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PSG refocus on Ligue 1 gruel after Bayern end surge for Champions League glory

By Paul Myers - RFI
Sports News REUTERS - STEPHANE MAHE
SAT, 11 MAR 2023 LISTEN
REUTERS - STEPHANE MAHE

For solace over the coming days Paris Saint-Germain's owners could head to the last scenes of Monty Python's Life of Brian. There they'll find the lines of condemned men singing: "Always look on the bright side of life."

The tune from the film could even be incorporated into the playlist of songs before home matches at the Parc des Princes.

It will be a tad more appropriate for the faithful than hearing Village People's Go West.

It's gone south for PSG. For the fifth time in seven seasons, they have lost in the last-16 of the Champions League, European club football's most prestigious tournament and the competition the club's owners most covet.

But there are - with a nod to Ian Dury and the Blockheads - reasons to be cheerful. 

Challenge
PSG go into Saturday night's Ligue 1 fixture against Brest eight points clear of second-place Marseille and set fair after 26 games for a ninth title in 11 years and a record 11th top flight crown.

They boast three of the planet's finest strikers in Kylian Mbappé, Lionel Messi and Neymar.

And unless there is the mother of all meltdowns, they will feature in the 2023/24 Champions League. 

Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth followed PSG's 2-0 defeat to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night.

The French champions travelled to Germany on the back of three domestic victories in which they had racked up 11 goals and displayed the panache that had characterised their play before the break for the World Cup in Qatar.

There was genuine belief that Christophe Galtier's side could overturn the 1-0 first leg deficit.

Inquiry
The inquest into the death of the dream will last until the end of the season and could even cost Galtier his job.

But amid the rhetoric for reboots and reconfigurations, a tiny bit of calm and perspective could provide the boost.

PSG didn't even exist in 1955 when the European Cup was set up for the winners of the leading European leagues.

AC Milan, Anderlecht, PSV Eindhoven and Real Madrid were among the 16 teams to grace the inaugural competition along with the French champions Stade Reims – now sitting unmenacingly in the middle of Ligue 1. 

History
And PSG was still in its infancy when Der Kaiser and Der Bomber AKA Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller were thrusting Bayern towards a hat trick fo European Cup titles in the mid 1970s.

And PSG hardly featured even when the European Cup morphed into the Champions League in the early 1990s.

Three decades on and regular knockout round clashes in the tournament with the German powerhouse as well as Madrid suggests – at the very least – institutional progress.

That the players and fans bemoan elimination in the last-16 to Bayern displays the development born out of the best part of two billion euros spent since 2011 by Qatar Sports Investments.

Dreams
Inevitably, the massive outlay has heightened expectations. 

But rather than projecting a courteous line of steady unassuming growth, PSG has offered bluster: Champions League triumph has become its obsession.  

And the denigration of domestic achievements has plunged the club into a vortex of negative energy.

In the first home game after the pitiful collapse against Real Madrid in 2022, fans booed Messi throughout the 3-0 victory over Bordeaux. There was confused silence when he laid on the pass for one of the goals.

Messi hadn't pulled his weight against Madrid was chief among the justifications for the jeering. 

Former PSG midfielder Jerome Rothen, now a pundit with the French broadcaster RMC, belched out a similar barb this week.

"Messi, we don't want him," said the 44-year-old. "He does not want to invest in this club. In the matches that count, he disappears completely.

"We saw his games at the World Cup for Argentina, I saw what he did and how he invested himself.

"There must be a new strategy. A departure of Messi, fewer stars, and players more invested and turned towards the collective."

Change
Possibly a good idea. But it wasn't so bizarre to bring Messi in. He is quite good – the World Cup in Qatar showed that. And seven Ballon d'Or trophies suggest a modicum of ability .

The underlying idea to build around Mbappé appears sound too. Boy from the suburbs done good – English football parlance – inspires boys from the suburbs to do good.

But that project needs to be implemented rapidly.
In the wake of the 3-0 aggregate defeat, the Real Madrid-friendly Spanish sports newspaper, Marca, focused on Mbappé's plight.

"If you want to win the Champions League, you already know what you have to do ..."

A clear reference to Mbappé's decision to snub Madrid last summer and stay in Paris.

Maybe Mbappé should have decamped. But maybe his ego wouldn't let him. What if PSG were to win the Champions League without him? That would sting.

For the moment he has remained in his homeland and has become PSG's record goalscorer.

Chances
As he attempts to burnish his legend in Brittany on Saturday night, he and his teammates might even pause and take inspiration from Chelsea.

In 2020, in the last-16, Bayern beat the west Londoners 4-1 in the first leg at Stamford Bridge and strolled through the second leg against Frank Lampard's men in Munich 3-0.

Revenge of a sort for outplaying Chelsea for the whole of the 2012 Champions League final and then losing on penalties. Lampard - then in his pomp for Chelsea – converted one of the kicks in the 4-3 shoot-out win.

After the 7-1 aggregate thrashing, Bayern went on to beat PSG in the 2020 Champions League final.

Triumph
But the following year, Chelsea claimed the Champions League following a 1-0 victory over Manchester City.

Well, why not? It's the Champions League. Stuff like this happens. Logic and linear narratives fail to operate in this realm.

Less than six months after the defeat to Bayern in the final, PSG decided to jettison head coach Thomas Tuchel.

The then Chelsea boss Roman Abramovich – aware the German was a tactically enriched upgrade on the former Chelsea midfield hero – drafted him into Stamford Bridge in January 2021 and four months later ... merci PSG. Voilà Champions League crown number two.

It seems so cruel. But therein lies the joy. Or Schadenfreude as the Germans call it. Kingsley Coman – a product of the PSG youth system – scored the goal that gave Bayern the 2020 title.

Journey
And the Frenchman was on the scoresheet three years later with the only goal of the first leg on 14 February.

Eric Maxim Choupo Moting - formerly of the parish of PSG – scored the opener for Bayern on Wednesday night before Serge Gnabry delivered the coup de grace.

Good players both. But journeymen in the orbit of Messi, Neymar and Mbappé.

Which begs the question ... which set of PSG executives ever thought it would be just a question of spending squillions on a couple of uberstars? After more than a decade in charge, the penny appears not to have dropped. 

"But then waste characterises the project," wrote Jonathan Wilson in the British newspaper The Guardian on Thursday.

"The banlieues of Paris have become one of the great hotbeds of footballing talent: 11 of France's World Cup squad were born there. That should give PSG a huge advantage but it is one they have neglected.

"Perhaps Warren Zaïre-Emery and El Chadaille Bitshiabu represent a new future but for now the only first-team regular from the capital is Mbappé, who PSG bought for a reported £160m and then, when his contract had run down, paid a further £100m as a signing-on fee. Perhaps when money is no object, spending wisely isn't a consideration," Wilson added.

The intrigue lies in how this particular elimination shapes the rest of PSG's season and the club's ethos.

They are still light years ahead of domestic contenders such as Marseille, Monaco, Lens and Rennes.

But still so very lost in the Champions League space.

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