Mbappe, Pogba and Mahrez: how PSG could look if they recruited from Paris

FT Desk
  • FT Desk
  • Updated: 24 Jun 2022 06:24 CEST
  • 11 min read
FT Desk Updated: 24 Jun 2022 06:24 CEST 11 min read
Riyad Mahrez, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba - all Paris natives

Kylian Mbappe could have had the likes of Paul Pogba and Riyad Mahrez for teammates at Paris Saint-Germain if the club did a better job of recruiting from the surrounding area.

PSG are on the cusp of appointing Christophe Galtier as Mauricio Pochettino's successor, the coach who won Ligue 1 with Lille in 2021 before spending last season in the Côte d'Azur with Nice.

With Galtier getting the top job at the Parc des Princes ahead of Zinedine Zidane, and Mbappe's new contract lifting him above Lionel Messi and Neymar as the highest-paid player at the club, there is a sea-change in policy in the French capital.

No more bling-bling at PSG

Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi confirmed as much in an interview with French daily newspaper Le Parisien on Tuesday.

"Dreams are one thing, reality is another," he said. "Perhaps we should change our slogan. Dream bigger is good, but today we must be realistic, we don't want flashy, bling-bling anymore, it's the end of the glitter [at PSG].

"We want players who love the club, who love to fight, who love to win, and we want this mentality to spread throughout the club."

Neymar cost PSG a world record €222 million when he swapped Barcelona for Paris in 2017, but although he has won four Ligue 1 titles since, the Champions League he was meant to help deliver has eluded player and club.

To add insult to injury, it was PSG academy graduate Kingsley Coman who headed home the winner for Bayern Munich when the Germans beat Paris 1-0 in the Champions League final in 2020, a listless Neymar on the other side.

Coman had spent a decade with PSG having first signed for the club the summer he turned eight, but left on a free for Juventus in 2014 before joining Bayern a year later. But he's not the only player Paris have squandered.

FootballTransfers looks at a Paris-born XI who would put the fear into any opposition:

Goalkeeper: Mike Maignan

Ok, Maignan was technically born in the French Guianese capital of Cayenne, but he moved to the mainland's equivalent at the age of eight, which was more than enough time for Paris to recruit him to their academy - something they did when he was 14.

Maignan progressed through the age groups and famously earned Zlatan Ibrahimovic's respect after answering back to the big Swede in first-team training, but he left for Lille in 2015 without making a senior appearance.

Now a league champion in France and Italy with Lille - under Galtier - and Milan - alongside Zlatan - Maignan has since more than proved his class. His 17 clean sheets last season were a Serie A best mark.

Right-back: Jules Kounde

Kounde was born in Paris, the nephew of former Togo forward Charles Tokple who played for Racing Club in the French capital in the 1970s, but it was Bordeaux who were the first to gamble on his talent when Kounde was 12.

After starring in Ligue 1 with les Girondins, Kounde was bought for €25m by Sevilla in 2019 and has gone from strength to strength since, blossoming into a world-class centre-back who is just as happy to play on the right, winning the 2020 Europa League on the way.

Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea have all been linked with a move this summer for a 23-year-old who is also a mainstay in Didier Deschamps' France side.

Centre-back: Ibrahima Konate

The path between Paris FC and PSG youth teams is a well-trodden one. It's a journey Mamadou Sakho - one of Konate's predecessors in the Liverpool back line - made early on his career.

PSG scouts must have been aware of his existence, but with the likes of Marquinhos and his Brazilian compatriot Alex already on their books in 2014, and David Luiz joining them in short order, Konate was instead picked up by Sochaux, who then sold him on to RB Leipzig in 2017.

Liverpool signed him last summer to provide some steel alongside Virgil van Dijk's silk at the heart of their defence, and Konate is now a full international with world champions France.

Centre-back: William Saliba

Another one who slipped through the net, Saliba was born in Bondy, a northeastern suburb of Paris, thus sharing a neighbourhood with Mbappe as well as Fiorentina's Jonathan Ikone growing up.

After impressing with Paris-based boys club FC Montfermeil, it was Saint-Etienne who first offered Saliba a route into professional football, signing him at 15 and handing him his first-team debut two years later.

Now owned by Arsenal, Saliba spent last season on a successful loan with Marseille, where he wants to stay. His club future may be undecided, but his international one looks secure, with Deschamps preferring him to Dayot Upamecano and Clement Lenglet in recent France squads.

Left-back: Ferland Mendy

Mendy really is one who got away for PSG. While they may have missed Konate and Saliba outright, they did in fact have the Real Madrid left-back on their books - for eight years indeed, between 2004 and 2012.

Mendy was allowed to leave with yet another Brazilian, Maxwell, dominating his position in Paris at the time, and put himself on the French footballing map with first Le Havre and then Lyon.

Now first-choice for Real - and a large part of the reason club legend Marcelo has been allowed to leave this summer - PSG could only watch on and wonder what might have been as they struggled with Layvin Kurzawa and Juan Bernat in recent seasons.

