The curse has hit again. Since Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) took over at PSG in the summer 2011, the Champions League has only been synonymous with failure and disappointment for the Parisians.
The objective, publicly announced by the new owners on the completion of their takeover, was to win the whole thing within five seasons. After eight they are still far from it. They have spent hundreds of millions of euros, have changed managers four times, have restructured the club, have lobbied to be accepted by the big guns. Yet, they are the laughing stock of Europe right now.
Every big team in the world has one day gone through pain and heartache. Some in huge matches as well, with a trophy at stake. Ask Bayern Munich about May 1999 and their Champions League finals collapse against Man United at the Camp Nou. Ask Manchester United about May 2012 and the Sergio Aguero goal that robbed them of the Premier League title. Ask Atletico Madrid about May 2014 and Sergio Ramos‘ injury-time equaliser for rivals Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Usually you learn from it, you address the issues and you move forward so you don’t make the same mistakes again and the nightmare doesn’t repeat itself. For Paris, it is occurring too many times in the Champions League. Pretty much recurring every year. Demba Ba scored in the 87th minute in the quarterfinals for Chelsea back in 2014. Laurent Blanc tried a suicidal tactical coup at Manchester City in the quarterfinals in 2016. The Remontada in Barcelona in 2017, when Barca overturned a 4-0 first-leg lead, and the comeback by Manchester United in 2019, both at the last-16 stage.
The Parisians are cursed but they also have themselves to blame. Some of the issues have been there for a while. The lack of guidance at the top of the club. The lack of leadership on the pitch. The mental weaknesses and the complaisance at times. The big players not turning up when needed. The desire to cut off the past of the club by the new owners. And once again, a manager in charge who makes mistakes at a key moment.
After the full time whistle on Wednesday, it was absolute chaos inside the Parc des Princes. The Emir of Qatar was there, looking incredulous. Sources have told ESPN that the club’s chairman Al-Khelaifi, furious against the referee and the late penalty, smashed a door. Neymar had to be restrained as he tried to enter the officials’ dressing room.
There was anger all-round, especially inside the home dressing room, yet there was nothing but silence. Presnel Kimpembe was mortified and listlessly sat there on his own. Edinson Cavani, like he did on the pitch, tried to comfort some of his teammates. There were a few tears, a lot of lost stares. Manager Thomas Tuchel seemed lost as well. Perhaps, he knows that, like his players, he messed up too. He should have surely been more proactive in that second half instead of going through it like a passenger. He had a quick chat with Al-Khelaifi. His position is not under threat and he will be on the bench next season if he wants to be. Later, he gave three days off to his players as PSG don’t have a game this weekend.
Tuchel left the Parc des Princes really late on Wednesday night and probably never managed to sleep. He intends to do nothing for the next three days! This is, on many accounts, a worse defeat than the one at the Camp Nou two years ago almost to the day. Because it was at home, because Manchester United were so weakened by injuries, because PSG were so dominant in the first leg.
The Parisians were too casual. They made crucial mistakes and they let fear invade them. Again.
What now then? Sporting director Antero Henrique could leave in the summer, as he has never been convincing in his role. Could Al-Khelaifi’s place be in danger? Potentially. Some players will be sold to make up for the loss of earnings from this elimination and also to balance the books under Financial Fair Play. However, Paris will do their best to keep Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
But for now, this is a collective and individual disaster. It is a failure which will scar the club forever. Now, they will have the label of the biggest losers in Europe. And after yesterday they deserve it.