PSG eye fixed firmly on biggest prize
Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) are still optimistic they can win the Champions League for the first time when the tournament is played in Lisbon in August, even if the coronavirus crisis has left the Qatar-owned club weakened both on and off the field.
The decision to bring an early end to the French season in late April, with more than a quarter of matches unplayed, did not prevent PSG from being crowned Ligue 1 champion for the third year running, but it was hardly how the club wanted things to end.
Without having had the chance to celebrate, the PSG squad return to training last week over three months after its last game, the 2-0 defeat of Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League last-16, second-leg tie.
The players have since spent months confined at home before having some time to take a holiday.
PSG's rivals in England, Spain, Germany and Italy are back playing again. In contrast, Neymar returned to France two weekends ago after three months in Brazil and headed straight to join teammates Marco Verratti, Angel Di Maria, Leandro Paredes and Marquinhos in the glitzy Mediterranean resort of Saint-Tropez.
Meanwhile, Kylian Mbappe posted photos of himself on Instagram along the coast in Monaco.
They returned to a club having to deal with the financial consequences of the pandemic and the early end to the season. PSG estimate they stand to lose over 200 million euros ($224 million) from the resulting losses of ticketing and broadcast revenue.
That will probably ensure there are no headline-grabbing transfers coming soon, although PSG recently made Argentine striker Mauro Icardi's loan move from Inter Milan permanent for a reported fee of up to 58 million euros.
The financial situation has also helped make up the mind of sporting director Leonardo over the futures of two high-profile veterans-Brazil defender Thiago Silva and Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani-whose contracts expire this month and will not be renewed.
"Maybe we are making a mistake, I don't know, there is never a perfect moment," Leonardo told Le Journal du Dimanche.
It is hoped the 35-year-old Silva, the club captain, can be persuaded to stay to feature in the remaining rounds of the Champions League in the Portuguese capital. However, club-record scorer Cavani, 33, is set to walk away and the exodus is not stopping there.
Beligan rightback Thomas Meunier last week joined Borussia Dortmund, signing a contract through the end of the 2023-24 season.
Hotly touted young French defender Tanguy Kouassi is also expected to depart, with the towering 18-year-old apparently set to sign for Bayern Munich.
However, the prospects of either Mbappe or Neymar leaving appear less than slim, given the financial challenges faced by PSG's European rivals.
"He is the future of PSG. That is what everyone wants. Ideally we would extend his contract," Leonardo said of Mbappe.
What Mbappe and PSG want now is the Champions League, and after years of underachievement in Europe they are targeting glory when the competition is played out in a "final eight" straight knockout format in Lisbon.
However, between now and a quarterfinal somewhere between Aug 12 and 15, Thomas Tuchel's team will only have two competitive games, with the French Cup final against Saint-Etienne and League Cup final against Lyon both set to go ahead in late July.
"We have felt good ever since the season began. Unfortunately, we know what happened with the coronavirus and everything had to stop," Di Maria told sports daily L'Equipe.
"The other major leagues are restarting. That must not be an excuse but it does make things more difficult for us," he added.
Like Lyon, PSG is therefore completely out of step with its Champions League rivals, although that could still work to its advantage.
For example, Spanish and English clubs will have completed an exhausting dash to get their seasons finished in late July.
Perhaps Mbappe, Neymar and their teammates will be fresher than ever and, therefore, primed to go on and win the final in Lisbon on Aug 23.