Central midfield: N'Golo Kante

In fairness to PSG, they and the rest of French football missed Kante.

"He played for a club in Paris that's called Suresnes where one of my best friends is director and he told me 'Please, I have a player we know that is unbelievable. Nobody wants him in France'," Arsene Wenger told his former Arsenal striker Ian Wright on Lad Bible.

"He took him in his car and travelled with him from club to club. And finally, a club from division three in France [Boulogne] took N'Golo Kante. It's an unbelievable story. You could make a film about him."

Kante subsequently played for Lens before being picked up by Leicester in 2015. A shock Premier League title win later and he moved to Chelsea, where he was crowned English champion for a second time in 2017. Also a cornerstone of the France team that won the World Cup in 2018.

Central midfield: Paul Pogba

Pogba is another Paris-born central midfielder who won the World Cup with France four years ago. Born into a footballing family in the eastern suburb of Lagny-sur-Marne, Pogba joined Le Havre's fabled youth set-up in 2007, and was soon spirited away to Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United.

His story at United has been a strange one, with two free transfer moves to Juventus either side of a then world record €105m move back to Old Trafford in 2016, but he remains a star of the world game.

Pogba was linked with a move to PSG under freedom of contract this summer before he decided to return to Italy, but it could have been Paris collecting his biggest transfer fee if they'd been more vigilant is hoovering up local talent.

Right wing: Riyad Mahrez

Born in Sarcelles in the north of Paris, Manchester City winger Mahrez now turns out for Algeria internationally. Yet another player who passed through Le Havre's youth system, Mahrez once had a trial in Scotland with St. Mirren.

That may sound like the journey of a late bloomer, but he has exploded to prominence since Leicester took a gamble on him the summer before they did Kante. Like his former teammate, Mahrez built on the Foxes' shock title win with more silverware - in his case winning three Premier League titles with City.

PSG have been linked with a move for Mahrez in a bid to replace outgoing winger Angel Di Maria. Ranked at €45m by FootballTransfers' sophisticated algorithm, he would have cost a lot less if Paris had put their feelers out in the local area over the last decade.

Attacking midfield: Christopher Nkunku

Like Coman and indeed Bayer Leverkusen's Moussa Diaby before him, Nkunku was a PSG prodigy who left the French capital in 2019 with first-team opportunities at a premium; with Leipzig giving him a path to regular minutes in a team which included fellow Parisians Konate and Nordi Mukiele.

To say Nkunku seized his chance would be a gross understatement. The 24-year-old has improved incredibly in his three seasons in Saxony, and last season returned his 35 goals and 20 assists in all competitions at a rate of one every 78 minutes.

Capped for France against the Ivory Coast in March, Nkunku is now one of the most in-demand attacking assets in world football. PSG would have to splash out significantly more than the €13m they sold him for if they wanted him back.

Left wing: Kingsley Coman

The poster boy of Parisian profligacy, Coman was PSG's youngest ever debutant when he took to the field for them in a February 2013 meeting with Sochaux at the tender age of 16 years, eight months and four days.

A winger with the pace and trickery to get past any marker, Coman couldn't get beyond an out-of-position Edinson Cavani on one flank nor Ezequiel Lavezzi on the other in his debut season, and instead tried his luck at Juventus.

A Serie A champion in his first two seasons in Turin, Coman subsequently won seven Bundesligas with Bayern, meaning he is yet to have a senior top-flight season without a title at the end of it. There is also the small matter of that Champions League-winning header against PSG to boot.

Striker: Kylian Mbappe

Mbappe would be the crown jewel in this PSG ensemble just as he is in real life, the Bondy-born prodigy now arguably the best young player in world football - if not outright - and he has a bumper new contract in Paris to reflect that status.

But there are two Parisians in PSG's average starting line-up from last season - Presnel Kimpembe the other - and les Rouge-et-Bleu didn't have to spend €145m to bring Kimpembe back to the French capital, making him the most expensive teenager ever.

Mbappe initially forged his path with Monaco, promoted to their first team just three weeks after signing as a 16-year-old. He combined beautifully with Radamel Falcao as the principality side took the French title from Paris in 2017, and he would have cost PSG less heartache and money if they had got to him first.

Are there any other Parisians?

PSG would field a comprehensive squad if they cast their youth academy net more comprehensively around their native Ile-de-France. Marseille's former Arsenal star Matteo Guendouzi is from Poissy in the western suburbs, and fellow midfielders Adrien Rabiot (now of Juventus) and Tanguy Ndombele (Tottenham Hotspur) also call the French capital home.

Anthony Martial (Man Utd) and Alphonse Areola (on loan at West Ham from PSG) are among the others, as is Raphael Guerriero, the Borussia Dortmund left-back who turns out for Portugal internationally but hails from Le Blanc-Mesnil in the northeast of the French capital.

Al-Khelaifi doesn't need to flash the cash any more - the diamonds in the rough are right on his doorstep.