Cameras regularly panned over to Paris Saint-Germain‘s Qatari chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi as he watched his side’s Champions League campaign disappear into the smoke on a disappointing night at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday.
Real Madrid won 2-1 in the second leg of the round-of-16 tie to claim a 5-2 win on aggregate to dump the hosts out of the competition at the same stage of their exit last season.
Despite the enormous spending and recruitment of Europe’s finest talents in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe over the summer, PSG were exposed as pretenders to the throne once again.
Al-Khelaifi will be wondering what he needs to do to witness his side claim that elusive European crown.
Here’s a few ideas.
Unai Emery has deservedly earned the respect of his peers for his efforts at Valencia and most notably Sevilla where he won three consecutive Europa Leagues.
However, he doesn’t quite make the cut as one of the elite managers in world football and his spell in Paris has proved as much. He completed the domestic cup double in his first season but crucially lost out to AS Monaco in the league. Meanwhile, surrendering a 4-0 first leg advantage over Barcelona to lose 6-5 on aggregate in the Champions League round of 16 certainly didn’t go down well.
While his side are well on course to reclaim the title this time around, elimination from Europe at the last-16 stage again surely spells the end of his reign in the French capital.
Emery brought the best out of the players at Sevilla but working with PSG’s superstars whose egos go hand-in-hand with their phenomenal ability has been an entirely alien task to him and one he hasn’t been able to cope with.
Investing in a top-notch manager has to be the priority for the French outfit if they are to challenge for the Champions League.
Arsene Wenger has been persistently linked with the post but somehow the Arsenal manager’s leadership doesn’t seem ideal, especially when he will need to rally his troops when they have to transition from the comforts of French football to the intense competition on Europe’s biggest stage.
Apart from the fact that they’ve set up in a 4-3-3 formation for as long as anyone can remember, what do we really know about PSG’s philosophy? More importantly, what do they know about it?
Their style of play has never been clearly defined, nor has their approach to games. On paper, they have presented like a formidable opposition for the last few years but as a unit, they have failed to impress.
It’s not surprising that a team assembled through means of copious expenditure has generally failed to gel as a group or project a convincing collective spirit.
PSG are a team of very talented individuals and that has cost them in crucial moments in their tie against Madrid. Think back to the numerous occasions in the first leg when Neymar chose to take on another man or have a shot at goal when he had team-mates waiting in space, or even Mbappe sinfully ignoring Edinson Cavani attacking the six-yard box in the first half on Tuesday night but opting to shoot from a tight angle instead.
The way they gave up after Madrid’s first goal and their total surrender following Marco Verratti’s sending off was indicative of a group of players clearly in it for themselves. They couldn’t be bothered to fight for their manager, whose job is on the line, or the badge on their shirts.
TURN TO YOUTH
One way to begin fostering a team spirit and sense of unity in the squad is by bringing through more local players in the first team squad.
Adrien Rabiot is the only academy graduate to come through the ranks in the current set-up. Mamadou Sakho broke into the first team and was made the club’s youngest-ever captain at the age of 17 but all that changed after the takeover in 2011. Big-money arrivals of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos relegated the France centre-back to the bench and he left for Liverpool soon after.
Given their battle to adhere to Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, selling a couple of high-earners and bringing through some promising youngsters may not be the worst strategy to breathe new life into the first team squad.
Monaco were forced to swap their big-spending ways and focus on youth once funds from Russian billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev dried up and it proved to be a blessing in disguise. As a result, they unearthed several gems and went on to win Ligue 1 last season while also making the Champions League semi-finals.
PSG may have to face the reality that there is no shortcut to success at the highest level and that they may have to work on the fundamentals to ultimately reach their goal.
We look at where it went wrong for the Qatari-owned club as they were eliminated 5-2 on aggregate by defending champions Real Madrid on Tuesday:
The absence of Neymar, PSG’s main potential matchwinner, weighed heavily on a team that looked short on attacking ideas without the Brazilian magician waving his wand. When PSG needed him most, and in exactly the match he was bought to win, the €222-million man was in Brazil recovering from a foot operation.
CAVANI SHOOTING BLANKS
Edinson Cavani became PSG’s all-time top scorer this season, but against Real Madrid the Uruguayan was toothless, with just a lucky bounce off his knee earning him a place on the scoresheet at the Parc des Princes.
When his personal goal tally is measured against Cristiano Ronaldo, the score over the two legs was 3-1 to the Portuguese World Player of the Year.
