PSG can still break records with Unai Emery before he leaves
PARIS — Paris Saint-Germain’s 5-0 win over Metz in Ligue 1 last Saturday illustrated that the Champions League round of 16 exit suffered at the hands of Real Madrid last Tuesday will probably have no bearing on how Unai Emery’s men perform domestically up until the end of the season. Emery’s contract will expire this summer and he’s highly unlikely to have it renewed after another continental capitulation, so it is now a question of what he and his players can achieve before a seemingly inevitable parting of ways.
Kylian Mbappe admitted after the Metz victory that Emery’s fate is now in the hands of PSG’s leaders; the fact that the Basque tactician was whistled by sections of the Parc des Princes crowd pre-match won’t have gone unnoticed, either.
“I do not know,” said Mbappe said when asked about his manager’s future. “I am not a director, so it is not up to me. I have a good understanding with the coach — he is a very good coach. Now it is up to the leadership to decide. That is their job. Mine is to play on the pitch.”
Emery himself is unconvincing over whether he sees his future in Paris past the end of the campaign, and simply chose to state his belief in the club while at the same time acknowledging that changes could be made.
“The PSG project, I believe in it,” the 46-year-old said at a pre-match press conference. “However, the people involved with this project might change, even if the project itself does not change.
“Today, I am going about my work as if I will stay here for the rest of my life.”
Although it means little when compared with the Champions League, certainly in the eyes of PSG’s owners, Emery can still lead his team to a domestic clean sweep for the first time in his tenure.
With a 14-point lead in Ligue 1, it already looks a matter of when and not if the French capital club will snatch their crown back from Monaco. If things go smoothly over the next month or so, Les Parisiens could be crowned champions with a victory at Bordeaux’s Matmut Atlantique, the same stadium where they’ll face Leonardo Jardim and AS Monaco in the Coupe de la Ligue final on Mar. 31.
In the event that things are going well, and PSG avoid tripping up against the likes of Nice and Saint-Etienne away and Monaco at home, a 100-point total or better is a realistic target — something that’s never been achieved in the club’s history.
With the French giants already through to that Coupe de la Ligue showdown with Les Monegasques, the biggest concern until that encounter is failure to reach the other domestic cup final: the Coupe de France. With Caen to come in the semifinals before one of semi-professional pair Chambly or Les Herbiers at Stade de France for what should prove to be a one-sided although somewhat fairy-tale final, failure to complete this apparent formality could expedite Emery’s exit.
There is little to no sense wielding the axe now with Emery soon out of contract. UEFA’s Financial Fair Play investigation is still a concern and the former Sevilla boss is naturally coming to the end of his time at Parc des Princes. Any sacking would cost money — albeit much, much less than the €22 million it took to sack Laurent Blanc two seasons ago — and a temporary replacement would need to be found with pickings slim.
On top of that, a number of players were guilty of displaying poor attitude in the second leg against Real, so there is less need to dismiss Emery as brutally as Blanc was back in 2016. It can wait until the summer.
Having already damaged captain Thiago Silva’s untouchable status, theoretically making it easier for his successor to appoint a new skipper, one final thing that Emery can do is bring a few youth academy starlets closer to first team action. U.S. youth international Timothy Weah recently broke into the senior side against Troyes and Metz in Ligue 1, and if Emery can continue to work him in but also introduce the likes of highly rated youngster Yacine Adli, the pair would represent two big, positive steps towards the future.
“It is incredible to have played here at Parc des Princes, in front of thousands of PSG supporters and alongside such great players,” said Weah of his latest taste of the big-time. “It is a dream come true for me to play for the same club as my father.”
Another domestic clean sweep and the introduction of a couple of talented youngsters will almost certainly not save Emery, nor redeem his two Champions League failures in the eyes of the fans, but it should see him granted a civil exit at the end of his deal. Also, on a personal level, the experience will set Emery up nicely for his next job, which will likely come in a less pressurised environment where a domestic clean sweep is viewed as a success in itself and not something considered a given before the season even starts.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.