Back in August, amid an explosion of fireworks and optimism at the Parc des Princes, Paris Saint-Germain’s in-stadium announcer hyped up the club’s five superstar signings, listing their many achievements before unveiling them to the starstruck crowd. Lionel Messi smiled and waved as the fans chanted his name. Gianluigi Donnarumma, fresh off winning Euro 2020 with Italy, towered over everyone. Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos, and Georginio Wijnaldum joined them for a photo op. The place was rocking. It looked like the center of the football universe.
Eight months after the big party in Paris, PSG clinched the Ligue 1 title – their eighth in the last 10 years and a record-equaling 10th overall – with little of the fanfare that made this club the envy of Europe just a short time ago.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw with 10-man Lens was as anticlimactic as title-clinchers can be. Messi’s goal from distance lifted the atmosphere at the Parc des Princes – if only for a few minutes. Lens’ late leveler made for an awkward finale. When the final whistle sounded, the players gathered in the center circle, embraced each other, and shared a few words. No one really celebrated.
Few seemed to care that PSG had romped to the title with an unassailable 16-point lead over second-placed Marseille. At halftime, with the game still goalless, a large number of supporters whistled the team off the pitch. Head coach Mauricio Pochettino was booed. The ultras headed for the exits after 75 minutes, showing their back to the team. You could hear them holding their own party outside the stadium. They didn’t want to share this one with these players.
The ultras have been protesting since the club’s humiliating exit from the Champions League in March. PSG were eliminated from the round of 16 for the fourth time in six seasons after blowing a 2-0 aggregate lead against Real Madrid. It was a damaging result that killed already waning confidence in Qatar Sports Investments, which has failed to deliver European success in the decade it’s controlled the club.
Days after the debacle, during a 3-0 win over Bordeaux, fans booed Messi and Neymar every time they touched the ball. Banners called for club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo to resign. Everyone but Kylian Mbappe felt their wrath.
That’s because Mbappe is the reason PSG ran away with this title. He starred for the capital club when Messi and Neymar were missing in action. With 22 goals and 14 assists, the Frenchman often decided games in the final few minutes, bailing out otherwise dour team performances.
PSG’s other stars made little contribution to this title. Keylor Navas started more often in goal than Donnarumma. Ramos logged just 529 minutes of playing time, and Messi’s made fewer league appearances than Danilo Pereira, scoring just four goals in the top flight.
The season truly ended when PSG crumbled at the Santiago Bernabeu. The goal now is to convince Mbappe to stay. The 23-year-old can leave the club for free when his contract expires in June.