With Ligue 1 wrapped up early and only two league games and the French cup final left to play, the owners and staff of Paris Saint-Germain are already reflecting on the season – and looking to the future.
With the summer will come change. Manager Unai Emery, for one, is leaving, and he’ll exit with a domestic treble (PSG beat semi-professional outfit Les Herbiers in the cup final at the weekend) to add the domestic cup double he managed last term.
A decent haul. And yet, ultimately, as with all those who have come before him since Oryx Qatar Sports Investments (QSi) took control of the Paris outfit, he’ll leave having failed to deliver to the PSG owners their greatest desire – the Champions League. QSi did not, after all, invest vast sums for the club to become serial Ligue 1 and domestic cup winners.
With the end of the season in sight, tongues inside the camp have begun to wag, and a number of players and the departing Spaniard spoke to the media last week about where PSG are and how they can get to where they want to be.
But it was the views of Emery and a player who may also leave the French capital in the summer that most caught the eye.
The former Sevilla manager spoke frankly to Spanish journalist Marti Perarnau about his experience with the QSi project and the challenges his successor – reportedly former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel – will face.
For Emery, dealing with Neymar’s increasingly powerful status will be critical. The Brazilian has shown already how he can be a polarising figure within any set up.
However, given the amount of money spent on bringing him to the Parc de Princes and how critical he is seen to be to the project’s on- and off-field success, winning his buy-in will be crucial for the new manager.
And then you have the rest of the dressing room – an audience Emery felt he failed to impress, largely because he hadn’t won the Champions League as a manager. His three Europa Leagues in a row carried little weight with a squad under pressure to bring home a bigger prize.
“Succeeding in being convincing is fundamental for a coach,” the Spaniard told Perarnau. “The players must believe in you.”
If it is indeed to be Thomas Tuchel’s turn next, it’ll be interesting to see how the German fares with Neymar and co with just a single German cup win to his name. Tuchel’s football demands much from players both physically and mentally.
He’ll need to impress them early with his methods and ideas – or risk becoming marginalised by the big characters and cliques in the squad, much as Emery was.
Edinson Cavani may not even be in the PSG squad when the new season kicks off in August.
With the club’s transfer business and commercial deals straining Financial Fair Play regulations and subject to UEFA investigation, he and others may be sacrificed to balance the books.
Nevertheless, his insight into the workings of the dressing room shouldn’t be ignored even if he is to depart.
The Uruguayan feels that PSG’s inability to make a serious splash at Champions League level isn’t about the talent of the players at their disposal, it’s about how they work together.
The Parisians need to be more than just a “project,” more than just the projection of a Gulf state’s financial power.
“It is absolutely vital to give everything and stick together – we must be more united, more together,” Cavani told RMC sport. “We have to express ourselves greater as a unit and not just as a team. We must be brothers – family.”
The implication, of course, is that the PSG players don’t feel such unity. They haven’t been prepared to run through walls for each other, explaining why, perhaps, that at the critical moments, under the greatest pressure, they fall short as the cracks appear.
So as they ponder the future of the project, perhaps those with the greatest influence at PSG should mull over the thoughts of the Uruguayan international.
Because the missing ingredient may well be something that all the money in the Persian Gulf simply cannot buy.