Ah, the summer. It can be the best and worst time to be a football fan. For those who can’t stomach three months without seriously meaningful games to others who despise the constant scheming, planning, rumour-mongering that is the incessant transfer market.
And yet, there’s something so captivating when your club signs a new player – be it someone the manager has coveted for a while, a surprise coup who has been stolen away from under the nose of a rival or an up-and-coming talent.
Of course, that excitement can rise or decline depending on how well the player performs in the ensuing season and how much money is forked over.
When you shell out a lot of money on a player, you expect a return. But as you can see below, it doesn’t always work out that way.
In the latest of our series, we take a look at the 10 most expensive Ligue 1 signings in each of the last 10 summers (pre-2019) and deliver a verdict on whether they’ve flourished or flopped.
KYLIAN MBAPPE (Monaco to PSG)
Little could Neymar have predicted that after stepping out of Lionel Messi’s shadow and into the shallower pond of Ligue 1, he would have to contend with yet another huge fish in these backwaters. The rise of French wonderboy Mbappe – as well as the continued importance of Edinson Cavani (not to mention his off-field shenanigans and rapidly declining interest in being in situ) has resulted in Neymar yet again being forced to share the stage rather than shine alone on it.
A huge fee was needed to massage Mbappe away from Monaco last summer (he arrived on loan the previous summer, at the same time as the Brazilian). But, when you consider his age and impossibly high ceiling, not to mention it is still nearly half of what was required to nab Neymar, it is already almost guaranteed to be viewed as a bargain later down the line.
He made a steady start in his debut campaign in the capital – scoring 13 league goals (six and 15 fewer than Neymar and Cavani respectively) and a respectable 21 in 44 games overall. But last season was when he really rose to prominence – leading Ligue 1 with 33 goals in 29 games (11 more than Nicolas Pepe).
Tellingly he scored 16 more goals overall (39) than Cavani and Neymar (both scored 23). They played less games due to injury and other issues but it proved that Mbappe is the prized possession atop the mantelpiece.
The only problem is, how long until the big fish feels like making a splash in deeper ponds?
NEYMAR (Barcelona to PSG)
Oooh, this just got interesting. Score a ton of goals: check. Bag a truck-load of medals and trophies: check. But an unmitigated success: no. Were we expecting anything else other than a glut of goals when he swapped the Camp Nou for the Parc des Princes? No. If anything, we were expecting quite a bit more. Like meaningful trophies.
PSG parted with a world record fee to bring the Brazilian to the French capital for the same reason the Old Lady brought the ageing Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus – to win the Champions League.
And while the Old Lady and old man ambled into the Champions League quarter-finals last season before being overpowered by a sprightly young Ajax side, Neymar and Co have flattered to deceive, falling at the last 16 hurdle during each of his two seasons.
Sure, they won the domestic quadruple in his debut campaign, but were beaten in both the Coup de France and Coupe de la Ligue last term. Considering they’re playing farmers most weeks, Neymar really mucked this move up.
GRZEGORZ KRYCHOWIAK (Sevilla to PSG)
Amidst the arrival of huge names at PSG in the last decade since the money flowed in, it was going to be hard for a defensive midfielder to shine. But even so, Krychowiak’s decline after arriving in Paris was sharp. You can’t blame him for following the money trail but what did seem strange is how readily he swapped his pivotal role in Sevilla’s midfield – the Pole played a crucial part in the latter two of their three straight Europa League successes from 2014-16 – to become a mere prop in Paris.
But after just 19 appearances during his debut 2016/17 campaign he was farmed out to West Brom the following season. He didn’t even play enough games to get a winners’ medal in either the Coupe de France or Coupe de la Ligue as PSG were beaten to the Ligue 1 title by Monaco.
He spent last season on loan at Lokomotiv Moscow who he joined permanently this summer.
ANGEL DI MARIA (Manchester United to PSG)
From Manchester United flop to getting back on top. Di Maria has been a revelation at the Parc des Princes, where he has not only resurrected his reputation, but managed to play a leading role amidst all the Mbappe, Cavani and Neymar nonsense.
Even though the front three have been destructive as PSG’s domestic dominance shows no sign of dissipating, Di Maria has also put in consistently deadly displays.
Last season, as Mbappe (33 league goals and 38 in total), Cavani (18 league, 22 overall) and Neymar (15 league, 22 overall) scored freely, Di Maria clung to their coat tails with 11 and 17 respectively.
He’s hit double figures every year, with a personal high of 21 goals overall in 45 games two seasons ago also career best figures.
