Nkunku, Coman, and More: The Best XI of PSG Academy Graduates

Arnaud Kalimuendo

PSG have long been criticized for their transfer and recruiting strategies. Some of France’s top talent in recent years have come through PSG’s academy, yet very few of them end up playing for the club. Instead, promising talents have been pushed further and further down the ranks, while expensive superstars have failed to earn PSG what they want the most: the Champions League.

Now, yet another talent has left the club. Arnaud Kalimuendo, a striker who spent two seasons on loan successfully in Ligue 1, has been sold to Stade Rennais having only ever made five appearances. Instead of keeping Kalimuendo, PSG instead decided to shell out big bucks for Hugo Ekitike, a striker as old as Kalimuendo with fewer goals and less experience. Alright then.

PSG have regretted losing academy players in the past, and Kalimuendo might prove to be the club’s next big mistake. Here’s the academy-only starting eleven that PSG could have had right now if the club kept them all (using a slightly unconventional 3-5-2).

GK Mike Maignan, AC Milan

Maignan alone perfectly displays the problem with PSG’s recruitment. In the summer of 2015, the Parisien club opted to sell academy graduate Maignan to Ligue 1 rivals Lille for just over one million dollars. That same summer, they brought in Eintracht goalkeeper Kevin Trapp for over $10 million. Maignan ended up winning the league with Lille, becoming a France international and joining AC Milan, who he just helped win the Serie A. Trapp was solid but has never risen to those heights.

CB Presnel Kimpembe, PSG

Spoiler: Kimpembe’s the only current PSG player in this lineup. Kimpembe has been a constant in PSG’s backline, fending off big-name players to play well over 200 games for the club. He’s never left the club (not even on loan) and has an impressive trophy haul. Additionally, he made France’s squad for the 2018 World Cup, which they won.

CB Dan-Axel Zagadou, Free Agent

Zagadou has had an up-and-down career. He never made an appearance for PSG despite being there for six years before joining Borussia Dortmund for free. With Dortmund, Zagadou impressed but was consistently held back by injuries. Transfermarkt estimates he’s missed over 80 games due to various injuries. He had his moments in Germany, winning the DFB Pokal, but his contract with the club has expired and he is now without a club.

CB Tanguy Nianzou, Bayern

Nianzou is an example of PSG’s poor track record hurting the team. The young French defender was highly-rated within the club, with PSG clamoring to hold on to their young star. He made his debut at the age of 17, but Nianzou promptly decided to leave the club in favor of the far more pro-development Bayern in the Bundesliga. (Another spoiler: Nianzou won’t be the only Bayern play on this list.) Unfortunately, he’s struggled for game-time amidst injuries, but his role is continuing to increase. He’s still only 20 years old.

CM Boubakary Soumaré, Leicester City

Soumaré followed the footsteps of Maignan, leaving PSG for Lille in 2017. Alongside Maignan, he helped Lille lift the Ligue 1 title and reach the Champions League, before becoming one of the club’s record sales last season when he joined Leicester for over $20 million. Reminder—he left PSG for free. Soumaré didn’t play for Leicester towards the end of the season, with reports of a loan move back to France emerging. Soumaré is 23, though, and needs time to adjust to the English game.

CM Mattéo Guendouzi, Marseille

Guendouzi left PSG at the age of 15, joining FC Lorient for free. A few years later, he moved to Arsenal, where he — briefly — looked like one of the league’s best prospects. However, despite his undoubted potential, reports of attitude problems followed Guendouzi wherever he went. Eventually, he was loaned to Germany with Hertha Berlin, and then to Marseille, who made his move permanent this summer. A talented but controversial midfielder, he has since made multiple appearances for France.

LM Moussa Diaby, Bayer Leverkusen

One of the hottest players in the world right now, Diaby started his career in the PSG academy. He actually made 34 appearances for PSG after a loan to Italy and looked like he could buck the trend of PSG academy talents leaving. Leverkusen somehow pulled off an incredible coup, snagging Diaby in 2019 for $16.5 million. Since his move, Diaby has made over 100 appearances for Leverkusen, become a France international, and last season contributed to 25 goals in the Bundesliga.

CAM Christopher Nkunku, RB Leipzig

The old PSG to Bundesliga combination. Never fails.

Similar to Diaby, Nkunku is a player on fire. Nkunku came through PSG’s academy and went directly to the first team. He played an incredible 78 games by the time he left the club in 2019 at the age of 21. This time it was RB Leipzig who pulled off the steal, bringing Nkunku in for under $15 million. He has since played over 100 matches, with a breakout season last year: as the Bundesliga’s Player of the Season, he scored 20 goals with 15 assists.

RM Kingsley Coman, Bayern

Coman’s departure is probably the biggest failure in PSG’s history.

Coman was a top prospect in 2014, having been in the PSG academy his entire career. He remained PSG’s youngest debutant until 2021 (he’s now third), having made his debut at 16 years old. He then left — for free, of course — to join Juventus, who sold him on to Bayern Munich. It was there that the Paris-born, Paris-raised, PSG academy graduate won the Champions League — with a header against PSG. Yikes.

Coman has played over 250 games, won the Champions League, ten league titles, the Club World Cup, Nations League, etc. He’s just 26.

ST Moussa Dembélé, Lyon

It took some time, but Dembélé has become one of Ligue 1’s top players. Fulham paid almost half a million dollars to sign him as a 16-year-old in 2012, before starring in the Championship in 2015. From Fulham, he moved to Celtic, before Lyon spent almost $25 million to bring him in. As of today, he has 53 goals in 106 games, or one goal every two games. In comparison, PSG spent $55 million on Mauro Icardi, who has 23 goals in 64 Ligue 1 games.

ST Arnaud Kalimuendo, Stade Rennais

It’s early into Kalimuendo’s career, but it still seems strange that PSG let him go. Granted, he pulled in a decent transfer fee, so it’s not like they let his contract expire. With that being said, it’s rare to find a 20-year-old who has played two seasons in Ligue 1 and finished as the team’s third and top scorer those seasons. He’ll be a great player to watch on an exciting Stade Rennais team this year.

Image Courtesy of Supporterhéninois, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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