After a summer full of rumors and whispers, the winner of the Neymar sweepstakes is his current and future club. Paris Saint-Germain, the plucky, oil state-backed underdog, fended off the overtures from both Barcelona and Real Madrid until the death, only celebrating Neymar’s continued residence in France when the transfer deadline passed on Monday.
Or perhaps PSG were celebrating something else entirely, because deadline day also saw two key incoming transfers for the defending Ligue 1 champions. First, the club locked up Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas for a €15 million fee, with former No. 1 goalie Alphonse Areola going the other way to back up Thibaut Courtois in Spain. Then PSG shockingly acquired the services of Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi on a one-year loan with an option to buy next summer for €65 million.
The Navas purchase was a bit of a no-brainer for both sides. The 32-year-old Costa Rican is too good to be a backup anywhere, but especially in Madrid, where adoring fans called for him any time Courtois made a mistake. Areola is a younger, cheaper option for Madrid as a second-string goalie, too. Some Madrid fans would have wanted to ship out Courtois and keep Navas, but since that wasn’t very realistic, this was the best that the Spanish side could do.
As for PSG, they get an upgrade at a crucial position, for a nominal fee of €15 million and a goalie they didn’t seem to trust. Navas is short for a keeper (only 6-foot-1; Courtois, for comparison, is a giant at 6-foot-6), but more than makes up for it with some of the best reflexes and acrobatics in the world. In Paris, Navas will be the uncontested No. 1 for a team that has hope of winning the Champions League, a trophy that he has raised three times.
Of course, a new goalkeeper isn’t going to solve everything that ails PSG, but their other purchase definitely goes a long way towards propelling the club into the tier of European soccer that they so desperately want to join. The drama that seems to follow Icardi often overshadows his talent, but what a talent that is. Since joining Inter from Sampdoria in 2013, Icardi has scored 111 goals in 188 league appearances, peaking two seasons ago with a 29-goal season that earned him a share of the Capocannoniere title, given to the top scorer in Italy.
He’s big, fast, strong, can finish from anywhere in the box, and is a terror in the air. Essentially, he is a perfect striker on the field:
Off the field, though? That’s where his problems come in, and they can’t be ignored as he joins a club that just had a summer-long game of chicken with its star player. Alongside his wife and agent Wanda Nara, Icardi often clashed with Inter over his playing time, salary, and captaincy, to the point where it became untenable for him to remain in Milan, particularly with Romelu Lukaku joining earlier in the summer. Lukaku’s arrival had Icardi feuding with the club one last time, reportedly going as far as suing them over his lack of a first-team spot. With his loan to PSG, Icardi seems to have won the battle, and as long as he is on his best behavior in Paris, he will likely earn a permanent move next year.
For PSG, the risk is almost certainly worth it. Edinson Cavani, their longtime striker, is getting up there in age: he’s 32, while Icardi is just 26. And there have been rumors that the Uruguayan will be Inter Miami’s first marquee signing at some point in the next few months. Bringing in Icardi does create a bit of a glut in the PSG strikeforce: Neymar surely has the left wing locked down, while Kylian Mbappé has the other side reserved, but Icardi and Cavani will have to rotate the No. 9 spot for now.
Well, they will once everyone is healthy. PSG is currently in the midst of an injury crisis, so Icardi’s arrival couldn’t be better timed. The entire trio of attackers mentioned above are currently on the sidelines: Neymar due to “fitness” concerns (though that will surely be solved now that he’s staying in France), Mbappé with a hamstring issue, and Cavani with a hip injury. Icardi will come in and start from day one, and will likely get plenty of chances given all the injuries that PSG seem to fall prey to every season.
There are still issues in Paris. The aforementioned injuries do seem to come at the worst time for PSG every year, and the defense is still too reliant on an aging Thiago Silva to maintain solidity. But PSG saw its weaknesses this summer and corrected them as best as they could, while also keeping one of the best players in the world in town for at least one more season. At the very worst, the club will likely be a pain in the ass for whoever draws them in the Champions League knockout round this year, which is a step up from their embarrassing defeat to Manchester United, of all teams, last season.