At Paris Saint-Germain, the league doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. Well, for Thomas Tuchel and the Qatar Sports Investments owners, anyway.
The title of Ligue 1 champions come May is almost a given nowadays. Last season, they won it by 16 points, and 13 the year before that. In the current campaign, they’re already 12 points clear.
Success in Paris isn’t measured by league points, but by how deep into the Champions League you go. The owners have made it very clear. Bow out of Europe early, and you’re a doomed man.
Thomas Tuchel’s main challenge at Paris Saint-Germain is winning the Champions League
Player power is key in Paris where top talents like Neymar and Kylian Mbappe rule the roost
Tuchel, then, has more than one eye on February 18 and a trip to his former club Borussia Dortmund, who PSG face in the last 16 of Europe’s elite club competition.
The issue for the 46-year-old now though, is the background noise. There is unrest in the ranks at the Parc des Princes and as much as Tuchel would love to focus solely on Dortmund, he has other problems to sort in the meantime.
The eye-watering amount of money ploughed into the club has brought with it some huge signings on huge contracts… with huge egos.
In fact, it could be argued that PSG is perhaps the most difficult club management job in the world, as Tuchel tries to keep the entirety of his well-paid squad happy.
Most players in the ranks at PSG are used to being the main man. This is the creme de la creme of the world’s talent, some of the best players on the globe under one roof in the French capital.
As they jostle for attention with their team-mates, it is Tuchel’s job to keep everyone’s spirits up and ensure that they are all fighting for their common goal – Champions League success.
Last weekend brought with it fresh problems, and Tuchel now finds himself embroiled in confrontation with both of his star men, a far from ideal problem. Not only that, but the entire world is watching.
PSG played Montpellier on Saturday, romping to victory against their Ligue 1 rivals. With 68 minutes on the clock, the league leaders were already 5-0 up, with their opponents having had a man sent off early in the game.
With another fixture coming on Tuesday night, Tuchel opted to keep Mbappe fresh and having watched him score 10 minutes earlier, decided to bring him off. No problems there, right? Wrong.
Mbappe was furious and what followed was an angry touchline row, in which Tuchel tried to calm the Frenchman down but was met by a wall of silence. The manager tried to stop the player storming off, but he broke free and shrugged off another member of the coaching staff on his way to the bench.
Mbappe was furious when substituted by Tuchel against Montpellier on Saturday
Mbappe appeared to have made amends with Tuchel as they publicly hugged on Tuesday
While in some respects it should be seen as a positive that he was desperate to stay on the pitch, Mbappe’s reaction undermined Tuchel’s leadership and made it look as though he is unable to control his players.
On the very public spat, Tuchel noted: ‘There is nothing personal between him and me. These things happen.
‘It was between a player who does not want to come off, and a coach who had his reasons for doing something, and who wanted to give a game to players who deserved it.’
Mbappe started in the 2-1 win over Nantes on Tuesday and appeared to try and put the row to bed, embracing his manager at the final whistle after playing the full 90 minutes. But that small gesture won’t silence the doubters. One hug is not enough to end an ongoing issue.
Aside from the Mbappe problem, Tuchel is dealing with an ongoing Neymar issue in the French capital too.
The Brazilian celebrates his birthday this week, and held a lavish party on Saturday, just hours after he needed treatment for an injury during the Montpellier game.
Lo and behold, a rib problem kept him out of Tuesday’s match and Tuchel was forced to deal with questions about why Neymar would prioritise his birthday party over rest and recuperation to ensure he was fit to play for PSG.
Neymar held a lavish birthday celebration hours after requiring treatment for an injury
Unai Emery said Neymar was in charge at Barcelona, not the manager, and that issue remains
‘Is it the best way to prepare for a match? No, clearly not,’ he said on Monday. ‘Is it the worst thing in the world? No.
‘I always protect my players, and I really love my team. With this party, I accept that it is a bit difficult to protect the players, but the context is not simply black or white.
‘It is a shame, because we are giving people the chance to speak badly of us. We need to adapt to the situation, but I am not going to leave a player on the bench or at home because they went out and celebrated.’
Tuchel’s position is far from ideal, but he has dealt with the Neymar problem well. It would have been easy to blame the Brazilian and speak openly about his lack of professionalism.
Indeed, perhaps Tuchel does feel that way… but for the good of the team and the morale of his £530,000-a-week star player, he has kept his emotions in check.
At PSG, Tuchel is certainly not the first manager to endure the difficulties of a high-maintenance group of players… and specifically, the high maintenance of Neymar.
Tuchel can learn lessons from how he handled the volatile Ousmane Dembele at Dortmund
The boss will live or die by PSG’s Champions League performance, and any repeat of last season’s miserable exit at the hands of Manchester United will see him sacked
Unai Emery went through a similar situation, and admitted that he wasn’t in charge of the club, but instead that role went to the Brazilian forward.
‘In each club you must know what role you play and what role you assign to the rest of the group,’ he noted. ‘My opinion is that at PSG the leader is Neymar.
‘Neymar came to PSG to be the leader, to live the necessary process to become the world’s number one. This is a process that still needs a little bit of time to consolidate. In Manchester City, the chief is Pep [Guardiola]. At PSG, the leader must be Neymar.’
How he deals with the crisis away from the glare of the cameras is what really matters, though. One positive for Tuchel is that he’s had these problems before, and will know how to keep the player onside.
‘He’s a really nice boy but a little crazy,’ was Tuchel’s concise opinion of now-Barcelona star Ousmane Dembele after he’d ceased being in charge of his talents at Borussia Dortmund.
While in Germany, Tuchel had to tailor entire training sessions around Dembele to make sure the youngster was kept interested, but he managed to keep a good relationship with him and watched him flourish into perhaps the most exciting young talent in the world.
And so, Tuchel is almost ready to go full circle. He travels back to Dortmund knowing that he will need to use all of the skills he learned there in order to keep his Parisian players onside.
By the very nature of the job, all PSG managers are walking a tightrope… but Tuchel more than most has to ensure that he keeps his balance in the months ahead.
If the situations with Neymar and Mbappe get out of hand, PSG will suffer in the Champions League… and no European success means no job for Tuchel.