Paris Saint-Germain has played their last competitive match of the year–a 3-1 win over Stade Malherbe Caen–to complete what has been one of the most up-and-down years for the club in recent memory.
To give you an idea how crazy things have been, this time last year I was writing about a team in crisis with Unai Emery on his way out. Today, PSG are comfortably at the top of Ligue 1 and a series of key signings last summer have them as one of the favorites to win the UEFA Champions League. The team isn’t perfect but they’re far from the squad that lost 2-1 to EA Guingamp last December.
This wasn’t an overnight transition by any means. Several events unfolded (good and bad) that led to PSG being in the position they are in now. Here are my top six most important moments of 2017:
February 14, 2017: 4-0 Win Over FC Barcelona in the Champions League
Was there a better win in all of 2017? Few gave Les Parisiens a shot to advance past Lionel Messi and company after this tough Round of 16 draw but PSG proved the doubters wrong with an unbelievable performance at the Parc des Princes. You could argue this was the best win in the Qatar Sports Investments-era–some may argue the win against Chelsea FC in 2015–but for me, the way PSG dominated Barcelona was unlike anything we’ve seen up until this point. Even Angel Di Maria, who can barely get a game now, scored a brace. No one thought the Catalan club could mount a comeback and much of the discussion following this victory was whether or not PSG could win the entire competition. The performance was that good.
March 8, 2017: 6-1 Loss to FC Barcelona in the Champions League
From the euphoria of defeating Barcelona at the Parc to the humiliation of losing 6-1 at the Camp Nou and crashing out of the Champions League 6-5 on aggregate. It was embarrassing and easily the worst loss of the QSI-era. I’ve never seen capitulation like this on such a big stage in football before. Barcelona did their fair share of diving and received suspect decisions from the referee but PSG’s performance on the night was absolutely dreadful. The Internet erupted in joy as the national media’s favorite team advanced in the competition in spectacular fashion while the evil empire (PSG) were kicked to the curb and left to lick their wounds and figure out how to make amends.
May 17, 2017: AS Monaco Win Ligue 1
As if losing in the Champions League after being up 4-0 wasn’t bad enough, PSG stumbled just enough down the stretch of their domestic season to hand Monaco the Ligue 1 title. It was the first time in four seasons that a team not named Paris Saint-Germain lifted the trophy. To their credit, Leonardo Jardim’s young team didn’t buckle under the pressure even as PSG closed the gap ever so slightly. It was hardly the end to the 2016-17 season that supporters expected and you just knew that major changes were coming once the summer transfer window opened.
June 2, 2017: Antero Henrique named Sporting Director
Not one to sit around, Nasser Al-Khelaifi moved swiftly to improve things at the club following a horrendous season by PSG’s standards. His first move was to replace Olivier Letang with FC Porto’s Antero Henrique. The decision to bring Henrique into the club may not have sent shock waves around Europe but his ability to work the transfer market and make smart football decisions would prove to be invaluable and help transform PSG into a serious Champions League contender in 2017-18.
August 3, 2017: Neymar Jr. Signs With PSG
Journalist Marcelo Bechler was the first to report that Neymar was prepared to join PSG from Barcelona but few actually believed the French club could pull off the most expensive transfer in football history. Seventeen days later, PSG announced they had pulled off the historic signing. There are a few reasons why Neymar left Spain for PSG–getting out from under Messi’s shadow is definitely one of them–but the ambition of the capital club shouldn’t be looked over either. Neymar joined a team willing to spend big and go after the best talent available. Combine that with the plethora of Brazilian already in the squad and Neymar to PSG actually makes a lot of sense. PSG also needed a big name to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic who departed for Manchester United after the 2015-16 season. Neymar is not only the third best player in the world, but he also sells loads of shirts and attracts television viewers. The 25-year-old is already off to a great start with PSG and a win over Real Madrid could give the club just the spark they need to make a deep run in the Champions League.
August 31, 2017: PSG Sign Kylian Mbappé on Loan
The ink was barely dry on Neymar’s contract before rumors of Kylian Mbappé potentially joining PSG started. The youngster was coming off a season where he led Monaco to the Ligue 1 title and made a deep run in the Champions League. The allure of joining his boyhood club (he’s from a suburb of Paris) was too much in the end and Monaco decided to give into their star’s demands and loaned him to Paris with the option to buy after the 2017-18 season for what could be a fee of €190m. The Frenchman was the darling of the summer transfer season with Real Madrid, Arsenal and other top clubs hoping to sign him. In the end, it was Paris who secured his signature and the 19-year-old hasn’t disappointed. His pace on the ball and ability to beat defenders one-on-one is unlike anything we’ve seen since Ronaldinho was racing up and down the pitch. Neymar certainly attracts all the headlines but given his age and tremendous upside, Mbappé could turn out to be the better player in a few years.
September 27, 2017: PSG Defeat Bayern Munich 3-0
With two marquee signings over the summer, expectations were higher than ever before leading up to the Champions League clash with FC Bayern Munich. It was the first test on a big stage for Paris and they performed well beyond what anyone expected. Dani Alves, an often overlooked signing this summer, was the first to score for PSG in the second minute and the hosts poured it on from there. They conceded most of the possession and launched blistering counterattacks that left the German champions looking like an amateur side. Edinson Cavani and Neymar joined Alves on the score sheet but it was the 12 shots on goal that tells the tale of how dominating PSG were on the night. In fact, things were so bad for Bayern that they fired former PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti the next day. The win all but sealed PSG’s place at the top of the group stage, something they failed to do last year, but more importantly, announced to all of Europe that MCN (Mbappé, Cavani, and Neymar) are a force to be reckoned with and the French giants are a true contender to win this year’s Champions League.