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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 August 2018

Neymar and Mbappe key players, but Buffon will be just as crucial to PSG's Uefa Champions League bid

All eyes also on Tuchel and how he manages squad rich with stars but also laden with upcoming, but restless, starlets

Five World Cup winners are available for Paris Saint-Germain this season, which is more or less what the leading club in the nation of new world champions should probably expect.

What PSG’s assembly of medal-holders represent, though, is not so much the elite of France's freshly crowned Bleus as a cross-section of the 21st century’s shifts of power.

The Parisiens have been collecting many of the best footballers from around the planet for seven years now.

If this summer’s transfer window, much of its activity crowded into the month-and-a-half since France picked up the sport’s most prestigious prize in Moscow, has not been as eye-catching at PSG as last year’s record-breaking sprees.

But the latest newcomers to the Parc des Princes might well end up being as important to the progress of the club as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe seemed when they fortified an already powerful attack.

The most conspicuous new men are the goalkeeper and the manager, individuals not far apart in age.

Paris Saint-Germain's Gianluigi Buffon is likely to provide leadership inside the PSG dressing room. Reuters
Paris Saint-Germain's Gianluigi Buffon is likely to provide leadership inside the PSG dressing room. Reuters

Goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, 40 years young, has left Juventus after 17 years to try a foreign league for the first time in his illustrious career. Manager Thomas Tuchel, 44, exports his energy abroad for the first time after being hired to succeed the departed Unai Emery.

One absolute certainty is that Tuchel, the German preparing to manage a dressing room in which there has been evidence of cliques and the odd dispute about hierarchy in recent seasons, will be pleased to have a leader like Buffon imposing his authority where needed.

Between Buffon, a World Cup winner 12 years ago with Italy, and Mbappe, a World Cup winner 28 days ago with France, is a gap of 20 years and 11 months in age. They will be the bookends of a PSG whose football under Tuchel promises to be vibrant.

Ambitions remain high.

Ligue 1 has been a canter for all but one of the past six seasons - Monaco were champions in 2017 - because PSG's budget dwarfs those of all the other French clubs. The main aim is to make an impact in the Uefa Champions League.

Emery, a serial winner with Sevilla in the Europa League, could not break the glass ceiling of the quarter-finals. Tuchel, whose reputation is based largely on his work with Borussia Dortmund, where he won a German Cup in 2017, comes with recommendations rather than a long list of previous prizes.

“He is upbeat and transmits a lot of energy,” PSG defender Marquinhos said of the new manager.

Paris Saint-Germain manager Thomas Tuchel, centre, is on his first managerial assignment outside Germany. Reuters
Paris Saint-Germain manager Thomas Tuchel, centre, is on his first managerial assignment outside Germany. Reuters

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Read more:

Tuchel thrilled after Neymar returns for PSG win against Monaco in China

Neymar rejoins PSG on China tour after not wanting to look at a football

Neymar: Returning to football will be 'hard' after Brazil's World Cup exit

Doubts over PSG project as deadline to win Champions League expires

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PSG begin their new league campaign against Caen on Sunday. Although some players who were at the World Cup may be rested, the gaze will soon be drawn to the stellar forward line.

Mbappe's brilliance in Russia has propelled him from junior partner to Neymar and centre-forward Edinson Cavani to the most feted Frenchman employed with a French club. The youngster, who for accounting reasons spent last season at PSG on loan from Monaco, triggered a permanent transfer worth €180 million (Dh754.7m) this summer.

He has certainly moved closer to the shoulder of the €222m Neymar in terms of his projection, his superstardom and his proximity to the Ballon d’Or podium.

Rumours of Neymar’s restlessness became a tiresome fact of life through the Brazilian’s first year at PSG. They will not vanish, and the scrutiny of the player will barely diminish with the spotlight trained on Mbappe.

One guarantee: Neymar's responses to the close marking and heavy tackling that punctuate his weekends dribbling at Ligue 1 defenders will come under the microscope. One thing Neymar brought home from Brazil’s disappointing World Cup was an enhanced fame for simulation, or, put more gently, for excessive displays of agony when he was fouled.

How Tuchel accommodates Julian Draxler, his German compatriot and a 2014 World Cup winner, is one point of intrigue for the weeks ahead, as will be the progress of the emerging talent within the club.

Striker Timothy Weah, whose father George was once a hero of the Parc, is a year younger than Mbappe and already a senior international with the United States, his country of birth.

Defender Presnel Kimpembe, 22, is the proud owner of a World Cup winners medal since July 16, a member of France’s squad even without a firm grasp on a first-team place with PSG.

Ditto goalkeeper Alphonse Areola, now understudy to the great Buffon, whose years with Juventus and Italy brought him almost all the major prizes bar calling himself a European champion.

He wants that as urgently as his new club do.

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