LACK OF EXPERIENCE
In 2017, PSG blew a 4-0 lead from the first leg against Barcelona as they capitulated spectacularly in the Camp Nou, losing 6-1. This year they conceded two goals in Madrid when they had seemingly been heading for a 1-1 draw that would have given them a springboard for a second-leg victory.
The man who will inevitably wield the axe after the latest failure, club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, did not mince his words: “We know that Real have a lot of experience. We didn’t do what we needed to do to win.” Real have won 12 European crowns, Barcelona five, while PSG have never reached the final – and it shows.
The tie was probably getting away from PSG anyway, but Marco Verratti’s disastrous sending-off sealed their fate. The Italian midfielder’s talent has never been in question, but his temperament is seriously suspect.
After already earning a first yellow card earlier in the match, he felt he was fouled and charged at German referee Felix Brych to protest. The red card was produced without hesitation, summing up a PSG performance that was at times ragged and ill-disciplined.
THAT MAN RONALDO
Cristiano Ronaldo was showing signs of age earlier in the season. Was the glorious reign finally over? He made nonsense of that question with two strikes in the Bernabeu to earn Real a 3-1 first-leg win.
The header to open the scores in Paris was his 117th Champions League goal, extending a remarkable record. Any of Real’s quarter-final opponents who write off the 33-year-old will do so at their peril.
Provided by AFP Sport
After an honourable defeat to Barcelona on away goals in the Champions League quarter-finals in 2013, Paris Saint-Germain‘s Qatari president Nasser Al-Khelaifi stated the club’s objective was to win the competition “in the next five years”.
That deadline expired with Tuesday’s limp defeat to holders Real Madrid in the last 16, leaving the French side as far away from being European champions as at any point since Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) bought the club in 2011.
For all their lavish spending, PSG have still not made it past the quarter-finals of the competition this decade, and there have now been consecutive exits in the last 16, the 5-2 aggregate loss to Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Real coming after a spectacular collapse saw them crash out in Barcelona a year ago.
The strategy after that defeat was to commit to paying the two biggest transfer fees in football history last August to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for a combined €402million, an attempt to buy immediate success on the biggest stage.
It has not worked, with Neymar left watching Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at the Parc des Princes that sealed PSG’s fate from Brazil, where he is recovering from a foot operation.
“All that for that”, was the headline on the front of sports daily L’Equipe on Wednesday, a reference mainly to the bold transfer strategy.
“We believe in our players. We want to continue the project, with the two of them because they are the future of the club,” said Al-Khelaifi on Tuesday when asked if the club’s investment should be called into question.
Seven years after QSI’s arrival, PSG have still managed to beat just three teams in the Champions League knockout stage: Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea.
That is a damning statistic for a club with their means and ambitions.
“We will continue, as much as patience allows, to build a team which can win in the future,” said coach Unai Emery on Tuesday.
“When I came here I said I was sure this team can win the Champions League. But it’s a process.”
Neymar to stay, Emery out
Soon to be out of contract, Emery will not be given another crack at the competition in Paris. The club will look for a new coach, and they will be tempted to go for a big name after the failure of the Emery experiment – the Spaniard won three Europa Leagues with Sevilla but has never won a Champions League knockout tie in six seasons of trying.
They also need to revamp their squad again, and replace the likes of Thiago Silva, Thiago Motta, Dani Alves and Angel Di Maria, all in their 30s.
The club insist they are not worried about falling foul of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, even if a premature European exit will mean a shortfall of millions of euros.
“We are relaxed about it. It is more of an issue outside the club than inside. It is March and we have until the end of June. There are no worries,” sporting director Antero Henrique told L’Equipe last weekend.
One thing that is unlikely to happen is Neymar leaving, despite ongoing speculation that the Brazilian has not settled in France.
Al-Khelaifi’s beIN Sports owns the exclusive international distribution rights for television coverage of the French league, and the network is currently in the process of negotiating new deals around the world. In that context, PSG selling a star such as Neymar this year is unthinkable.
But in the meantime another period of soul-searching will begin for PSG and their Qatari owners.
“Now is not the time to talk about change, everyone is upset. We want to calm down before working out what needs to be changed. We have time to think about that,” said Al-Khelaifi on Tuesday.
PSG still have three domestic trophies to go and win before the end of the season, but that seems instantly less appealing once the big prize of the Champions League is no longer up for grabs.
Provided by AFP Sport