Saturday, May 26, 2018

PSG 2017-18: Ligue 1 champions need ambition after treading water under Emery

SoccerNews in Ligue 1 15 Apr 2018

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Paris Saint-Germain have their Ligue 1 crown back after Sunday’s stunning 7-1 victory wrested the championship from Monaco, but the inevitability of this triumph coupled with their inability to meet expectations in Europe makes it something of a damp squib.

Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi famously said in 2013, following a quarter-final elimination at the hands of Barcelona, that PSG’s aim was to win the Champions League “in the next five years”.

While detractors can say such a bold and ambitious statement cause unwanted pressure for players and coaches, the fact it came from Al-Khelaifi meant it was on him as well.

PSG’s transfer business at the start of the season gave every indication Al-Khelaifi was not going to accept failure on his pledge, as Neymar arrived in a world-record €222million deal and was swiftly following by Kylian Mbappe, a sensation with Monaco last term.

They were supposed to represent a game-changing reaction to that Neymar-inspired 6-1 battering at the hands of Barca last term and be the catalysts of PSG’s first European success.

Perhaps they will still go on to be just that but, ultimately, Neymar and Mbappe were fighting a losing battle before they even arrived because of a recruitment mistake made a year earlier.

Unai Emery did an astonishing job at Sevilla, winning three Europa Leagues in a row. No one can doubt how effective he was at that level, but even at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan there had been evidence he was unable to reach the next rung, likewise in a previous stint with Valencia.

Although PSG’s decision to hire Emery looked potentially shrewd at the time given his European exploits with Sevilla, they were getting a coach entirely at odds with the club’s ambitious outlook and all-conquering desire.

Emery’s Sevilla were pragmatic, always looking to play on the counter as best demonstrated by their 3-1 Europa League final win over Liverpool. Yet, they made little impression on the Champions League under the Basque coach.

He was never going to get away with that brand of football at a club like PSG because most Ligue 1 clubs are likely to attempt to employ similar tactics against them. They are expected to be in the ascendancy, particularly given the signings of Neymar and Mbappe.

Emery is very lucky to have even been given a second chance after Al-Khelaifi said the club “failed” during a “bad season” last term because of their Champions League misadventure.  

By that logic, chastening elimination at the hands of Real Madrid means Emery has overseen a second successive failure. Even completing the domestic treble in the Coupe de France is unlikely to see his contract renewed beyond June.

PSG and Al-Khelaifi now need to do what they should have done two years ago; hire a coach better suited to their ideals and preferably one they know can take them to the next level.

The names being linked have been fairly predictable, with former Borussia Dortmund boss Thomas Tuchel now widely viewed as the frontrunner.

Emery will leave France with a CV boosted by numerous domestic trophy wins, but realistically he failed to deliver on PSG’s ultimate aim. Therefore, the 46-year-old is unlikely to be trusted by a club of a similar stature again for a long, long time after two years of treading water.

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