F365’s early loser: The powerless Unai Emery

Date published: Wednesday 6th December 2017 10:15

“If we wake up now, it is not too late,” said Paris Saint-Germain chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi, which is the kind of quote that makes you check that yes, PSG are still nine points clear at the top of Ligue Un and yes, PSG have qualified for the knock-out stages top of their Champions League group. At just about any other club in world football, being top of two tables would mitigate the occasional poor performance, but this is PSG and they are no ordinary club.

Losing to Strasbourg at the weekend was careless but the ambitions of PSG’s Qatari owners mean that being schooled by Bayern Munich hurts far, far more. They did not smash the world transfer record on Neymar, spend millions to keep Kylian Mbappe in France and add to an already extraordinary wage bill with the acquisition of Dani Alves to be slapped down by one of the genuine powers of European football. Topping the group is no consolation for the reminder that PSG are still the new-money upstarts banging on a closed door.

The fall guy for a failure that seems inevitable unless PSG radically improve on their Munich performance has already been decided; the chances of Emery surviving beyond Champions League exit are infinitesimal. When you spend £200m on a footballer and there is reportedly an ‘abyss’ (per L’Equipe) between him and the manager, it will be the manager packing his bags. Along with any footballers not on board with The Neymar Show.

There problem was not too subtly addressed by Adrian Rabiot in the aftermath of that 3-1 defeat to Bayern Munich, when he said: “We were too individualistic, I think. There was not enough teamwork. The few occasions we played as a team and played the ball around, we were dangerous and we created opportunities. We also could have scored more – we were not very efficient.

“However, from the moment you are being too individualistic, it gets harder. There is a team here, with good players and we can play well together collectively.”

This was a night when once again Neymar was guilty of dallying too long on the ball, twisting and turning to make room for tight-angled shots in his quest to score in every Champions League game; Ronaldo being two goals ahead of him in the top scorer charts makes the Brazilian a determined but essentially selfish player. His Brazilian friend at right-back was nothing short of atrocious, carrying every minute of his 34 years as he was repeatedly torn apart.

But what could Emery do? He is obviously powerless to substitute Neymar, who has only ever not completed 90 minutes for PSG when he was sent off, and it feels like Alves is similarly untouchable. So the Spaniard finds himself in the ridiculous position of being 3-1 down but seemingly unable to make a tactical substitution until the 91st minute. Sitting on the bench behind him were the impotent Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore, reduced to a combined 114 minutes of football in the Champions League this season. The manager cannot truly manage.

Sarah Winterburn



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