Paris Saint-Germain clinch Ligue 1 title but look set for rebuild post-Lionel Messi

PSG win ninth title in 11 years but continued failure in the Champions League and a downturn in form since the World Cup mean another rebuild looks likely

Lionel Messi, right, is set to leave Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season while Kylian Mbappe's future is also uncertain. Reuters
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Paris Saint-Germain clinched their ninth Ligue 1 title in 11 years on Saturday evening to continue their dominance of French football, but there is a growing sense that major changes are needed and a rebuild is imminent.

A 1-1 draw at Strasbourg was enough for PSG to retain the trophy with one round to spare, despite the late season pressure from second-placed Lens, who defeated Ajaccio 3-0 at home.

"It has not been our best season but it has still been a good one," PSG captain Marquinhos recently said.

It was, in fact, shaping up to be more than just a "good" season when PSG began the campaign in fine form. They were unbeaten in all competitions until the mid-season break for the Qatar World Cup as the famed front three of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, and Neymar appeared driven to guide PSG to an elusive first Champions League title. In all, PSG lost six games in 2023.

Yet the unravelling that followed was dramatic. After defeat to Lens in their second Ligue 1 match upon returning from the World Cup break, PSG began to stutter, including a Round of 16 defeat to Bayern Munich for another year of Champions League disappointment.

Neymar was again cut down by injury before Messi was suspended for missing training after taking an unauthorised trip to Saudi Arabia.

Messi scored the goal against Strasbourg, his 496th career league goal in Europe to break Cristiano Ronaldo's scoring record for Europe's top five leagues, but PSG fans have made it clear they want the Argentine superstar to leave. He has even been booed on several occasions by his own supporters.

The mood around the club in recent weeks has appeared sullen, with fans disaffected.

"When we take stock, we need to analyse the first half of the season and what state the players were in when they came back from the World Cup," PSG manager Christophe Galtier said on Friday. "But I understand the disappointment. It has been a very strange season."

Strasbourg v PSG - match gallery

The coaching job has at times seemed too big for Galtier, who arrived last year in the wake of Mbappe's decision to snub Real Madrid and sign a new three-year contract.

Mbappe – scorer of 40 goals this season – might wonder now if he made the right choice, although the question of his future is bound to come up again soon. According to reports, the 24-year-old forward's contract will run out next year unless he exercises an option to stay until 2025.

However, PSG must now seek to rebuild with Mbappe the focal point more than ever. The ageing and out-of-contract Messi is expected to depart and the physically frail Neymar, now 31, is fading as a force.

All eyes will be on what Luis Campos, PSG's Portuguese recruitment guru, does in the transfer market.

Neymar has been injured since March and could leave PSG as part of a rebuild. AFP

He is restrained by Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules and by the fact that PSG have an array of unwanted players on big contracts who are set to return after a season on loan. The saving on Messi's annual salary of an estimated €30 million ($32.5m) net would provide some leeway.

Much has been made of the willingness to focus on younger players hailing from the Paris region, a prolific breeding ground for talent.

This, after all, is a club who have been stung by the decision to let so many prospects leave in recent years, from Kingsley Coman and Adrien Rabiot to Moussa Diaby, Christopher Nkunku and Mike Maignan.

The primary target is the Champions League, in which PSG have gone out in the first knockout stage five times in seven seasons, regularly coming up short at the crucial moment.

"Lots of teams want to go all the way but only one can do so," said Galtier. "To win the Champions League, or to give yourself a chance, you need to be on form in February and March and we were not."

PSG manager Christophe Galtier is expected to leave the club at the end of the season. Reuters

PSG have been here before, and Nasser Al Khelaifi, club president since the Qatari takeover of 2011, surely cannot afford to get another rebuild wrong.

The club's owners continue to be thwarted in their attempts to buy the Parc des Princes from the city of Paris so they can expand capacity, raising the possibility of a move to the larger Stade de France.

All of which means some uncertainty about what lies ahead, although Galtier at least knows his future is likely elsewhere.

A new coach capable of commanding the dressing room's respect is required, and Jose Mourinho and Luis Enrique have been linked with the job.

With PSG having failed to progress in two years with Messi, it remains to be seen if the latest rebuild succeeds where past attempts have failed.

Updated: May 28, 2023, 6:50 AM