The capital club regained the Ligue 1 crown from Monaco on Sunday but their Spanish coach is still set to pay the price for Champions League failure
Paris Saint-Germain have a problem. Owners Qatar Sports Investments are constructing a ‘project’ towards a specific goal, namely winning the Champions League. And adjustments need to be made every season as long as that goal remains unachieved.
That means even when they are pummelling the domestic landscape, they are always in a state of flux. On the coaching front, Antoine Kombouaré gave way to Carlo Ancelotti, who gave way to Laurent Blanc, who gave way to Unai Emery. And right now it’s a safe bet that he’s about to give away to someone else – despite Sunday night’s title-clinching demolition of last year’s Ligue 1 winners Monaco.
While the best teams in Europe can be reasonably assured of a place in the quarter or semi-finals, the trouble with the Champions League is that quite often progress comes down to the bounce of a ball or a key decision. There are so many pitfalls that teams could encounter along the way that going out early is not always a fair indication of a team’s potential for success or failure.
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That statement is even more pertinent when the eliminators in question are Real Madrid, a club so suited to the Champions League that they may as well move the outline of the trophy from their sleeve to the badge on their shirt’s chest.
PSG were unlucky to come up against Madrid when they did. The newly crowned French champions won their group ahead of Bayern Munich but while the Germans got table-topping Besiktas in the last 16, PSG got Real Madrid. That is the luck of the draw in a knockout competition.
Central to PSG ambitions to take over the world is Neymar. Signed for his €222m Barcelona buyout fee, it would be no exaggeration to say that PSG chairman Nasser al-Khelaifi has pinned all his hopes for the seasons ahead on the Brazilian forward. As luck would have it, he got badly injured between the first and second legs of the last 16 ties against Madrid. PSG and Emery were done for.
That meant the season was going to be perceived as a failure, no matter what happened between spring and summer. Neymar was signed to deliver the Champions League, not Ligue 1, the Coupe de France or the Coupe de la Ligue. PSG are so rich and powerful in comparison to their rivals that it is pretty much taken for granted that they will sweep all of the domestic prizes in any given season.
Winning a league title when revenues are around €300 million greater than the nearest rival – as in the case of Lyon – is the minimum expected. Standards are set in Europe – however fickle fortunes may be in a knockout competition – and, therefore, consequences are afoot for their failures there.
Emery, the coach, signed a two-year deal with an option for a third when he arrived at the start of last season. He might consider himself lucky to have kept his job when dropping the league title to Monaco last term and presiding over the biggest embarrassment in Champions League history – the 6-1 ‘remontada‘ against Barcelona.
He endured, however, and got another chance. Right now there is the feeling that the Spaniard is a dead man walking. Few, if any, expect his option of a third season to be taken up.
Neymar will probably not kick a ball in anger between now and the World Cup but he will be an increasingly influential figure in sorting out PSG’s future. Nasser is known to grant special privileges to Neymar such as offering him days off – even matchdays. He spent time in Brazil last month with the sporting director Antero Henrique and it is believed they were going over plans for next season.
With Emery out of the picture, reports have Thomas Tuchel as the frontrunner for the soon-to-be-vacant coaching position. There will surely be amendments on the playing front as well with the Champions League being the main focus again for next season.
PSG will also have to negotiate the landmine that is UEFA’s Financial Fair Play. The Financial Times claimed on Wednesday that the club were set to fall foul of FFP regulations due to ‘overstated’ sponsorship deals. PSG contest this claim but are operating near full financial capacity after adding Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at considerable expense.
So, it’s hard to know where they go from here. They are already overwhelming favourites to defend their domestic crown next year but obstacles abound in the Champions League. Their latest elimination there showed that they are not quite ready to muster a title tile at this stage – even with Neymar in the ranks.
They are currently a team between a rock and a hard place; too good for Ligue 1 but not quite good enough to fulfil the objectives where it really counts – in the Champions League.
They might well celebrate Sunday’s title triumph heartily but if you sense any tameness in the party, it’s with good reason. Sure, they’re right to be happy at having reclaimed their domestic crown by hammering the side that took it from them last season, but everyone knows that this isn’t really the trophy they needed – Emery, most of all.