Paris (AFP) – Paris Saint-Germain have some serious soul-searching to do after once again coming up short in the Champions League as they exited the competition at the hands of Manchester City on Tuesday.
A 1-0 defeat in England saw PSG lose 3-2 on aggregate as they became the first team to lose in the quarter-finals of the Champions League in four consecutive seasons.
After losing twice to Barcelona and once on away goals to Chelsea in the previous three campaigns, this was supposed to be the year Paris went one further and reached the semi-finals for the first time since being taken over by Qatar Sports Investments in 2011.
Before last week’s first leg against City, PSG coach Laurent Blanc had spoken of his relief at avoiding “the two ogres of European football at the moment”, in Bayern Munich and Barcelona, as well as Real Madrid.
Those three have become regulars in the last four of Europe’s elite club competition in recent seasons and PSG aspire to join them, but they came up short against a City side enduring a disappointing season in England and appearing in their first ever Champions League quarter-final.
Having already wrapped up a fourth successive French title, PSG are still on course to complete a clean sweep of the domestic honours for the second season running, but it is in Europe where they are to be judged these days given the enormous sums of money invested by their owners.
“What a fiasco” screamed the front page headline on sports daily L’Equipe on Wednesday, as the search for someone to blame began.
Blanc was in the firing line after abandoning his usual 4-3-3 formation to play with three central defenders at kick-off against City.
It was a gamble that backfired and one that followed a disappointing performance in the first leg at the Parc des Princes.
“In the two matches they were incapable of imposing the rhythm required. It was not enough to try to win a match in the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” Jerome Rothen, a former PSG player who featured in the 2004 final for Monaco and now working as a pundit, said on beIN Sports.
– Squad clear-out? –
From a French viewpoint it is a familiar failing — 12 times in the last 13 seasons a French side has appeared in the quarter-finals, and only twice have they gone further.
One of those was Monaco in 2004 while the other was Lyon, semi-finalists in 2010.
But while those two surprised many by getting so far, there is pressure on PSG to reach the last four and even win the Champions League.
The question now is, what does the future hold?
“The future? We have a season to finish. We have a French Cup semi-final to try to win and a League Cup final to win,” Blanc said.
“I know that doesn’t have the same flavour, the same excitement as the Champions League but we owe it to ourselves to win them for the club. We are very disappointed but we will have to get over it.”
Once they have done that, the club may be tempted to clear the decks and freshen up the squad. Now is perhaps the time, with several leading players soon out of contract.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the superstar of this PSG project, but the Swede is now 34 and has always been associated with failure in the Champions League, never having won it in his otherwise glittering career.
Ibrahimovic’s deal expires in the summer, while Maxwell and Gregory van der Wiel are out of contract at the end of the season too.
The club have the means and the desire to sign a new superstar, with Neymar apparently on their wish-list, and Al-Khelaifi will surely be tempted to add new faces while keeping the likes of Angel di Maria, Thiago Silva and Marco Verratti.
The other question mark surrounds Blanc, who has done a fine job overall and has a contract until 2018 but has now been to four Champions League quarter-finals as a coach and lost them all.