Champions League failure hurt Laurent Blanc's case at Paris Saint-Germain
Laurent Blanc, Paris Saint-Germain’s (PSG) manager since 2013 will leave the club by the end of this week, his agent confirmed recently, a statement that has left the Frenchman on the brink of an exit. The fact that Blanc will not lead the French champions into the next season has been an awfully kept secret as has the club’s courtship of the now former Sevilla manager Unai Emery.
Blanc’s position as head coach has been in doubt ever since the quarter-final Champions League defeat by Manchester City, a European tie that could have enabled PSG in reaching the semi-finals of Europe’s elite club competition and brought Les Parisiens, one step closer to the trophy they, and their Qatari owners in particular, covet so much.
It wasn’t to be though and the Frenchmen’s lack of tactical nous was crucial in seeing the club getting knocked out by a City side that has had anything but their best domestic season. PSG’s own domestic success has not been much consolation, at least nit to Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the chairman, who sees European success as attainable now more than ever.
How will Blanc’s tenure at PSG be remembered then? He has after all won 11 trophies in his three-year career with PSG, including the Ligue 1, Coupe de la Ligue and the domestic Champions cup in each of his seasons there. The club has broken a slew of records and just won the league with a stunning 31 point gap over Lyon.
Their performances in the league have been imperious, to say the least, but his detractors will point out that their squad is head and shoulders above any in the country and the great domestic success they’ve enjoyed was a must in any case.
With the struggles of clubs like Lyon and Marseille, who have shuttled between the good and the awful, PSG have also lacked a real challenger. Monaco have been doing consistently well with their austere approach (since their owner decided to stop pumping in the funds) with a good young squad, but a serious challenge for the league title still seems beyond them.
Meanwhile, Blanc has had the luxury of having players like Lucas Moura, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Javier Pastore, Benjamin Stambouli and Marquinhos to rotate with. That being said, Blanc still has to take some of the credit for turning PSG into such a force in French football. He has handled the side well and introduced a lot of young players in his tenure.
The 50-year-old also found the perfect system to bring the best out of Marco Verratti , Blaise Matuidi, and Thiago Motta. The fact that PSG’s midfield triumvirate unit became one of the most revered in Europe is also down to him.
He tried to accommodate Edinson Cavani, PSG’s other maverick forward but could never really find a system in which the Uruguayan he could play with Zlatan Ibrahimovic up top, which meant he had to be accommodated on the wing, something that he was never too thrilled about but Blanc still managed to get a great goal ratio from the Uruguayan.
Champions League or bust
Unfortunately, though, Blanc’s true evaluation would always be in the Champions League. For clubs like Bayern Munich, PSG and even Juventus, a league win is almost considered an obligation now given the quality of their squads.
The Qatari management of the club was desperate to fuse the domestic success with progress in the Champions League, and Blanc was unable to get any further than the quarterfinals in each of his attempts. The first ouster, against a plucky Chelsea side wasn’t seen as a failure and an inspired defeat the next year to a Barcelona side that would go on to win the competition hurt but was still accepted as progress by the senior management at the club.
This year, though, was the season that PSG were supposed to show that they had improved and would possibly even compete for the trophy but their campaign ended extremely unceremoniously. PSG looked bereft of ideas and Blanc’s peculiar formation in the second leg left them without any creativity or inspiration in a match that would have convinced Al-Khelaifi that they needed a better manager to make a significant foray into Europe’s premier club competition.
Al-Khelaifi was quoted after being eliminated from Europe by Manchester City, saying: "The players, the coach, the management, we need turnover, a new cycle. This elimination is the worst moment since I came to Paris."
Blanc has done a good job with PSG for the most part, but he clearly isn’t seen as the man to lead them into a new and more comprehensive era of success.