A simple glance at a their teamsheet may not reveal it, but the Ligue 1 side are one of Europe’s most prolific producers of young talent.
While glittering names like Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria dominate the starting XI, scratch below the surface and there is potential abound to be found in the young players on the bench and beyond.
Each year a new group of ‘Titis’ graduates from the academy and toys with stardom at one of Europe’s glitziest clubs. Rarely, though, do these flirtations develop into anything more significant than flings, with the Parisians unable to inspire the devotion of their young prodigies in the manner that sides such as Barcelona and Manchester United have in the past.
Since the QSI takeover in 2011, PSG’s greatest flaw beyond their failure to win the Champions League has been their rank inability to integrate their young talent into long-standing members of their first-team squad.
Moussa Dembele was the first to go in 2012 as he departed for Fulham, disenchanted with the lack of pathway to the starting XI. His journey has since taken him to Celtic and now to Lyon, with the striker expected to complete his personal circle by joining one of Europe’s biggest clubs in the not-too-distant future.
There have been others. Kingsley Coman fled a year later to Juventus and subsequently to Bayern Munich, where he is a regular force for a side who have enjoyed a greater measure of European success than PSG in recent years.
Much of Lille’s recent success in Ligue 1, meanwhile, has owed much to picking up Mike Maignan and Jonathan Ikone from the capital side, and it is expected that Timothy Weah will ultimately make a similar impression after an injury-ravaged campaign.
Even the one player who truly graduated from the youth academy with sufficient credit to make himself a genuine first-team regular, Adrien Rabiot, ultimately departed last summer on a Bosman move to Juventus.
And history is set to repeat itself in 2020 – and perhaps in a more damaging fashion than ever before.
Tanguy Kouassi, the 18-year-old who emerged amidst an injury crisis to provide dependable cover in the heart of the defence is now expected to sign for Bayern Munich without having penned professional terms with PSG. Meanwhile, highly rated 17-year-old midfielder Adil Aouchiche, who caught the eye during the 2019 UEFA European Under-17 Championship by scoring nine times in five games, is swithering over a move to Saint-Etienne, where he has had a medical, or remain in Paris, with Mbappe having publicly appealed for him to remain.
Although Kouassi’s departure seems to be motivated financially by the player’s entourage, his loss would, nevertheless, be a painful one.
It appears that within the academy, there is a crisis of confidence in the route to the first team. Recent seasons have seen young players increasingly involved – Diaby, Nkunku and Rabiot combined for 339 appearances before departing – and it is widely believed that the will this summer is to ‘Frenchify’ the squad further.
This should represent an opportunity for the club’s younger players, even if the modus operandi of PSG’s academy is that of the modern super club.
As the level of talent demanded for the first team is so high, only a handful of prospects can attain it. The club’s young players are therefore in position to support the starting XI at times of injury crisis and to provide a few extra million in euros to help balance the books when Financial Fair Play regulations demand it.
“I had to leave PSG. I didn’t want to wait too long to play. I think I made the right choice. I’d like to go back, but with another status. Yes, that’s in the mind of all Parisian Titis.”
PSG want to keep those few precious gems who do make the grade, only they have proven themselves incapable of doing so.
At a time when the financial squeeze on football clubs – even those that are state owned – is destined to be the felt, the timing of Kouassi and Aouchiche providing tangible evidence of the club’s failings could barely have been worse.
Leonardo has himself admitted that PSG are set for a summer of “transition”, and with the contracts of Neymar and Mbappe set to expire in two years, the sporting director faces a difficult summer fighting fires on multiple fronts.
While the broken links between the youth system and the first team are not the most important of the Brazilian’s concerns, they do serve to underscore how fragile a position the club finds itself, with questions of where the next big star to arrive at Parc des Princes is going to come from more pertinent than ever.
The roll of classy players to graduate the academy provides ample evidence that the system works, but their departures show that it is not being harnessed to its full potential. To that end, it is a perfect microcosm of PSG as a club.