Champions League success has slipped by prematurely from Paris Saint-Germain, with yet another early exit. Losing to reigning European champions Real Madrid is no embarrassment, but the few moments the French side managed to compete with Zinedine Zidane’s free-flowing outfit were far outweighed by moments of brilliance from those in white.
A narrow defeat at the Parc des Princes, despite the electric atmosphere generated by the French faithful, forced manager Unai Emery back into the firing line almost a year on from PSG’s incredible last-leg capitulation against Barcelona. Despite his side turning this season’s domestic campaign into a simple procession, the Spaniard is certain to leave the club in the summer.
So where do the Parisians turn then?
The yearly astronomical transfer fees splashed out by PSG and their Qatari sponsors aren’t guaranteed to fire the club among the European elite, but it should play a major role – certainly more so than it already has done. The high-profile, albeit shady, signing of Brazilian superstar Neymar shook the football world in the summer, with a £200 million deal smashing the previous transfer record set. It redefined what experts thought was possible in the modern era, and sent out a resounding message that PSG would be gunning for European domination this time round.
But as it transpired, Neymar picked up a serious injury that sees the silky attacker in a race to be fit for this year’s World Cup, as well as ruling him out of the two most important clashes PSG have faced this season: a two-legged showdown with Los Blancos, with a spot in the quarter-finals of Europe’s highest profile competition at stake. The absence of the sport’s most expensive player is sure to have had an effect on the French side, but with the in-form Edinson Cavani, unpredictable Kylian Mbappe and seasoned Angel di Maria at Emery’s disposal, PSG should have posed a greater goal threat against a Madrid backline superbly marshalled by Sergio Ramos.
Hesistations, and poor split second decisions, from the French side gifted the Spanish visitors two glorious chances, and Ronaldo and Casemiro duly applied the punishment. The tangible atmosphere from the home crowd slowly began to fade away, as the realisation of another year of failure on the European stage set in.
There are two arguments for this year’s failure, which boils down ultimately to the coaching staff and the players selected. Emery’s tenure in the City of Lights has introduced countless scintillating attacking displays, but sometimes at a sacrifice of the defensive solidarity needed to become the victor in the beautiful game’s most prestigious tournaments.
A stunning attacking performance swept away Barcelona in the first leg of the tie last season, before the last-gasp Sergi Roberto winner propelled the Spaniards into the next round, inexplicably at the expense of PSG. And this season, a similar story: 60 minutes of grafting in Spain undone by a poor second leg showing – and another early exit from the Champions League.
PSG could lift the Ligue 1 trophy every season – but it still wouldn’t sate the true desires of the club’s owners: they openly covet the Champions League and expect more silverware to match their extraordinary investment at the Parc des Princes. Their ambitions lie far beyond Unai Emery, with the search for a manager to finally achieve a European dream likely already underway.
More multi-million investment in the summer still will not guarantee a successful run in the Champions League for PSG, but instead a manager with a proven track record of success when the stakes are high: a Jose Mourinho figure, perhaps. Whilst the Portuguese may be out of the French side’s reach currently, Mourinho holds the desired mould and mindset of a coach not afraid to do what is necessary to achieve success – whether this be a squad cull, or well-measured tactical performances in some of the greatest cauldrons of the sport.
Provided PSG make the correct decision in the summer with their search for a new leader at the helm, then there is no limit to what their expensively-assembled squad can achieve.