F365’s early loser: The way-too-meek Unai Emery

Date published: Wednesday 7th March 2018 11:17

If you change your Twitter name to ‘Ensemble on va le faire’ (Together we can do it!) amid frenzied talk about Paris burning, 11 warriors and a 12th man in the crowd, you had better make sure you ‘do it’. Or at the very least end the battle bloodied and exhausted. After all that big talk, what you absolutely must not do is emerge meekly from the tunnel, pass the ball around a bit and then wander off the pitch basically unruffled, having never remotely matched the passion of your fans.

“Why does UEFA let group winners play the second legs at home?” Unai Emery had asked on Monday, before infuriatingly answering his own question. “Maybe because it is an advantage to play the second leg at home. It is the first time in PSG’s recent history that we will have that advantage for a big Champions League knockout match and it is up to us to show that playing in Paris is different.”

It was indeed up to you and you cocked it, Unai. And while there are players who let themselves and their club down – Marco Verratti chief among them – it will be Emery who will pay the price for this latest European failure with his job. He talked about having home advantage, roused the usually quiet PSG fans, pontificated about preparing players for war and billed Paris as a terrifying battleground, and then sent his footballers out to play chess.

Where they should have attacked, they waited. Where they should have been brave, they were weak. Where they should have roared, they whispered. It was slow, it was toothless, it was excruciating to watch. Basically 3-1 down at half-time, PSG played as if they were trying to preserve their goal difference instead of turn a match around. This was a young Real Madrid side and yet PSG did not once test their nerves under pressure. They promised an uncomfortable ride and then turned on the seat warmers.

Time and again, Verratti, Adrien Rabiot and Thiago Motta quietly and calmly passed the ball between them before eventually finding Angel Di Maria, who promptly lobbed his cross into the stands. PSG were trying to feel their way into a tie that was already past the half-way stage and in dire straits. They needed urgency. They needed to match the energy of the opposition. Some talked of PSG missing Neymar, but this was a failure of attitude and thus of management.

“We played the ball back and forth but you cannot score just doing that,” said an angry Julian Draxler after the game. “You have to put pressure on Real Madrid when you are 3-1 down, not just pass it back and forth and hope something falls for you. We needed to put pressure on the opponents right from the start. We didn’t do that so we deserved to be eliminated.”

Draxler is undeniably bitter because his own contribution was short and from the bench, but he is also absolutely right. PSG did not win the lottery because they did not buy a ticket. They deserved nothing because they risked nothing. Which is bloody odd from a manager whose future depended almost entirely on the result of that game.

“I’m sure this team can win the Champions League,” said Emery. Quite possibly. But if so, they will do it under a different manager who will turn up to a battle with more than a thermos flask.

Sarah Winterburn


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