Has The Neymar Era Killed the Development of Young Players at PSG?

Andy BrassellFeatured ColumnistSeptember 22, 2017

Neymar's arrival at PSG has made waves, but Kylian Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot ensure there is still local representation in the team.
Neymar's arrival at PSG has made waves, but Kylian Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot ensure there is still local representation in the team.CHRISTOPHE SIMON/Getty Images

The Neymar effect is being fully felt at Paris Saint-Germain, and while nobody would argue the excitement is dying down yet, there has been the dawning of a realisation.

Stars don't arrive unconditionally. There is baggage. Rarely was this more apparent than in the infamous, unseemly to and fro between the Brazilian forward and Edinson Cavani against Olympique Lyonnais over who should take a penalty.

The Uruguayan, at least, can stand up for himself. He's 30, has an enormous amount of respect at the club for his sterling service over the past four years (not to mention his 49 goals last season) and was, until Neymar's arrival, the best-paid player at the club, according to Le Parisien.

Yet the feeling is growing that PSG is becoming a show, symbolising the cult of stars as much as it does collective excellence. This is something that, according to editions of L'Equipe and others, doesn't sit too comfortably with Cavani, who was to an extent the victim of the cult of personality once already during his spell in the French capital when he lived in the shadow of the inimitable Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

It's the medium- to long-term effect of this star-led policy that has prompted concern in some quarters, however. Pascal Georgen, the father of the 19-year-old academy product Alec Georgen, recently gave a lengthy interview to L'Equipe in which he complained there was no path from the youth ranks to the first team.

The plan had been for Alec, a defender who has excelled for PSG's UEFA Youth League side, to be loaned out for the season—probably to a Ligue 2 club, though newly promoted Amiens also showed interest. Instead, he has stayed to continue playing with the Paris reserve team, with his father telling L'Equipe of the club "not doing the necessary" to get a deal done and the failure equalling "six wasted months [in terms of] his progression."

His sense is his son has been forgotten about, with the club having other priorities. With no prospect of first-team action, the image displayed is of a young man, eager to learn but with no place to grow. "It's absolutely imperative that we unblock the situation in winter," Pascal said.

The edge is immediately taken off Georgen senior's argument before we get into the heart of it by one man. Adrien Rabiot has been excellent during PSG's perfect start to the season, thriving in a midfield that needed bossing, with Blaise Matuidi sold, Marco Verratti out through suspension, Thiago Motta ageing and a move for a defensive-midfield organiser like AS Monaco's Fabinho failing to materialise.

Rabiot's rise to team cornerstone was put to Georgen in the L'Equipe interview, though he claimed the 22-year-old midfielder "is the tree that hides the forest," an exception to the rule. The quality of Rabiot's play this season suggests he would be in any team.

"[Manager] Unai Emery doesn't trust the youngsters," Georgen Sr. said, pointing out Kingsley Coman and Dan-Axel Zagadou's departures and their ability to find (varied) playing time at two sizeable European clubs in Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, respectively. "Their situation shows they're right [to have left]," he continued. "It puts our choice to have extended the contract (Georgen signed up until 2020 at the start of the summer) into doubt. Have we made a mistake?"

Spreading his wings away from Paris helped Kingsley Coman break into the France setup.
Spreading his wings away from Paris helped Kingsley Coman break into the France setup.Francois Mori/Associated Press/Associated Press

When Georgen Sr. is talking about Parisian products soaring after flying the nest, he could easily add Jean-Kevin Augustin, who has been outstanding since arriving at RB Leipzig in the summer and is forging a formidable partnership with Timo Werner, to that list. The striker is just a year older than Alec Georgen and already looks the part as a starter for a UEFA Champions League club.

Those could be used as cautionary tales, just as Kylian Mbappe's signing is in its own way. How did PSG let a player from their neck of the woods—their new striker grew up in Bondy, around seven miles from the centre of Paris—slip through the net, only to pay a king's ransom for him as a teenager?

What the Coman, Augustin and latterly Zagadou's successes prove, however, is the academy at Camp des Loges is doing a lot right. Last season's rating of academies by the Federation Francaise de Football (FFF) put PSG in third place, per the club's official website, somewhat inevitably behind Lyon and Monaco's systems. Those two clubs are synonymous with elite youth development, which undoubtedly gives them the edge over Paris in recruiting the best youth—for now.

And while the pathway at PSG may not be easy, the journey to the senior team is not impossible. Alphonse Areola and Presnel Kimpembe (and the latter's performance in last year's round-of-16 first-leg demolition of Barcelona in the Champions League only gets more impressive with time) were conveniently glossed over in Georgen Sr.'s complaints.

The idea Emery doesn't give chances to youngsters was given a big dent as recently as Sunday, with the 21-year-old Argentinian Giovani Lo Celso (not a Camp des Loges product and still adapting to European football) putting in a decisive turn as a substitute against Lyon.

Presnel Kimpembe has the qualities to be a defensive leader for PSG.
Presnel Kimpembe has the qualities to be a defensive leader for PSG.Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

The new reality at PSG means this is unlikely to be a one-off. It is no secret there needs to be some serious book-balancing at the Parc des Princes post-Neymar and Mbappe, with Angel Di Maria and Lucas Moura among the high-earners reported to be up for grabs. This could see the club move towards the "Zidanes y Pavones" model employed at Real Madrid during the first Florentino Perez era.

Madrid's line was that it was about "preserving the identity" of the club, mixing the megastars with home birds who understood the club, as the then-sporting director Emilio Butragueno told me in an interview for the book All Or Nothing: A Season in the Life of the Champions League.

The idea is a beguiling one. The truth is players of the level of Raul Bravo and Paco Pavon, with all due respect, would not have been afforded a sniff of the first team without the financial imperative for the club to blood them. Paris have the talent in Rabiot, Kimpembe and perhaps Christopher Nkunku to make a far better job of this template than Madrid did 15 years ago.

Rabiot can understand Georgen Sr.'s concern—he pushed for a loan move when he felt anxious he wasn't getting enough minutes, as Sam Long reported in the Evening Standard, and it put a strain on his relationship with the club.

As the new prince of the Paris midfield can testify, it is incredibly hard to get a chance as a young player at the Parc and has been for some time. That doesn't make PSG any different to any of Europe's other giants, whose genuine equals they aspire to be.

In this financial climate, they need their youth products more than ever.