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Ismael Gharbi: PSG wonderkid earning interest from Premier League giants

12:00 BST 29/03/2022
Ismael Gharbi NXGN GFX
The 17-year-old is out of contract at Parc des Princes in June 2022, leading to the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea considering moves for the playmaker

Back in August, all cameras at Paris Saint-Germain training were unsurprisingly pointed at one man: Lionel Messi.

The soon-to-be seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was wearing colours other than Barcelona's for the first time in his club career, and not even the slightest movement or piece of skill was going to go uncaptured.

And while that meant almost non-stop Messi updates in the French media ahead of his PSG debut, it also allowed for a touching moment between the Argentine star and one of the many youngsters who call him an idol to be caught on film.

Encouraged by his manager Mauricio Pochettino, a clearly nervous Ismael Gharbi approached Messi, before shaking the legendary figure's hand and sharing a few words ahead of training getting under way.

Dealing with the presence of superstars is something every PSG youngster who is aiming to earn a place in the first team must learn to deal with, and the signs are that Gharbi is starting to take sharing a dressing room with Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and the rest in his stride.

Described by Pochettino as a "crack" - the French term for an undeniable young talent - 17-year-old Gharbi has remained with the first-team squad for the majority of the campaign, dropping down to play youth-team games but more often than not spending weekdays around the senior group.

That is a different path to the one trodden by the club's other highly-rated youngsters, such as Edouard Michut and Xavi Simons, who both trained with the Under-19s squad during the first half of the campaign, despite spending pre-season with Pochettino's squad.

Pre-season was when Gharbi truly made his mark, with his goal against Le Mans following a cut-back from Achraf Hakimi the crowning moment of the summer for the playmaking midfielder.

He was rewarded with his first professional minutes in the season's curtain-raiser, the Trophee des Champions against Lille, and made two further appearances around the turn of the year in the Coupe de France.

But while Simons and Michut have grown to become regulars in Pochettino's matchday squads in 2022, Gharbi has found himself on the outside looking in, leading to speculation regarding his future.

Gharbi's contract will expire in June 2022, and though the teenager's priority is to stay at Parc des Princes, he requires some guarantees regarding his playing time before committing himself to the Ligue 1 giants.

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Even with Mbappe on his way out, Gharbi is well aware that he is not yet ready to claim a starting berth, but is keen to ensure he will be part of the first-team rotation.

If that is not going to be the case, then he is sure to have no shortage of suitors, with GOAL having already learned of previous interest from Liverpool and Chelsea.

PSG have already seen a raft of former academy products go on to have success elsewhere.

Kingsley Coman memorably scored the winning goal in a Champions League final against his boyhood side in 2019, while just last week Christopher Nkunku made his France debut after growing into one of Europe's most potent attacking players at RB Leipzig.

But does Gharbi have what it takes to go down a similar path? And is he right in thinking that he should be part of one of the most talented attacking groups on the planet?

"He is a boy with a strong personality," explained Said Aigoun, the Crystal Palace coach who managed Gharbi when he was with PSG's U15s, told RMC.

"This strength of character can be found on the pitch. He is a leader. He loves challenges. He is a competitor."

In terms of his footballing attributes, Gharbi is described by another of his former coaches, Guillaume Serra, as being, "technically above average."

"He is capable of playing in the middle, but also out wide where he can then drift towards goal," he added when speaking to RMC. "He has a keen sense of when faced with the goal, too.

"But he also has a lot of room for improvement in positional play and transition phases."

Described to GOAL by one of Gharbi's former PSG coaches as being, "the only youngster who rubs shoulders with the professional group who can impose himself in Paris," it is clear why the club are so keen to keep hold of such a promising talent.

Gharbi, though, will make the final decision, just as he has done with his international allegiance in recent months.

Though eligible to represent Tunisia, Gharbi played all of his age-group football for France, only for the ex-Paris FC starlet to earn a call-up to the Spain U18s squad in January.

Though his selection surprised a number of onlookers, it is one Gharbi has seemingly welcomed, with it reported recently that he will represent La Roja going forward.

So with France having lost a potential star of the future, the country's leading team now have to ensure they do not do the same this summer.

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