He scored the winning goal as PSG beat Lille in the 2016 Coupe de la Ligue final while ending his debut campaign by setting a new Ligue 1 record for assists in a season with 18. He sits third on the club’s all-time list of assist kings with 68 behind Safet Susic and Mustapha Dahleb.
In all he’s hoovered up nine major honours so far. There are surely more to come.
DAVID LUIZ (Chelsea to PSG)
A madcap marauding defender, capable as much of the maddening and utterly ludicrous as he is the majestic. But the Arsenal man who resembles a Simpsons character was anything but a sideshow during his stint in Paris – having divided opinion like few others during his first stint with Chelsea from 2011-14.
He forged a watertight partnership with Thiago Silva in the French capital, even if he was encountering inferior opposition week to week, but his move was rewarded almost immediately with a surprise inclusion in the FIFA World Team of the Year at the 2014 Ballon d’Or awards.
That he rebuilt his confidence and solidified his stature somewhat following a disastrous World Cup with Brazil the summer he left Chelsea was admirable.
He cleared up in Paris; PSG won a domestic double of Ligue 1 and Coupe de France in his first season. They claimed the quadruple a year later, adding the Trophee des Champions and Coupe de la Ligue.
He left after reportedly being informed he was not part of Unai Emery’s plans, and silenced a few doubters on his Stamford Bridge return in 2016, where he added further trophies to his gleaming collection.
EDINSON CAVANI (Napoli to PSG)
Too many cooks spoil the broth as the famous saying forebodes. And yet, PSG and Cavani have roasted the competition during the Uruguayan’s six-and-a-half year tenure in a PSG shirt.
And despite most people assuming Cavani’s days may have been numbered following the arrivals of Mbappe and Neymar in the last two seasons, the veteran marksman has continued to contribute…heavily.
His gluttonous tally of 49 goals in 50 games for PSG during 2016/17 was a gargantuan haul. And even though it preceded Mbappe and Neymar’s double signing, he still weighed in with a monstrous 40 strikes in 47 outings during 2017/18 – 12 more than the Brazilian and 19 more than the homegrown teenage talent.
An iconic moment arrived on January 27, 2018, when he scored in a routine 4-0 home win over Montpellier – the strike saw Cavani surpass Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the club’s all-time top scorer. It was his 157th goal in his 229th match and he has since gone on to notch near to 200 – netting 195 in an incredible 282 games. This one is almost too easy.
THIAGO SILVA (AC Milan to PSG)
Upon his surprising arrival from AC Milan, Silva was presented to the media as the “best defender in the world” by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi. It was hard to argue with that description back then. And seven years later he has gone on to prove it and, even at 34, still remains among the best centre-backs in the game.
Arriving as part of PSG’s two-punch attack on the San Siro which also saw Ibrahimovic head to France, the Swede’s superb goalscoring exploits have overshadowed the Brazilian’s impact on the club somewhat.
But while the self-proclaimed lion roared to become the club’s highest ever goalscorer (before Cavani), the signing of Silva was arguably more pivotal. He has served as the lynchpin of the legacy forged since Qatar Sports Investments’ 2011 takeover.
With 284 outings he is 10th on the club’s all-time appearance list and could feasibly climb into the top three by the end of this season. Captain since his arrival he is also on course to surpass Dominique Bathenay as the club’s longest-serving skipper.
JAVIER PASTORE (Palermo to PSG)
As Manchester United have found to their cost since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, throwing money at an issue doesn’t necessarily make it go away. Likewise, when the money started flowing into PSG eight years ago, there was a lot of trial and error.
The PSG puzzle has been built piece by piece over that time but while some have fitted seamlessly – Ibrahimovic, Silva, Cavani and Mbappe – others have been misshapen.
Among them were Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura and Pastore. The latter was one of the first big money signings following the takeover. But that big money failed to materialise into a major impact, with just 45 goals coming in 265 appearances.
The club’s rise naturally led to domestic success and Pastore won 12 major titles. But while the aforementioned trio were top quality and good to watch on occasion, they were not the most productive or consistent.
Pastore in-particularly was just a level below Europe’s elite. It wasn’t until Di Maria arrived that a cutting edge in the final third was finally carved out.
YOANN GOURCUFF (Bordeaux to Lyon)
Wow. You have to go back eight summers to the last time a record Ligue 1 summer signing didn’t end up in Paris. And despite being the cheapest of all 10 record arrivals in the last decade, Gourcuff has unquestionably been the biggest disappointment.
Not least because he was once seen as the future of French football. In fact he was anointed ‘Le Successeur’ to Zinedine Zidane by L’Equipe following a sublime goal for Bordeaux in a 4-0 thrashing of PSG in January 2009.
