PSG's need for big-names may see goalkeeper Alphonse Areola depart
PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain have regularly been linked with a new goalkeeper since the arrival of Antero Henrique as sporting director, but coach Unai Emery’s first-choice between the sticks, Alphonse Areola, is the fifth in Europe with the most clean sheets this season.
So, do the French giants really need a new man between the sticks?
Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak, AC Milan’s Gianluigi Donnarumma, Roma’s Alisson and Napoli’s Pepe Reina have all been mentioned as potential targets in the past but an unsuccessful move for the latter last summer is the closest to concrete action there has been.
PSG already possess Areola and Kevin Trapp, not bad by most top European clubs’ standards, but as last summer’s moves for both Neymar and Kylian Mbappe proved, the Ligue 1 leaders are not “most top European clubs.” Les Parisiens aspire to having a star name in every position and in goal it is no different — they want a new goalkeeper but do not necessarily need one.
Because of this, both Areola and Trapp have faced uphill battles from the start because neither are as heralded as the likes of Oblak or Donnarumma.
Areola is a youth academy graduate and part of Les Bleus‘ setup, while Trapp is on the fringes of the Germany team but has never played for one of the powerhouses of the Bundesliga.
Out of the four players PSG have been linked with since Henrique’s arrival, only Oblak is ahead of Areola in clean sheets so far this campaign, while Donnarumma and Alisson are bottom and Reina is one shutout shy.
So why are the Qatari owned financial heavyweights seemingly desperate to get rid of their homegrown starter then?
It is true that Areola has not endured the smoothest of terms — even if it is much better than last season’s messy rotation with Trapp, which Emery failed miserably to handle. The 24-year-old has made mistakes, some costly, such as misjudging Nabil Fekir’s early free kick in the 2-1 defeat away at Lyon in Ligue 1 earlier this year, but he has also come up big for PSG at times. It is easy to forget that until Celtic scored at Parc des Princes close to the end of the Champions League group stage, Areola was looking likely to finish the groups without conceding a goal.
Bayern Munich eventually made sure that this was never going to be the case but the PSG keeper bailed his defence out at times as they were often caught out with attack-minded full backs Dani Alves and Layvin Kurzawa charging forward.
Matches where Areola makes important saves often get glossed over and dismissed as reasons for him keeping his starting spot, but criticism is quick to arrive and often harsh when he does get beaten or make a mistake. Occasionally, such as in Lyon, criticism is justified but overall Areola is enjoying a good campaign and has been more or less solid.
It is not like Trapp is any more reliable anyway. On Tuesday, the German was sent off late on in a 4-1 Coupe de France win away at Sochaux for barrelling out of his penalty area and failing to beat an opponent to the ball.
The former Eintracht Frankfurt stopper’s debut season was error-ridden and although he makes some fine reflex saves, he has been unable to cut the occasional howling gaffe out of his game.
Trapp claims he rejected a move away from Parc des Princes in January to boost his World Cup chances with Germany, so it now looks unlikely that the No. 1 will be going to Russia this summer unless it is at the expense of Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen or Bernd Leno.
PSG supporters essentially see Areola or Trapp in goal as a lottery, fearing another costly mistake could happen at any time. That is understandable to a point but it is disheartening to see so little support for a homegrown player who has claimed a starting role from an error-prone competitor.
Neither are perfect but with Areola three years Trapp’s junior, he still has the potential to cut the mental lapses out of his game and add more consistency. Admittedly, he does need to become a bit more commanding at times, especially in the air, but when he is beaten it is quite often not only him who is at fault but also his defence.
It seems like Areola and Trapp’s struggles to truly convince are less rooted in their actual abilities and more to do with their statuses within European football and the fact there are bigger name alternatives out there.
Sadly, regardless of what he might do on the pitch between now and the end of the season, it does not look as if Areola’s face will fit and he may well find himself replaced this summer. A change in coach could see him given a fresh start as the damage from Emery’s confidence-smashing debut season still lingers, but it seems like the goalkeeper’s time is running out in Paris.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.