Another Champions League meltdown, star players booed and rumored departures: What next for PSG?
It started last Wednesday with yet another Champions League capitulation, something PSG has become rather adept at.
However, the recent meltdown against Real Madrid — in which PSG conceded three goals in 27 minutes to throw away a 2-0 aggregate lead — differed to the previous implosions against Barcelona and Manchester United in one key way: it wasn’t particularly surprising.
As soon as goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma’s dawdling had gifted Karim Benzema the first of his three goals, PSG’s demise felt inevitable. But despite that inevitability, it still made for gruesome yet compelling viewing, like peaking through your fingers while watching a horror movie.
The sequel to that horror show was Saturday’s 3-0 win against Bordeaux, in which a significant section of PSG fans turned on their own players. During the match, most of the squad was treated to a frosty reception by the Parc des Princes crowd — and some received a frostier welcome than others.
Most notably Neymar and Lionel Messi, both of who were roundly booed by PSG fans during the build up to the opening goal. There was a loud cheer when Neymar turned the ball into the net, but those cheers promptly turned to jeers once the initial jubilation had subsided.
Messi arrived in Paris to much fanfare in what was arguably the most shocking player move in history, but the signing has so far been painfully underwhelming for PSG fans.
The Argentine has mustered a paltry two goals in 18 appearances in Ligue 1 this season, with five more coming in the Champions League, and has looked like a shadow of the player he was even in those later years at Barcelona.
The humiliation against Real Madrid on the pitch was compounded by the widely reported behavior of PSG delegates off it.
After the game, club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and sporting director Leonardo reportedly confronted the officials in the referees’ dressing room to express their anger at Real Madrid’s first goal, which they believe came after Benzema had committed a foul on Donnarumma.
UEFA later confirmed that a disciplinary case into the incident had been opened. “The UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body will take a decision in due course,” European football’s governing body said.
PSG declined to comment on the UEFA disciplinary case when contacted by CNN.
While the frustration brought on by PSG’s Champions League failures were directed at the players on the pitch on Saturday, Al-Khelaifi and Leonardo haven’t escaped the ire of the club’s supporters.
In a statement released earlier on Saturday, club supporter group Collectif Ultra Paris called for Al-Khelaifi’s resignation.
“How can a coach be the respected leader of the changing room when he is clearly not the true decision maker?” was one of several questions posed in the statement.
“We don’t have a short memory. We know what our return owes to president Nasser Al-Khelaifi but it is clear he is not the man for the job.
“The club’s current situation requires complete reorganization at all levels going forward and the daily presence of its president.”
On Monday, fan frustration was visible for all to see at PSG’s training center and Parc des Princes stadium, where insults and calls for Al-Khelaifi and Leonardo to leave the club were sprayed onto the facilities.
“Nasser, Leo out,” read one piece of graffiti, thought to be aimed at Leonardo rather than Messi.
Likewise, head coach Mauricio Pochettino did not escape from the Real Madrid debacle without any blame. Unsurprisingly, the Argentine has faced calls for his sacking or resignation, but Leonardo insisted that wasn’t a solution.
“We shouldn’t throw everything in the bin,” he told RMC Sport. “We shouldn’t start from scratch after every loss. The objective is to win the Champions League, and until half time we were fine.
“We have to look to improve this team and maintain morale to play in Ligue 1 and to finish the season well. We should stay together. Pochettino is still part of the project for this season. It’s not the time to think about that.”
With 10 games left in Ligue 1 and holding a 15-point lead over second-place Marseille, PSG is almost certain to secure it’s seventh French league title in eight season.
Following the win over Bordeaux, Pochettino said he was “sad” to hear the booing from the crowd and insisted their anger was also felt within the squad.
“We were all affected,” he said. “We understand the disappointment and the frustration. We’re all living it together, as a team. We have a duty to take responsibility for what happened. We share this disappointment with the supporters.”
One player who did manage to escape the booing was Kylian Mbappe.
The striker, who was cheered throughout the match against Bordeaux, is the golden boy of French football and scored both of PSG’s goals in the recent tie against Real Madrid. Despite the French club boasting both Messi and Neymar in its ranks, Mbappe is perhaps PSG’s most prized asset.
It will come as a significant concern, then, that there is the strong possibility of PSG losing Mbappe for free in the summer. The 23-year-old’s current contract expires on June 30, 2022 and so far no headway has been made on a new deal.
Mbappe told CNN at the end of December, just ahead of European football’s January transfer window, that he would “100%” finish the season with PSG. However, he hasn’t hidden his desire to move to pastures new — specifically pastures in Madrid.
When Real submitted a $188 million bid for Mbappe in August — a deal that was close to being agreed — the Frenchman admitted at the time that he wanted to leave PSG.
“I was honest,” Mbappe said. “I gave a feeling, I gave what I have in my heart. I’m happy to stay … it’s my city too. I’m French … I want to win everything this season.”
Whether Mbappe is still “happy to stay” now, however, is another matter, and one that is sure to give Al-Khelaifi and Leonardo yet another headache.