As PSG's season nears end, senior players begin to speak up
PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain's season is drawing to a close, the coach is preparing to leave and tongues are starting to loosen up as senior players speak their minds.
Angel Di Maria is still angry at being left out of PSG's biggest game of the season, even though that was back in February. The Argentina winger also does not know if he will be staying, given the French champion is under pressure to sell players.
Edinson Cavani, the club's all-time leading scorer, wants to remain and hopes to win the Champions League before his contract expires in 2020.
But for this to occur, the Uruguay striker says, players have to improve their mentality and team spirit. The 5-2 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League last 16 was another huge blow to PSG's cash-rich Qatari investors, irritated by the failure to reach the quarterfinals for the second straight year.
"We're missing something in the Champions League," Cavani said in a radio interview with RMC broadcast on Wednesday evening. "We need to be a band of brothers, a family. The example I use is my national team, we are like friends."
That hardly seemed the case when Cavani clashed with Neymar early in the season over a penalty.
"Yes, there was a problem with Neymar over the penalty," Cavani told RMC. "However, I was respectful. We spoke."
The incident took place in September, a sign of friction in a side packed with stars but all too often lacking in camaraderie.
In big games, PSG is often found out and players can panic when the going gets tough, the 6-1 defeat at Barcelona in last season's Champions League an example.
It was apparent again in the return leg against Madrid this season, when PSG lost 2-1 at home and midfielder Marco Verratti received a red card for petulance.
One fan group, which brings together the ultras and is known as CUP (Paris Ultras Collective), is losing patience. Last week, it issued a strongly-worded statement to the players, urging more "respect" in a foreboding tone.
"We won't just stand there with our arms crossed if the honor of our club continues to be tarnished," the CUP said.
Cavani is close to those fans, who appreciate his work ethic. Considering he has netted 168 times for PSG, Cavani is remarkably self-effacing.
"I am not a star. I am a workhorse," he said. "I'm not brilliant technically, I'm not going to dribble and do step-overs. You need a bit of everything in a team, it's a collective."
So dominant domestically, and so vulnerable in Europe, PSG is at a crossroads as it prepares for a summer of upheaval.
Several players could follow coach Unai Emery out of the door. Key players are entering their 30s and won't be at their peak for much longer, while those in their early-to-mid 20s may consider their options. Is easily winning the French league and domestic cup competitions enough motivation?
Emery's contract is not being renewed and the club must offer top wages to attract a big-name coach. But PSG also has to raise funds.
The club is being investigated by UEFA for a potential breach of Financial Fair Play rules after splashing out 402 million euros ($480 million) on Neymar and teenage forward Kylian Mbappe, and according to media reports it needs to raise about 50 million euros ($62 million).
Selling a couple of players would help.
Midfielder Javier Pastore is likely to go and Di Maria senses he could be sold. "I don't know (if I will stay), football is very strange," he told France Football in an interview this week. "The club needs to bring players in and, in order to do so, must sell others."
Di Maria was PSG's best player heading into the first leg against Madrid on Feb 14 but was surprisingly left on the bench.
"I was very disappointed not to start," Di Maria said. "I was boiling (inside) because I felt I should have played, or at least have come on."
Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire