PSG manager Thomas Tuchel has a history of falling out with his employers. The only question is if he can win a Champions League before that happens.
There is a single mission that obsesses Paris Saint-Germain’s owners and unifies the various factions within the club: winning the Champions League. Now that dream is out of reach until next season, we can expect issues relating to coach Thomas Tuchel and talisman Neymar to come to the surface.
Much as Roman Abramovich did at Chelsea, PSG’s owners will spend and spend and — let’s put this diplomatically — test the limits of UEFA’s FFP regulations until they win the Champions League. The issue now is how long they’ll retain their faith that Thomas Tuchel is the man who will achieve that goal.
There are very good reasons so few people care that PSG are 17 points clear in a domestic league campaign that looked over well before Christmas. Or that they have a record Ligue 1 points total and goal difference after 26 matches.
It’s beyond doubt Ligue 1 is the ugly duckling of the big five European divisions, somewhat unfairly disparaged by people who never watch its matches as a “farmers’ league.” While financial disparities exist in all of those divisions, though, what sets Ligue 1 apart is just how glaring the inequalities between PSG and the league’s other clubs are.
The entire squads of only two Ligue 1 clubs — Monaco and Marseille — cost more than the £121.5 million PSG paid for Kylian Mbappe, let alone the £200 million that Neymar cost the Paris club. The record transfer fee paid by well over half the teams in the league is below £10 million.
By contrast, as well as breaking the £100 million barrier twice, PSG have also spent £58.1 million on Edinson Cavani, £56.7 million on Angel Di Maria and £44.6 million on David Luiz. The highest fee paid by another Ligue 1 side is the £40.5 million Monaco paid Porto for James Rodriguez, but even that was way back in 2013-14.
PSG’s average player wage is also ten times greater than that of half the clubs in Ligue 1. It’s at least four times that of all but three sides in the French top flight and is £4 million larger than the average salary of the next-highest club, Marseille — £6.1 million compared to £2.1 million.
This season, 14 of Ligue 1’s 20 teams have made an overall profit in the transfer market. Of the six that haven’t, four have a net spend of below £5 million. And even Marseille’s net outlay of £31 million comes nowhere near PSG’s total of £94 million. Two of PSG’s biggest rivals, Monaco and Lyon, have made profits of £160 million and £43 million respectively.
It’s little wonder, then, that PSG view Ligue 1 as nothing more than a consolation prize. And the real headline news domestically is that since PSG were bought by Qatari investors in 2011, both Montpellier and Monaco have somehow managed to beat them to the French title.
Prior to last night, there had only been one real blemish on the record of Tuchel, who was appointed in the summer. Even that only involved PSG being knocked out of a minor competition, the French League Cup, in early January by lowly Guingamp, who currently lie bottom of Ligue 1.
Those who have followed Tuchel’s career for some time already know that he’s fond of playing the blame game when things don’t go his way. Before yesterday’s debacle, of course, there was simply no blame to apportion. But rest assured, Tuchel will not be holding himself responsible for PSG’s Champions League exit.
As was seen during his time at Dortmund, in such moments Tuchel is very keen to put forward what, depending on your point of view, might be deemed excuses or alternative explanations. We had a taste of what’s to come in Paris at the start of the year, when PSG sporting director Antero Henrique failed to bring in a midfielder of any kind until the very end of the January transfer window, or to sign a specialist defensive midfielder at all.
One of many criticisms of Tuchel to emerge from Borussia Dortmund after his departure was that the coach had employed his own press officer while he was at the club. Tuchel reportedly used this individual to leak stories to the media without consulting with Dortmund’s own communications team. That understandably hadn’t gone down especially well with the German club’s hierarchy.
So there was a very familiar ring to the “sources close to Tuchel” who were quoted in the press during the coach’s dispute with Henrique in January — and an equally strong sense of what’s likely to come in the future.
The obvious cards for Tuchel to play over the coming months would seem to be transfer activity during January and the PSG hierarchy’s decision to banish Adrien Rabiot from the squad due to his refusal to sign a new contract.
If Tuchel can fall out with clubs as stable and cordial as Mainz and Dortmund, then the question has always been when rather than if the same thing would happen at the considerably more volatile PSG.
The other clear potential flashpoint at PSG is Neymar’s oft-reported desire to leave Paris. His recent interview with a newspaper in his native Brazil certainly didn’t create the impression that Neymar is keen to renew his vows with the club.
While PSG’s Champions League dream was still alive, this matter could be put to one side. But now, with thee months of the season remaining and only a cakewalk to yet another league title — this will be PSG’s sixth in seven seasons — to distract the media, that will no longer be the case.
It’s also important to note here that prior to Tuchel’s time at Dortmund, his half-decade at Mainz had ended in such acrimony that he eventually had to spend a year on gardening leave as a result. “We have different ideas about respect,” was the later assessment of Mainz’s president Harald Strutz, who had been considerably less measured in his words at the time.
“He does not like players who question things or give their opinions,” former Mainz striker Ivan Klasnic said of Tuchel in an interview with German magazine 11 Freunde.
This seemed likely to create a very combustible situation when Tuchel was appointed at PSG, given that his predecessor in Paris, Unai Emery, had lamented, “I know when I am the principal person in the group and when I am not. At PSG, the leader is Neymar. At Manchester City, it’s Pep Guardiola.”
The big surprise is that any tensions between Tuchel and Neymar have yet to become a major public talking point. That might well change in the coming months. And Neymar isn’t the only potential source of conflict in the PSG changing room, of course. Let’s also not forget that Dani Alves, for example, fell out with Juventus after just one season at the Turin side.
“I joined Juventus also to prove to Italian football that it could improve and raise its level. I just wasn’t understood,” he complained following his departure. “The level of Italian football has dropped, and the Italian sides who did so well in Europe don’t exist anymore.”
If Alves could be that patronizing about Serie A just months after he’d played in a Champions League final for an Italian club, the mind boggles as to what he might have to say about Ligue 1 should the mood in Paris sour.
So expect the smile on the public face of Paris Saint-Germain to fade in the coming months. For those who don’t really care about PSG — in other words, the vast majority of the soccer world — it will at least be a fetch-the-popcorn sideshow of enormous tragicomic potential.