European Football

Emery and PSG need time to compete with peers

Photo: Aleksandr Osipov CC BY-SA 2.0

JUVENTUS’ 3-0 win against Barcelona underlined the catastrophe that was Paris St. Germain’s 6-1 defeat in the Nou Camp. It may also have hastened the exit of PSG’s manager Unai Emery, whose team threw away an astonishing lead in the round of 16.

Such a result in Turin was not expected, as Barca’s recovery against PSG hinted that the 4-0 defeat in the Parc des Princes was a blip rather than a watershed moment in European football. But Juve’s fine performance and a three-goal lead rekindled the view that Barca are not the force they were and that PSG really did waste a golden opportunity to further their own cause.

Juve’s defence, the rock on which their recent dominance in Serie A has been built, is substantially better equipped to handle a Messi-Neymar-Saurez response, but PSG’s owners must be seething about the way their club capitulated.

Already there are rumours that Emery is bound for Roma, perhaps a sign that the Spaniard has seen the writing on the wall in Paris.

With the greatest respect to Roma, if Emery does seek refuge in the “eternal city”, it will undoubtedly prompt an early obituary to his career as a rising star. He moved from Sevilla to PSG as one of the bright young things of European football. After one year in Paris, he will be deemed a failure and unable to join the elite band of coaches that find themselves constantly in demand from the bulge bracket. This is a shame, but it may not necessarily be the end for Emery’s career trajectory.

PSG are anxious to stake their claim as a top club and each year, they fall just short. Although it is easy to point to the coach and replace him, the overall standard of the French Ligue 1 does not prepare them well for competing with the top clubs. Only this season are there signs that PSG are being seriously challenged, with Monaco still fending them off and actually France’s representative in the last eight of the UEFA Champions League.

Rumblings indicate that all may not well behind the scenes at PSG, with the positions of both sporting director Oliver Letang and director of football Patrick Kluivert being questioned. Is there something of an implosion in progress?

Emery is the third coach PSG have hired since the “project” with Qatar Sports got underway. Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc were both successful, but the club’s “holy grail” is the UEFA Champions League and you sense that patience is diminishing. Emery, who enjoyed significant European success with Sevilla (three successive Europa League wins), signed a two-year contract in June 2016. Despite having a better win rate than any previous PSG manager, he may find himself released halfway through that contract.

The modern day football club owner does not have the attention span to wait for success. PSG enjoyed multiple title wins because they had far more money than anyone else and they were fortunate to have an outstanding talent in Zlatan Ibrahimovic in their ranks to fire them to the title each year. His departure has certainly affected PSG, although Edinson Cavani has scored plenty of goals in 2016-17, but they have mislaid something – without their talismanic striker, they are not the same. They also lost Blanc, the most successful manager in the club’s history.

Emery was undoubtedly expected to keep the Ligue 1 title intact and also to mount a Champions League challenge. The fact that he had managed Sevilla in a league forever dominated by two – and at best, three –  clubs indicated to some that he knew how to deal with Real and Barca, clubs he would have to overcome to pursue PSG’s continental ambitions. But all club owners, impatient for success, always overlook that success has to be earned against similarly ambitious clubs – and in Europe, this means, Barca, Real, Bayern and others. PSG have been among Europe’s top spenders but they are no closer to winning the Champions League. Furthermore, they choked on the big stage, which can be attributed to a lack of experience – and Emery, despite enjoying success in the Europa, does not yet have that. Both he and PSG need to make the breakthrough in order to be better equipped to handle the crucial end of the Champions League campaign year-in, year-out.

Transfer expenditure among the big guns (EUR m)

  2016-17 2015-16
Manchester United 180 122
Juventus 160 80
Chelsea 140 78
PSG 136 105
Manchester City 135 180
Barcelona 125 55
Bayern 73 81
Real Madrid 30 75

They won’t get it by making knee-jerk managerial decisions, shunting out a promising manager when they are left red-faced after a major setback. PSG are among the top clubs in Europe, but they do not have the best players, best manager, or the leading franchise – just yet. For a French club to be among Europe’s top bracket is no mean feat, not since the golden days of St. Etienne and Marseille’s European Cup win have the French been able to compete in club football.

The vast sums of money have made PSG competitive, but they are now rubbing shoulders with clubs that have been accustomed to success for decades with the money to match. These clubs are not going away, and neither are the privileges they have accumulated over the years. Club owners have to appreciate that you can create a “contender” by pumping cash into the coffers, but you are not eliminating the opposition who are also striving for the top.

PSG need to be realistic about where they stand in the football heirarchy and give Emery the chance to build on year one. He may not win Ligue 1 this season, but there’s not a lot wrong with the current line-up that some stern defending won’t cure. They will undoubtedly spend in the summer and by the start of 2017-18, it really will be Emery’s side that takes the field.

 

 

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