OPINION | Messi walking, Pochettino’s indifference and a chance at competence – A PSG fan’s view

Now that the curtain has fallen, the 2021/22 season looks to have been a successful one for PSG as the club won Ligue 1 and Kylian Mbappé extended his stay, but things have been far from rosy.

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The title was regained with devastating ease – a situation helped by the non-existing competition, proven by the low amount of points (71, the lowest tally since 2015/16) managed by the runners-up Marseille – but with lacklustre and empty performances. Going to the Parc des Princes this season was done more out of duty than passion by most of the PSG faithful. No success in any cup competition has also raised a few eyebrows.

The Coupe de France is a trophy that the club holds the most victories in (remember the days when this was PSG’s only chance of silverware along with the Coupe de la Ligue?) and the elimination to Nice early in the competition deprived the club of a much-needed packed Stade de France experience (which would have been played against club legend Antoine Kombouaré) as the last one was played behind closed doors.

That defeat on penalties in late January wasn’t the end of the world but it certainly didn’t help the ongoing disapproval from the ultras and most of the Parc des Princes regulars – not counting the day-trippers of course. At that time, things were starting to hot up in the stands with the PSG ultras going on strike on and off until the end of the season, which included no support in the first half against Metz last Saturday.

PSG didn’t play well in 21/22. Buying Lionel Messi was a marketing ploy rather than a needed addition to an already star-filled frontline and the Argentine’s performances (i.e., walking) aggravated an already restless crowd. Neymar’s fitness levels were poor and the midfield showed little creativity except for the ever-reliable Marco Verratti – what on earth has happened to Georginio Wijnaldum?

It was not all doom and gloom though as the full-backs, who were best used as wing-backs, Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes were performing well and so was Sergio Ramos – when he was fit, which was almost never. All season long, the PSG faithful complained about a lack of a game plan and strategy, not giving much hope before the Real Madrid Champions League last 16 clash. However, it was a tie that PSG really should have won, but Chelsea and Manchester City fans could feel even more hard done by than Paris in that respect. Take it from a PSG fan, the elimination at the Bernabéu – as hard to take as it was – was nothing compared to Barcelona in 2017 and Manchester United in 2019.

The players were blamed for not caring but so was head coach Mauricio Pochettino who showed little interest from the touchline with late substitutions and little interaction with the players, and it was even worse in press conferences as he often made one-word replies and so on. Is the Argentine so overrated that he can’t even put together a training session with the best players in the world? This column doesn’t think so (although if there are Southampton and Tottenham fans reading this and who think differently, please enlighten me).

Pochettino came with a nonplussed attitude and that didn’t change at any point during his 18-month tenure. Although, at the time of writing, he’s still PSG’s boss. It’s hard to imagine that he can’t make such a squad play better than they did, meaning that the problems lay behind the scenes. Now that sporting director Leonardo has, gone will things change in that respect? Moreover, will he and his staff be kept on? His future is heavily linked to Mbappé’s extension of course…

So he has finally made his decision. Or perhaps he played both clubs in order to up his prize (not only in wages) until the very last minute so that he could take such a decision. But whatever the case, Kylian Mbappé will still be a PSG player in 2022/23 and this changes everything (and I mean that) in PSG fans’ psyche. A departure would have been the final straw in a horrible season, on and off the pitch – it will calm down the ultras for one thing too – but Mbappé staying plus the guarantees that things are going to change at boardroom level (seemingly) is the best piece of news we could’ve hoped for.

For too long, the club has become a pre-retirement resort (Beckham, Buffon, Messi) where player power goes way beyond the manager’s authority as the players make more money on social media than by winning the Champions League – Messi has earned the club millions without breaking a sweat. This could be the moment a lot of French football pundits were waiting for and what PSG’s Champions League competitors have been fearing. If the club starts to be run seriously, then a genuine foothold in the Champions League is a very distinct possibility, rather than the coin toss it currently is.

Philip Bargiel