Gourcuff, 22, fired the club to their sixth and last Ligue 1 title, collecting a slew of personal awards along the way, including winning the Ligue 1 Player of the Year, Goal of the Year and being named French Player of the Year.
Columnists and commentators believed Gourcuff was the phenomenon French football had been crying out for since Zidane’s retirement three years previously. Christophe Dugarry said after the goal: “I felt ill when Zidane retired. Watching Gourcuff has cured me.”
He’d collected a Champions League winners’ medal in two seasons with Milan but had failed to fully break through. Many thought a 2010 move to Lyon was finally his moment to shine. But while Gourcuff had the ability to evoke memories of Zizou’s magic, he lacked the hunger and hard work to make it happen with regularity and his career flickered and faded out. He won only 31 caps for Les Bleus.
The successor to Zidane’s throne, still only 33, is now a free agent, having left Dijon this summer.
LISANDRO LOPEZ (Porto to Lyon)
For a man who arrived in France needing to replace the goals of Karim Benzema, you’d have to say Lopez surpassed all expectations – netting at a prolific rate of 82 across four seasons and 166 total games.
That was 16 more than Real Madrid man Benzema managed, but while ‘Licha’ thrived individually, he suffered the misfortune of arriving during a fallow period in terms of success for OL, the morphing of PSG into a superpower and a transformative period in French football that delivered five different Ligue 1 champions in five seasons.
Amazingly, none of those were Lyon and it wasn’t until his third and penultimate season in 2011/12 that Lopez lifted his only piece of silverware at the Stade de Gerland – fittingly netting the winner in the Coupe de France final, a 1-0 win over Quevilly.
He did win Ligue 1’s Footballer of the Year in his debut campaign but, having won four straight titles at previous club Porto, had to wait until last season for another league title win, claiming a heartwarming first trophy with boyhood club Racing Club back in Argentina, 16 years after making his debut.
While Neymar’s future remains in the balance, Paris Saint-Germain are all set to launch the defence of their Ligue 1 title in the upcoming weekend.
The Brazilian superstar has been linked with a return to his former club Barcelona all summer and has been urged to remain at Paris by team-mate Kylian Mbappe.
“Everyone loves him and I love him so much,” Mbappe had said about Neymar following PSG’s 2-1 win over Rennes in the Champions Trophy clash in Shenzhen, China.
“I don’t want him to leave the team, obviously. I want him to stay. When you think about his situation and then he plays very well and he co-operates with the team you can see what he means to us.”
While Neymar’s future remains up in the air, Mbappe has reiterated his commitment to PSG following his controversial remarks about seeking ‘new challenges’ in the Ligue 1 award ceremony held in May.
“I think it wasn’t the right place (to say that),” Mbappe was quoted as saying by AFP.
“I’d like to say sorry to the players who were there, because I spoiled the party.”
While PSG have captured six of the last seven Ligue 1 titles on offer, Champions League success continues to elude them and German playmaker Julian Draxler is desperate to make amends on that front in the upcoming season.
The French side bowed out in the Round of 16 in the 2018-19 season to Manchester United despite gaining a 2-0 first-leg advantage away from home.
“It hurts a lot, it hurts still that we did not go through,” Draxler told AFP.
“But from the potential in the team, we are ready to go far in the Champions League,” the German added.
While progress on the European front will be primary for PSG in the upcoming season, they will be further emboldened in their domestic pursuits with their rivals losing key players over the summer.
Lille winger Nicolas Pepe has departed for Arsenal while Lyon have lost the services of Nabil Fekir, Tanguy Ndombele and Ferland Mendy. Losing three key players in one go has seen Lyon struggle in pre-season with new boss Sylvinho finding the going tough.
The former Barcelona and Arsenal left-back has a massive challenge on his hands if Lyon are to put an end to PSG’s domestic dominance. Another manager who will be keenly followed over the course of the season is Andres Villas-Boas with the Portuguese manager making a return to football after an 18-month break.
Paris Saint-Germain trained in Shenzhen on Wednesday afternoon, hours after the French Ligue 1 champions arrived in the city in the southern part of China.
Neymar joined the practice session – to the delight of local fans.
The Brazil star has been linked with a return to Barcelona, but former France midfielder Youri Djorkaeff, now a PSG club ambassador, played down the transfer talk.
“When you are a big player, when you are a star, it’s normal that everyday, clubs want to buy you,” he said.
PSG open their tour against Inter Milan on Saturday followed by a game against Sydney FC on July 30.
To finish, they face French Cup winners Rennes FC for the Trophee des Champions at the Shenzhen Universiade Stadium on August 3 before returning to France for the start of the Ligue 1 season.