliver six league titles in seven years — but also often masked glaring deficiencies that were exposed at the highest level in the Champions League.

This season, PSG won just five of its 12 games in Europe, losing five and drawing two. So how can it possibly get more competitive without its best player?

Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has many key decisions to make as PSG kicks off its new era.


The club has already started to rebuild but one of the supposed cornerstones of that project — forward Randal Kolo Muani — did not even get off the bench against Dortmund on Tuesday even though PSG was chasing the game.

Neither did central defender Milan Skriniar, who joined from Inter Milan last year. Fellow summer signings Bradley Barcola and Marco Asensio were only brought on in the second half. Center forward Gonçalo Ramos started but missed two golden chances. The 22-year-old Ramos cost a hefty 65 million euros (70 million) on the back of one good season with Benfica.

Lucas Beraldo, a 20-year-old Brazilian, started ahead of Skriniar but looked out of his depth in a fragile defense held together by club captain Marquinhos.

Kolo Muani cost PSG 95 million euros ($102 million), the club's third most expensive signing after Neymar and Mbappé, who joined for a combined 402 million euros ($432 million).

He was supposed to form part of a glittering attacking trio of France internationals alongside Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé. But Kolo Muani has scored only nine goals in 39 games while the wasteful Dembélé has netted only five in 40 games. Ramos lacks pace and appears somewhat one-dimensional.

It seems unlikely any of them can score enough goals to fill the void left by Mbappé.

If he's still in charge next season — PSG is quick to hire and fire coaches — Luis Enrique may go back into the transfer market. But top-level strikers are scarce and some players who could be available are advancing in years, like Liverpool's 31-year-old Mohamed Salah.


PSG's youth academy has produced plenty of good players, such as Bayern Munich winger Kingsley Coman, but most left because of a lack of opportunities. Homegrown midfielder Warren Zaïre-Emery is already a France international, but the 18-year-old could be too young to be the centerpiece of PSG's midfield.

Even young players who were bought from other clubs have sometimes struggled to get playing time at PSG. Hugo Ekitiké was signed for nearly 30 million after a one-year loan spell but then made just one appearance before moving to Eintracht Frankfurt.

And Xavi Simmons played just nine games for PSG before the club sold him to PSV Eindhoven in 2022 — only to buy him back after a stellar season in the Netherlands and then immediately loan him out to RB Leipzig in Germany.

Simons has scored 31 goals in his two seasons at PSV and Leipzig and appears to be exactly the kind of goal-scoring midfield threat PSG needs.


Although PSG won the French league title by a comfortable margin, its performances were inconsistent.

PSG needed late equalizers in home draws against last-place Clermont, fellow relegation battler Le Havre and a midtable Rennes side in recent weeks. The equalizers against Le Havre and Rennes came with just seconds remaining deep into stoppage time.

Still, Enrique kept proudly pointing to the fact PSG lost only once in the league, way back in September.

But there have been 10 draws in 31 games, and the higher demands of the Champions League stripped away the veneer of cosy domestic success.

PSG struggled in the Champions League group stage, losing 4-1 at Newcastle and 2-1 at AC Milan. It then drew at home to Newcastle thanks to a much-debated penalty eight minutes into stoppage time. PSG lost three times in the knockout rounds, including both semifinal legs against Dortmund.

Newcastle is sixth in the Premier League, Dortmund fifth in the Bundesliga.

But they got the better of PSG in much the same way: a high pressing game backed up by excellent teamwork and organization.

No tactical masterstrokes, no devastating individual performances. Basic soccer principles.


Enrique and Al-Khelaifi lamented PSG's bad luck in hitting the post or crossbar six times over the two legs against Dortmund.

But pointing at the circumstances works both ways.

PSG trailed 1-0 in the quarterfinal return leg against Barcelona — and 4-2 on aggregate following a home defeat — before a clumsy Barca red card after 30 minutes turned the game around. Would PSG have advanced without having an extra player for 60 minutes?

In reality, PSG was perhaps fortunate to reach the semifinals.

Without Mbappé papering over so many cracks, it could struggle to get even that far next season.


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