The 25-year-old midfielder has come to encapsulate all that is preventing the Parisians from progressing to the very top of the game
Paris Saint-Germain may have their Ligue 1 title back, closing it out courtesy of a remarkable 7-1 victory over Monaco on Sunday evening, but all is not well at the Parc des Princes club.
Domestic domination is one thing but following the type of investment that owners QSI made last summer in brining Neymar and Kylian Mbappe to the French capital, more is expected. An exit at the last-16 stage of the Champions League for the second successive season is not acceptable – even if Real Madrid, specialists in the competition, were their conquerors.
Changes are needed and will surely come.
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Head coach Unai Emery’s failure to deliver that will cost him his job in the summer, with Thomas Tuchel set to take over, yet it would be unjust to lay all of the club’s ills at the door of the Spaniard.
There are players among PSG’s ranks who have simply not pulled their weight at vital times, foremost among them Marco Verratti.
It was only a year ago that the 25-year-old was still being touted as a successor to Xavi at Barcelona. PSG fought tooth and nail to keep the midfielder within their ranks, even turning down bids as high as €100 million as the Italian tried to fight his way to the exit door.
In the end, it was only the signing of Neymar that kept him in Paris, but hindsight suggested that perhaps offloading the mercurial talent might have been the wisest move.
While the campaign taken as a whole has been somewhat disappointing for the fiery midfielder, who has missed significant portions due to injury, it was his performance and dismissal against the Spaniards that shows he has not turned into the elite performer PSG hoped he would become when they signed him from Pescara in 2012.
Underlying weaknesses in his game, primarily mental, have not been remedied in his six years in France. He is still prone to behaving like a spoiled child and has been booked 11 times in 38 appearances this season, often for dissent, and sent off twice.
His explosion of frustration towards referee Felix Brych after diving against Real effectively sealed his side’s exit from the competition. Quarter of an hour earlier, Cristiano Ronaldo had given the guests a 1-0 lead on the night, meaning PSG needed three goals just to level their opponents after a 3-1 defeat.
It was a moment that showed his unreliability when it mattered most; a plague that has cost PSG more in the last half decade in which they have visited the knockout stages far more than any dearth of talent.
His response was not to apologise but to grumble that Lionel Messi is not punished for “pointing his finger in the referee’s face”.
Like PSG complaining their failings in Ligue 1 are due to the lack of strength elsewhere in the league, it never seems to be Verratti’s fault.
He has been given chance after chance, but his appalling disciplinary record, in conjunction with a technical level that has stalled, serves only to show that they were wrong to resist Barca a year ago.
“I’m happy with the choice I made and I’m more convinced of that today,” he told Canal+ on Sunday, denying reports that agent Mino Raiola had offered him to the Catalans. “I really want to stay here. I’m very well here and I want to win what everyone is waiting on.”
The truth of the matter is that the midfielder, who has a contract until 2021, has little choice.
Barcelona are no longer interested in him, in part because their style has moved away from tiki-taka, but also because Verratti no longer appears an option obviously worthy of playing at such a standard.
Indeed, his stagnation has come to symbolise that of his club as a whole.
PSG have made improvements over the last six years, but they have not been sufficient to lift them to the pinnacle of the game.
On a mental level, too, they have proven themselves weak and prone to folding at the most important moments. Furthermore, there is a feeling of grievance, that when things do go against them, it has been caused by an outside agency and is not their fault.
Verratti encapsulates all these attributes.
In order for the Italian to reach his potential, he needs out of such an environment and in order for PSG to reach their goals they need to shed such players. In fending off Barcelona last season to keep hold of him, he has become a symbol of their strength, but at the same time he also threatens to become an icon of their weaknesses.
More is expected of PSG and more is expected of Verratti. With the future of the Italian seemingly fixed now to the capital club, they must make it one of their primary goals next season to finally unlock his full breadth of talent. It could be the crucial change that allows them to finally succeed in Europe.