Paris Saint-Germain are known for their big-money signings, at least since they were taken over by QSI in 2011, but this transfer window has been surprisingly understated. Not that they haven’t been busy at all – Abdou Diallo, Idrissa Gueye and Pablo Sarabia are the newest recruits in the French capital. Those three have cost the club £73.8m overall but the return of Leonardo, who did not cost a penny, as the club’s sporting director, is the Ligue 1 champions’ best bit of business of the whole summer.
Recent windows in Paris have seen some of the biggest stars in world football join the revolution. Last year, Kylian Mbappe completed his switch from Monaco on a permanent deal for £166m following his one-season loan spell, and in 2017, Neymar arrived from Barcelona for a world-record fee of £200m. In fact, PSG have spent more than £100m in all but three seasons – one of which is the current one – since the takeover.
However, despite those shiny new arrivals and enough talent to fill two quality starting XIs, things have not gone swimmingly at Le Parc des Princes. Despite dominating domestically – they have won 21 of the 32 trophies available to all French clubs since 2011 – they have failed miserably in Europe. So far, they have not made it beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and their attempts to lift European football’s most prestigious prize has produced some humiliating moments. Who will ever forget how they blew a three-goal advantage in the dying minutes against Barcelona in 2017?
This can partly blamed on a clash of egos in the PSG dressing room and since his arrival, Neymar has done nothing to alleviate those issues. On the pitch, he has been fantastic, scoring 51 goals in 58 games for Les Parisiens, but off it, he has been a nuisance. He has refused to train, has made it clear that he wishes to leave and has even been banned whilst not even being on the pitch. There are even worries that Neymar’s huge ego is rubbing off on Mbappe as well after the France international fuelled exit rumours with his speech at the Ligue 1 end of season awards earlier this year.
Leonardo, however, has already shown that he will not allow the former Santos star to bully PSG, or use them as a pawn. He has said that Neymar “can leave” if an offer suits the club, and is even understood to have laid into the Brazil international in front of the whole squad (Sport via The Daily Express) after the training incident. And president Nasser Al-Khelaifi trusts the 49-year-old so much that he is willing to give him “full sporting power” to allow him to correct some of the club’s fundamental problems. Someone must put their foot down, and so far, the former Brazil international has done just that.
His other task, of course, will be to bring in new faces. Even in a short period, there has been a change in transfer policy. As stated before, the stars have been replaced by pragmatic choices who, whilst not likely to bring in commercial success, will offer squad depth and intelligent options. Gueye was one of Everton’s best performers last season and will provide defensive stability in the middle of the park, whilst Diallo and Sarabia are also players who will contribute to the squad in their attempts to finally triumph outside of France.
The transfer track record of Leonardo at PSG is already something to envy. Under his previous stewardship, club captain Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani, the two highest-scorers in the club’s history, as well as others such as Marco Verratti and Marquinhos all made Paris their home. Honourable mentions must go to Blaise Matuidi and Maxwell. In the time between his two spells, however, only Angel Di Maria, Neymar, Mbappe and, to a lesser extent, Thomas Meunier, have made memorable impressions.
Leonardo has a big job on his hands in Paris. But there is a reason why Al-Khelaifi has brought him back to the club. If he can live up to his boss’ expectations, he will end up being their unsung hero.