Thomas Tuchel tasked with correcting PSG’s Champions League failures

Thomas Tuchel tasked with correcting PSG’s Champions League failures
In European competition, the PSG project has failed to compete with the traditions of Bayern, let alone Real Madrid or Barcelona. (AFP)
Updated 04 June 2018

Thomas Tuchel tasked with correcting PSG’s Champions League failures

Thomas Tuchel tasked with correcting PSG’s Champions League failures

Paris Saint-Germain reclaimed the Ligue 1 title from Monaco with a 7-1 thrashing on April 15 in a devastating demonstration of shock and awe. That title added to their League Cup triumph and the French Cup win meant they won the treble for the third time in the past four years. And yet one of Europe’s richest clubs brims with ennui.
PSG’s progress is now defined in the binary terms of the Champions League. Being swept 5-2 over two legs in the last 16 by the ancien regime power of Real Madrid was a final nail for coach Unai Emery.
Thomas Tuchel, the former Borussia Dortmund coach, has now been given the task of taking the Qatar-owned club to the promised land of Champions League triumph.
In European competition, the PSG project has failed to compete with the traditions of Bayern, let alone Real Madrid or Barcelona, who ended their past two Champions League campaigns. The last time les Rouge-et-Bleu were in the competition’s last four was back in 1994-5, when David Ginola and George Weah were the team’s stars. Four straight losing quarterfinals from 2012-13 to 2015-16 are as far has been breached since Nasser Al-Khelaifi became club president in 2011 as part of Qatar Sports Investments’ takeover.
Meanwhile, despite Monaco’s surprise success last season, Ligue 1 has become an unfulfilling procession.
“As PSG fans, we have the feeling that the league isn’t fair and we’re more focused on the Champions League because in the French league if you want to beat PSG you have to be amazing,” said Pierre Barthelemy, 32, a Parisian lawyer, life-long PSG supporter and elected member of the Board of the French National Fans Association (ANS) and of Football Supporters Europe (FSE). “Monaco were able to do that last season, but from a long-term perspective it’s impossible to challenge PSG domestically.”
With the league title all but a certainty each season, many fans place greater importance on PSG’s exploits in the two domestic cups in which the club has not lost a tie since January 2014.
“The league is boring. After 10-15 games we know we’ll win it, but in the cup you can be eliminated in every game and no other club in Europe has gone so long unbeaten in cup competitions,” Barthelemy said. “In the league, we could lose five games and still be champions. As a fan, it’s easier to get excited about the cups.”
How to get better in the Champions League? Tuchel requires freer rein to overhaul PSG’s squad and playing style than Emery was granted. The 4-2-3-1 pressing game with which Sevilla destroyed Liverpool in the 2016 Europa League final lasted a matter of weeks in Paris before established stars Thiago Silva and Thiago Motta bent the ear of Al-Khelaifi and PSG reverted to the 4-3-3 passing style previous coach Laurent Blanc employed.
With Motta, 35, now retired, that dressing-room power base dwindles with Silva, 33, also linked with an exit. Instead, the dynamic has shifted to the club’s Financial Fair Play-busting purchases of “galactico” stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.
However, Neymar’s commitment to both the disciplines required to challenge for the Ballon D’Or and PSG itself are doubtful. There have been multiple reports of a heavy dedication to partying and absent from PSG’s team since a February foot injury he chose to have treated in Brazil. Since then there have been rumors swirling around that he wants a move to Real Madrid, and when Neymar posted an Instagram image of playing online poker during that title-clinching victory over Monaco, he sparked Parisian outrage. Former France striker Christophe Duggary said Neymar had “spat on PSG” and the Brazilian was forced to explain, and somewhat unconvincingly, that poker was a key part of his recovery regime.
PSG fan and reporter Jonathan Johnson says the club’s fanbase, while happy with Neymar’s pre-injury performances, remains realistic.
“They are not under any illusion he is going to spend the rest of his career in Paris,” he said.
“It’s a vehicle for him. PSG fans are delighted to have have him but they are not too worried.”
Barthelemy concurs: “I was against signing Neymar because €220 million is unreasonable, but from a marketing perspective it was important for PSG and Qatar — it was more of a political than a sporting decision to sign him.”
With Real Madrid looking to rebuild, Neymar might well depart after this summer’s World Cup. There is always Mbappe, and there are other concerns, with Motta leaving a huge hole in defensive midfield that Adrien Rabiot, earmarked as a future captain, is reluctant to fill and where Argentinian Giovani Lo Celso struggled catastrophically against Real.
Another redevelopment process begins though only success in the Champions League will deliver true fulfilment for PSG and their fans.