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PSG gamble on Emery in Champions League quest

Laurent Blanc’s inability to fulfil Paris Saint-Germain’s Champions League ambitions has prompted the club to take a gamble on Europa League mastermind Unai Emery.

Each of PSG’s three campaigns under Blanc in UEFA’s premier competition ended in the quarter-finals, at the hands of Chelsea in 2013-14, Barcelona a season later and Manchester City last term.

That meant Blanc’s tenure did not satisfy PSG’s demanding Qatari owners, who completed their takeover in May 2011, despite the head coach guiding the club to three Ligue 1 titles in succession and back-to-back domestic trebles, posting a win rate of 72.8 per cent – the highest in the club’s history.

A lack of availability among Europe’s small group of elite coaches has forced the hand of president Nasser Al-Khelaifi in seeking Blanc’s successor.

Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte had all agreed moves to Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea respectively by the time he opted to move on from Blanc.

Carlo Ancelotti, who deserted PSG for Real Madrid in 2013 and would perhaps have been unlikely to be invited back, is taking over from Guardiola at Bayern Munich.

Conte’s successor at Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri, has extended his contract in Turin, Jurgen Klopp joined Liverpool as recently as October, while Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone – who has led the team to two Champions League finals – is reported to have snubbed PSG’s advances.

Barcelona boss Luis Enrique is going nowhere, while Zinedine Zidane, who could be a candidate to coach France’s biggest club in the future, has secured his position at Madrid, at least for now, by winning the club’s 11th Champions League.

Manuel Pellegrini may have been considered by PSG, having been responsible for their elimination last season as City reached the last four, only to make way for the incoming Guardiola.

The Chilean guided Villarreal to the same stage in 2005-06 and took Malaga to the quarter-finals in 2012-13, but could not lead Madrid beyond the round of 16 during his lone campaign in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu, with that mixed record perhaps dissuading PSG from moving for the 62-year-old. 

That left Emery as a leading candidate from the second tier of options, chiefly as a result of his achievements in the Europa League with Sevilla.

The 44-year-old – who was announced on a two-year deal on Tuesday – has led the Andalusian side to three successive triumphs in Europe’s secondary competition, beating Benfica in the 2013-14 final, Dnipro a year later and Liverpool last month.

That is undoubtedly an impressive return which has helped Emery to land the role but – like Blanc – he is yet to prove that can translate to the biggest stage, which is PSG’s main focus.

Emery has some experience of coaching in the Champions League, taking Valencia to the round of 16 in 2010-11 before overseeing a group-stage exit the following campaign.

He did not see out Spartak Moscow’s appearance in the 2012-13 Champions League, managing just one win over Benfica in the group stage before being sacked in late November.

As well as improving significantly on their European exploits, chief among the challenges facing Emery at Parc des Princes is replacing the goals and leadership of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who struck 20 times across his four Champions League campaigns in the French capital but left upon the expiry of his contract.

While PSG’s pre-eminence in Ligue 1 appears assured, Emery must not neglect domestic duties in the quest for European success. 

He has never won a league championship, finishing third in three consecutive seasons at Valencia between 2009-10 and 2011-12.

Emery took Sevilla to fifth twice in 2013-14 and 2014-15, but could only manage a seventh-place finish last term, astonishingly failing to win a single league game away from home.

With Blanc having set a benchmark of guaranteed success at home, winning the league in record time after 30 matchdays in his final season, Emery faces a challenge to maintain the status quo in Ligue 1 while finally delivering PSG the Champions League success they crave.

The ruthless move to ditch Blanc could prove to be a masterstroke, but moving for a man who, while having a promising European track record, is yet to deliver a league title or lead one of the continent’s top clubs, is undoubtedly a risk.

Tue 28 Jun, 2016
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