The Malta Independent 21 May 2019, Tuesday

Hard to say who holds most influence at PSG after tense week

Associated Press Thursday, 14 March 2019, 10:21 Last update: about 3 months ago

It was the managerial equivalent of missing an open goal.

With a golden opportunity to address what's going wrong at Paris Saint-Germain, coach Thomas Tuchel sent the ball wide of the post by protecting the players who let him down so badly.

Last week's humiliating Champions League defeat to Manchester United still feels very raw to the fans, yet Tuchel surprisingly dismissed it as a one-off "accident ."

Try telling that to the hundreds of fans lining up to barrack the players when they arrived at training last Sunday.

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Their deep disappointment was further compounded by the fact the players were reportedly given three days off following arguably the club's most embarrassing defeat, two years after the 6-1 loss in Barcelona. Sports daily L'Equipe said midfielder Marco Verratti went to Ibiza and goalkeeper Alphonse Areola visited London.

After all, why let a chastening defeat and furious fans ruin a planned break?

LACK OF AUTHORITY

A club with the lofty ambition of dominating European football needs a structure to do so.

Yet it's hard to know who carries most influence at PSG.

Is it Tuchel? Is it Neymar? Is it the virulent ultras eventually allowed impromptu into the stadium Sunday to scream their discontent so close to the players? Is it president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who seems to overly indulge Neymar and these ultras?

Since injuring his right foot again , Neymar has danced at his own birthday party, attended Rio carnival festivities, and launched a vehement rant at refereeing officials following the video review that led to United's late penalty winner. UEFA is investigating the matter .

Earlier this season, Neymar arrived at a home game wearing a face mask from a television series — casual behavior perhaps not expected from the world's most expensive player at 222 million euros ($251 million) who has a stated ambition of winning the Golden Ball.

The club may hope cutting Neymar as much slack as possible increases his chances of staying at PSG, amid regular reported interest from Real Madrid.

But he hardly reassured fans during an interview with Brazilian TV, where he evoked the lure of Madrid and said "anything's possible" in the future. Although he stated he is at happy at PSG the timing of the interview, just days before the return leg against United, was ill-judged.

ULTRAS RETURN

When PSG allowed ultras back into the stadium the decision surprised some, not least local match-day police.

It took several years of hefty security measures to finally eradicate the club's long-standing hooliganism problem, one which led to a PSG supporter being shot and killed in 2006 after a UEFA Cup match and another beaten to death in 2010 following clashes between opposing factions within PSG's support.

The reason for allowing ultras back was to infuse PSG's sedate, theater-like stadium, with the type of feverish passion associated with working-class Saint-Etienne, for example, or Strasbourg.

But the ultras repaid the club's renewed faith in a strange way.

In October, they left a Champions League game five minutes early in droves in order to attack Red Star Belgrade's fans — including some hooligans — as they left the stadium. There were skirmishes but rapid intervention by riot police that night prevented disorder on a massive scale involving 350-400 people.

Still, PSG's ultras did their bit encouraging PSG's players relentlessly throughout last Wednesday's debacle.

Yet even their fervor has limits, so defeat at home to sworn enemy Marseille on Sunday is simply unthinkable.

FLAWED COMPARISON

Defender Presnel Kimpembe, whose handball led to United's penalty, addressed his team's performance in a You Tube video Sunday. The same day, striker Kylian Mbappe gave a TV interview pledging he'll stay next season amid reports of strong interest from re-hired Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane .

One interview was club-sanctioned, the other apparently not.

Kimpembe's video was made of his own initiative and in it the center half mentioned complacency from PSG's players before the United loss.

With gravitas in his voice, he also pledged PSG would return to the top.

Using France's national team as an example, Kimpembe explained how Les Bleus went from failing to qualify for the World Cup in 1994 to winning it in 1998; then being knocked out early in 2002 and 2010 before winning it again last year.

Nice idea, wrong comparison.

France has won two World Cups and two European Championships, but PSG has never won the Champions League and never even reached a final.

The summit evoked by Kimpembe does not exist in PSG's record books.

Marseille won the European Cup in '93 after losing the '91 final. The southern club has also reached three UEFA Cup/Europa League finals.

Fading by comparison, PSG won the now defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in '96 and reached the final the next year.

Marseille claims bragging rights as France's biggest club, with more league titles (9-7) and European finals than PSG.

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