THE final few days of Paris Saint-Germain’s summer transfer window gave credence to the old adage that a week is a long time in football.
On Monday, August 26, the mood around the French champions was sombre. Neymar remained frozen out in anticipation of a return to his former club Barcelona that seemed to be edging closer by the day. Kylian Mbappé and Edinson Cavani were both facing weeks on the sidelines after sustaining injuries in the 4-0 win over Toulouse the day before. It left Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting and Jesé as the only fit centre-forwards at Thomas Tuchel’s disposal – two former Stoke City players who had collectively scored seven goals in 47 appearances since arriving in Paris.
Seven days later, and by the time Paris Saint-Germain’s supporters laid their heads on their pillows on the final day of the transfer window, everything had changed. Neymar was still at the club and looked set to remain until the end of the season, his mooted return to Barcelona having collapsed. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas had arrived from Real Madrid, potentially solving what has been a problem position ever since the Qataris took over in 2011.
PSG are packing some serious firepower. pic.twitter.com/bBoy8Dcb6U
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) September 2, 2019
And in the biggest coup of the day, Paris Saint-Germain had secured the services of Mauro Icardi on a season-long loan from Inter Milan for a loan fee of €5 million and with an option to buy reportedly set at €70 million. Having been bemoaning his luck in the striking department just a week earlier, Tuchel now found himself equipped with perhaps the most impressive collection of attacking players in Europe.
Cavani is not expected to recover from his hip problem for another two weeks and October will probably be closing in by the time Mbappé makes his return from his hamstring injury, but Paris Saint-Germain will be assured of having at least one world-class centre-forward in their line-up for their Champions League opener at home to Real Madrid on September 18. Icardi, 26, spent his first day the Camp des Loges training centre west of Paris on Thursday and is in line to make his debut at home to Strasbourg in Ligue 1 next weekend.
Sporting director Leonardo looked at several candidates to plug the void created by Cavani and Mbappé’s absences, with free agent Fernando Llorente (who ended up going to Napoli), Juventus striker Mario Mandžukić and Valencia’s Rodrigo all reported to have been on his shortlist. But in signing Icardi, the Brazilian succeeded in acquiring a player who will provide genuine competition for Cavani, the club’s all-time record goal-scorer, and could yet become his replacement. Though adored by the club’s supporters, Cavani turns 33 in February and will be out of contract at the end of the season.
Icardi’s arrival presents Tuchel with a dizzying set of options in attack. The new man could partner Cavani in a two-man attack or play up front on his own, with Mbappé, Neymar and Ángel di María providing support. If the coach was feeling particularly merciless, he could even align all five players at the same time, with Mbappé and Di María wide, Neymar at number 10 and Cavani and Icardi up front. For all the records they have obliterated since the Qatar Sports Investments takeover in 2011, Paris Saint-Germain are yet to score 10 goals in a single game. With the firepower in their ranks this season, that could soon change.
There will be hurdles for Icardi to overcome if he is to make a success of his time in Paris – adapting to life in a new city, learning a new language, finding a place in a changing room that is already chock-full of big egos – but one thing he should guarantee is goals. He scored 124 in 219 appearances at Inter, where he spent six seasons, and shared the Serie A Capocannoniere (top-scorer award) in both 2015 and 2018.
Icardi differs from the other attacking players on the Parisian’s books, in that, in the finest Argentinian traditions, he is a pure penalty-box striker. A prolific youth footballer in the Canary Islands, where he moved from Rosario with his family at the age of nine, he played for Barcelona at youth level but left because the club’s ethos of patient possession football didn’t suit his predatory style. Never one to waste time harrying opposition defenders, Icardi is a striker who comes to life in the 18-yard box, where his timing, cunning, sense of anticipation, aerial ability and finishing prowess with both feet make him one of the deadliest centre-forwards in the game.
“I think he’s a different player to what they already have,” former PSG and Inter midfielder Benoît Cauet told L’Équipe. “Cavani needs to work for the team and to tire out opposition defences in order to be effective. Icardi is different. He’s in the 18-yard box, on the prowl. Tuchel is going to have an incredible array of choice.”
Paris Saint-Germain tend not to struggle for goals in Ligue 1, averaging a phenomenal 99.5 over the past four league seasons, but Icardi’s nose for goal could help the club to overcome their hex in the Champions League, where an inability to capitalise on their strong moments proved costly in both their last-16 elimination by Real Madrid in 2018 and last season’s calamitous exit against Manchester United at the same stage of the competition
After a fraught last few months at Inter, where his agent and wife Wanda Nara’s public proclamations about his contract negotiations took him to the point of no return in the eyes of both fans and the club hierarchy, Icardi will doubtless enjoy the comparative tranquillity of life in the French capital. A successful adaptation to Ligue 1 could also help him add to his paltry tally of eight Argentina caps.
Either way, with Icardi, Cavani, Mbappé, Neymar and Di María now in tandem, it is likely to make for explosive viewing