Getting the chance to manage one of Europe’s super rich clubs is a rare opportunity – but with it comes rare pressure as embattled PSG manager Laurent Blanc is finding out.
A poor run of results in recent weeks had seen the champions fall as low as fourth, their lowest league position post-Christmas since being taken over Qatari Sports Investments in 2011.
Surrendering a two goal advantage in their 4-2 defeat to humble Bastia last week had alarm bells ringing loudly. Defeat was bad enough, but conceding four to the worst attack in Ligue 1 was an embarrassment.
Wins at St. Etienne in the League Cup during the week and home to humble Evian on Sunday helped ease pressure a little, but Blanc is certainly in the firing line.
The champions have had a sluggish domestic season to date – the intensity of their title-winning seasons (2012-13 and 2013-14) notable by its absence.
According to Mark Rodden, Setanta’s Ligue 1 commentator, “the slow start to this season had been put down to post-World Cup fatigue. But apart from a thrilling 3-2 win over Barcelona in September, there haven’t been too many top performances. The players must take some responsibility, but it’s the coach who will pay the price in the end.”
Rodden feels that although PSG were linked with the likes of Arsene Wenger and Antonio Conte over the summer, the club’s owners would have been hopeful that Blanc would have been able to build on last season.
“Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules (and penalties) have restricted them recently but, given their resources, there is no real excuse for dropping to fourth. It’s the first time that’s happened in the second half of the season since Qatari investors took over in 2011,” he says.
So what’s going wrong? Deep and growing divisions within the squad certainly seem to be playing their part. Rumours abound that the French squad members feel that big money, high-profile acquisitions at the club get special, preferential treatment, selected based on their name and transfer fee rather than their form.
Some players also seem to have lost faith in Blanc and appear to want out. Edinson Cavani has made little secret of his displeasure at having to play second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, pushed out wide to accommodate the great Swede.
He and Ezequiel Lavezzi certainly gave credence to talk of discipline issues in the squad when they missed the club’s winter training camp in Morrocco, arriving back late from their Christmas break.
Blanc called their behaviour “inadmissible and unacceptable,” banishing both men to train on their own and banning them for two matches.
Rodden also believes that age and a lack of freshness within the squad have been playing a part in PSG’s indifferent form — particularly for key players like the talismanic Ibrahimovic (33) and midfield lynchpin Thiago Motta (32).
FFP and some injudicious transfer dealing in the summer have also had a critical impact, reducing PSG’s ability to refresh and revitalise their squad.
“FFP is probably one of the main reasons PSG have struggled this season,” says Rodden.
“The President, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, suggested that Angel Di Maria wanted to join the club this summer but said they were priced out of a deal. Money would have been no object a year or two ago but, as a result of FFP, they’ve now had to limit spending and to reduce their wage bill.
“After taking the questionable decision to blow most of their budget on David Luiz, PSG could only add full-back Serge Aurier on loan in the summer. For the same reason, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to do much in the transfer market this month.”
But Blanc still has cause for hope. PSG are still involved in four competitions so there is time to turn things around.
Moreover, a survey in Le Parisien suggested that he still has the support of the majority of fans, with over 60 percent blaming the players for PSG’s recent poor form compared to the 30 percent who lay the blame at the manager’s door.
According to Rodden, “Blanc should be safe until after the Chelsea games in the last 16 of the Champions League. Realistically though, he’ll need to get through that tie and land a couple of trophies to stand any chance of lasting beyond the end of the season.”