PSG sporting director Antero Henrique's first year not as successful as first meets the eye
Paris Saint-Germain targeted Bayern Munich central defender Jerome Boateng all summer but ultimately signed Thilo Kehrer from Schalke 04 instead of the Germany international. Bayern president Uli Hoeness slammed the French champions' sporting director Antero Henrique after the summer transfer window closed, advising PSG "to replace their sporting director," a view echoed by Bayern sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic.
Sour grapes after Boateng and Renato Sanches did not join Juan Bernat at Parc des Princes? Or do Hoeness and Salihamidzic have a point? The Portuguese has been in place with the Ligue 1 giants for over a year now, so how should he be judged?
What has Henrique done well?
Henrique was appointed last June, and PSG have since signed Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Dani Alves and Gianluigi Buffon. In the same timeframe, PSG have sold Lucas Moura, Blaise Matuidi, Serge Aurier, Javier Pastore and Goncalo Guedes, among others.
Nobody can dispute the 50-year-old's ability to sell players and generate funds, although unwanted Hatem Ben Arfa and Jese Rodriguez have proven too stubborn even for him. Given their disciplinary issues, a reported €26 million combined for Jean-Kevin Augustin (RB Leipzig) and Odsonne Edouard (Celtic) rank among Henrique's most impressive sales, so that is a big tick.
Despite being with Les Parisiens when Neymar, Mbappe and Alves arrived, though, the former Porto man does not merit the same glowing praise he gets for showing players the door.
PSG chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi famously told L'Equipe on the topic of UEFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) crackdown that "the players I want, I will have." The Qatari supremo was not joking -- he and his superior, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, wanted Neymar and Mbappe, so Al-Khelaifi got involved personally.
Talks between Neymar's father and the French giants predated Henrique and existed when Olivier Letang and Patrick Kluivert were assistant sporting director (only officially promoted towards the end of his time in Paris) and director of football respectively. Also, no sooner had he retired from playing, Maxwell took a key role in Neymar and Alves' signings -- convincing both Brazilians to believe in the Qatari project.
There were no negotiations between PSG and Barcelona for Neymar, so no need for Henrique's negotiating skills -- it was a simple question of meeting the €222m minimum release clause, which the Ligue 1 champions did. For Mbappe, the combination of Al-Khelaifi's charm and good relations with Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev, as well as the player's desire to play for his childhood club, persuaded the Russian to sanction Mbappe's sale and accept an initial loan.
Henrique was there and involved, notably aiding talks with Neymar and Alves in Portuguese, but he was not crucial to any of those three major deals.
What Henrique has not done well?
After selling Pastore, Yuri Berchiche, Edouard and Jonathan Ikone for around €50m to keep PSG out of immediate FFP trouble in late June, Henrique was in a good position. Thanks to La Liga chief Javier Tebas, that did not last long.
FFP came roaring back and the Portuguese dealmaker had to admit defeat in his attempts to land main summer transfer targets Boateng, Alex Sandro and N'Golo Kante. Henrique ettled instead for Thomas Tuchel-approved Juan Bernat and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting at the last minute.
There was no backup plan when PSG needed it most and although Les Parisiens' legal issues with UEFA mainly concern director general Jean-Claude Blanc and his team, Henrique still had the best part of two months to work within the known limits and failed.
On top of an underwhelming summer, PSG still have no satellite club after links with Portuguese club Vitoria mysteriously evaporated.
Numerous homegrown talents signed professional contracts this summer and some had to be talked around by Henrique and youth academy sporting director Luis Fernandez with the promise of a developmental plan, yet just one or two (arguably not even the most talented), are now out on loan. Tuchel cannot use all of the gems inhabiting the no man's land between the reserves and the seniors without upsetting some of his more established stars or turning the Coupe de la Ligue and/or Coupe de France into a youth breeding ground a la Arsene Wenger's Arsenal in the League Cup.
Last but not least, Henrique's handling of Neymar and Edinson Cavani's penalty spat last season was limp -- like the club's abysmal handling of the issue on the whole. Not only did Henrique get involved far too late, it also underlined the mess that Emery and PSG had watched develop, as well as Henrique's distant relationship with the squad.
Henrique's reputation with Porto comes from a time when they were extremely well run, particularly their scouting and sourcing of South American talent, so they logically dominated Portuguese football. Since then, he has relied heavily on his past, which is reflected by the influx of Portuguese speakers at various levels at PSG, a gravitation towards Portuguese-speaking transfer targets and the limitation of Portugal as seemingly the only viable destination for a satellite club.
Henrique still has an eye for sales but like others before him, is often undermined by executive decisions. For example, his candidates to replace Emery were rejected in favour of Tuchel, who the Emir chose. Team coordinator Maxwell has a better rapport with the players and has shown his worth at several key moments, suggesting he could usurp Henrique sooner rather than later
Depending on how much longer FFP is an issue, PSG need somebody more adept at identifying cheaper talent from various sources and building good squads within financial limits -- Roma's former Sevilla man Monchi, anybody? Otherwise, if the lack of class bemoaned by Hoeness and Salihamdzic is of utmost importance to the Qataris, they should utilise their strong links with Arsene Wenger to bring some much-needed respect to the project.
Henrique has no trouble in identifying top talents but seems to have no alternative answers while those main targets remain unrealistic because of FFP. Most crucially, it is the sporting director's task to work within the current limits to give the coach what they need, and Henrique has failed there in his year in charge.