Suicide team – Newspaper Kommersant No. 41 (7242) dated 03/11/2022

Champions League

The main loser of the current Champions League draw was a team that is generally no stranger to such a label. But PSG’s latest European misfire still seems to stand out from all the previous ones it has suffered trying to get to the club’s most prestigious trophy since Qatari investment turned it into an insanely rich football giant. Having assembled a fantastically bright squad before the season, having lured Lionel Messi to them, the Parisians were cut off in the starting round of the play-offs at Real Madrid, having managed to create a seemingly solid margin of safety during the second leg, but showing that the habit of squandering it has not gone away . The defeat of PSG from Madrid with a score of 1:3 is another line in the story of how grandiose financial investments turn into zilch.

It was not difficult to guess what after the Madrid match of the 1/8 finals of the Champions League people who are well versed in football will talk about. Two BBC experts, two chic players in the past, Steve McManaman and Rio Ferdinand, talked about the same thing – that, no matter how metaphysical such a thesis sounds, “club mentality” and “club culture” are not empty formal words. At least the whole recent history of PSG is proof of this.

In 2011, the Parisian club acquired a powerful owner – the Qatar Sports Investments fund, and investments flowed into it in a raging river. Over the next ten years, PSG spent more than €1 billion on new players, in fact gathering such a squad every season that it was impossible not to include the team in the shortlist of contenders for winning the Champions League. The thing is that the colossal money, helping to reign in France, for some reason refused to work in European competitions.

This Champions League draw was PSG’s tenth since falling into generous Qatari hands. And in the nine that preceded him, he was only two times close to the trophy: in 2020, he failed in the final with Bayern, and in 2021, in the semi-final with Manchester City. In all the rest, the Parisians fizzled out either in the first or second round. And speaking of a “mentality” and a “culture” that are stronger and more permanent than it might seem at first glance, the experts, of course, had in mind the fact that PSG got into the habit of turning sour, being in such a position that success is almost inevitable. In this regard, two of his confrontations have so far been reference. In 2017, PSG defeated Barcelona in the 1/8 finals at home with a score of 4:0, but at the end of the away match fell apart, losing 1:6. And in 2019, at the same stage, having scored two unanswered goals for Manchester United away, he managed to lose 1:3 at his stadium, and at that time an extra goal on a foreign field was still a key additional indicator in the playoffs. And again the decisive one was missed in stoppage time.

The clash with Real Madrid stylistically fits into this series perfectly. PSG took the lead in the first leg thanks to a goal from Kylian Mbappé, who scored again in the second before half-time. And for an hour in this meeting there were no clear signs that the Parisian club was waiting for a new disaster. Well, Real did not look so strong as to consider a margin of two goals ephemeral, scanty. On the contrary, it seemed to be reinforced concrete.

And then, with exactly one hour left behind, PSG collapsed again. The monster club was transformed into a loser club, ready, as soon as they sensed danger, to fall into a semi-conscious state, into a stupor, and a hat-trick by Karim Benzema, who suddenly spread his wings, made in less than 20 minutes, threw him out of the Champions League.

And a special flair to the misfire was added by the memories of the transfer campaign that PSG staged last summer. And having not saved before, this time he played it as if he put everything on the line, as if he decided that just a luxurious line-up is too little to break the sad European Cup trend, that it is necessary to assemble a variant of the world team, keeping, despite the highest demand, Kylian Mbappe and all the other stars of the application and complementing it with a whole squad of newcomers with big names and a winning background. It included the former core player of Real Madrid Sergio Ramos, the leader of the Dutch national team Georginio Wijnaldum, the hero of the European Championship Gianluigi Donnarumma and, finally, Lionel Messi himself, already a seven-time winner of the Golden Ball, who was lured to Paris after fleeing Barcelona, to build a killer attacking trio with Mbappe and Neymar, guaranteeing, in combination with other trump cards, the breakthrough that did not want to take place. But the breakthrough did not grow together. Messi in PSG appeared, perhaps not entirely pale, but, whatever one may say, a shadow of the glorious Barcelona times, Donnarumma did not become the main goalkeeper, sharing status with Keylor Navas, and made a gross mistake in the episode with Benzema’s first goal, and the “club mentality” , suggesting breakdowns out of the blue at key moments, as it turned out, did not disappear anywhere.

The same analysts who talked about his power were happy to predict what would happen to PSG in the near future. They predicted, since Mauricio Pochettino is so eager to see Manchester United managers, for the seventh change of coach in ten years: and do not care, say, that, say, Thomas Tuchel, instead of whom Pochettino appeared at the club in January 2021 , immediately won the Champions League with Chelsea, and the fact that Carlo Ancelotti, like Tuchel, who at one time did not work very long with the Parisians, now knocked them out with far from being as brilliant as it used to be, Real Madrid. They predicted God already knows what kind of personnel redrawing, since there is still demand for Mbappe and you can get almost € 200 million for it.

Although at the moment the president of PSG, Nasser al-Khelaifi, it is possible that he will be no less worried about problems that are more related to him personally. Swiss prosecutors accuse him and ex-secretary general of the International Football Federation (FIFA) Jerome Valcke of corruption in the implementation of media rights to the world championships, and Marca and a number of other sources claim that the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) will consider the behavior of al-Khelaifi after the match with ” Real”: he tried to break into the referee’s room to chastise the referees, attacked one of the Real Madrid employees, threatening to “kill” him. Although in such a situation, with such luggage from the bags of money spent, with a result close to zero behind him, who would not boil?

Alexey Dospekhov

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