Supporters of Paris-Saint-Germain know this: their priesthood presupposes a keen sense of humor. This is good, because the alleged curse of the knockout stages of the Champions League now looks like a gag. After the wall (yellow), here is the camera – decreed for the return match, Wednesday March 11 – and soon perhaps, the nausea, if we continue the Sartrian replay of the double confrontation against Borussia Dortmund (defeat 2- 1 in the first leg).
It is the third time in four years that the unprecedented thwarts the Parisian plans at this stage of the competition, after the never-seen ascension of FC Barcelona in 2017 and the elimination against Manchester United in 2019, on the first penalty of the history of the Champions League decided by video arbitration. No one had seen either of them coming, but it was still about football. With an epidemic pushing the sports industry to take unprecedented measures since the Second World War, the writers of PSG's misfortunes have outdone themselves.
Of course, a late goal is nothing, even without supporters. But it’s March, the Champions League and its ghosts lurking. Paris didn't wait for the coronavirus to be scared. From all points of view, it is irrational. The study of budgets, European experiences, the individual qualities of the two teams says that one must experience the ordeal as a warm-up, the other as an outcome. In the first leg, the impression was reversed: a Parisian team paralyzed, sucked in by the totemic figure but anesthetized by Neymar; and an aggressive, playful, liberated German side.
From the lost fax to the yellow card of Thomas Meunier
Even before this decision by the Prefecture of Paris, even before the cancellation of the match against Strasbourg which deprived it of a last preparatory match, PSG tackled this double confrontation against Dortmund in reverse. Upside down, but in line with its history, that of a club that raised the plantade to the rank of art.
When right-back Thomas Meunier was, after the knockout round of the Champions League in Dortmund (2-1), surprised to be suspended for the return match due to a yellow card, the most elders shrugged: in 1997, their club had done better. Already in the Champions League, PSG had aligned a suspended player for a preliminary round, after having lost a fax sent by UEFA during the summer. A 3-0 green carpet loss and a 5-0 return victory against Steaua Bucharest, one of the greatest matches in the club’s European history. There is hope.
Question of life or death "
When the knockout stages of the Champions League arrive, psychodramas are picked up at the Auteuil shovel: Serge Aurier's insults on Periscope, Neymar's convalescences at the Rio carnival, Kylian Mbappé's sulks. The press, accused of making the bed for future club eliminations, actually has only to bend down to find signs of fragility: all this is public. The famous "moles" of the Parisian locker room, accused of all ills during the Canal + era, are unemployed. On the behavior of the players, the martial postures of President Nasser Al-Khelaïfi and Leonardo, last summer, seem to have dissolved in the DNA of the club. As if the PSG seemed inexorably blocked at the first stage of its transformation into a respected institution.
The context of the return match against Dortmund is this: despite what Leonardo says, an elimination in the knockout stages of the Champions League is, for PSG, a question "Of life or death". For his trainer, Thomas Tuchel, already, who would most certainly take the door and the accompanying check in case of elimination. For the attraction of PSG, which will not live forever on the success of its collections of streetwear with stars in the NBA or the music industry. For his strategy of making Kylian Mbappé the bridgehead for the years to come, while Real Madrid and its 13 buttonhole Champions Leagues are scratching the door.
No other big European budget sees its season judged on a double confrontation: for the Italian, German, Spanish or English cadors, the national titles have a value that does not have the trophy of champion of Ligue 1. And each passing year , the load that weighs on the shoulders of the few leaders in the workforce increases by ten tonnes.
In a very enlightening interview given after his departure from the club to the Spanish magazine Tactical Room, translated here by Culture PSG, coach Unai Emery (2016-2018) said he felt a general lack of confidence in his players:
"They know they are good players because they feel comfortable, but when the comfort disappears and the hour of truth comes, they are not prepared enough to suffer. (…) The PSG needs to break this ceiling, to break this barrier, this psychological border, but it is not prepared for that. It is when we have passed this stage that we will have made the leap in quality. "
"Dream come true events"
In the first leg, this disintegration in front of the obstacle was manifested in the choice of Thomas Tuchel to derogate from his usual system, in the disappearance of the few usual collective patterns to prefer the "pass to Neymar" or in the defensive position. very low by Thiago Silva.
Off the field, PSG diffuses three feelings: panic, discord and weakness. Panic over the prospect that Neymar, victim of a minor injury, could miss a third time in the knockout stages of the Champions League. Discord over the management of this same case between Neymar – supported by Thomas Tuchel – and the medical sector, which put the Brazilian under cover. Weakness in that, in this entire sequence, the club let its diamond make a round trip to Germany to shoot an advertising spot and validated the organization of a festive birthday evening two days after the first leg.
Part of the workforce was entertained until the night, shirts that turn over their heads and dietary recommendations put away in the closet, in this period where the matches are linked at the rate of two or three per week. The organizing company was called Dream Come True Events ; in Paris, where the slogan "Dream Bigger" ("A bigger dream") has been discreetly stored, the dreams of a successful evening are still best satisfied. Is the age of reason still far away?