Paris: Paris Saint-Germain’s season is ending with celebrations after a record 11th French title, but it’s been one of the most fraught and tension-filled campaigns for many years that saw fans turning on the players, including soccer great Lionel Messi, and the club president.
PSG’s 1-1 draw at Strasbourg Saturday secured the trophy with a round to spare and took the Paris club past Saint-Étienne’s 10 titles. But perhaps this season will mostly be remembered for the many low points.
“It’s not been the best season for PSG,” captain Marquinhos said recently.
Coach Christophe Galtier was hired to oversee a new era after bigger-name managers had failed to secure a coveted first Champions League title for the club.
Galtier pledged there would be no favors for star players but he ended up falling short in Europe anyway, and even had to fight for his job at the end of a troubled first season. Galtier is not expected to be in charge for a second campaign.
HOME LOSSES AND ARGUMENTS
Parc des Princes was once a fortress for PSG but not this season, as it lost three home games in the league.
Players were jeered off the field after home defeats, including back-to-back losses to Rennes and Lyon without even scoring a goal. Even Lorient, a modest side which finished in 10th place, won 3-1 in Paris.
Rennes beat PSG home and away, while a 3-1 defeat in Monaco saw players Marquinhos and Neymar arguing with sporting director Luis Campos.
Campos was exasperated at the poor showing of the team after it trailed 3-0 at halftime in one of the worst PSG performances since Qatari investors QSI took charge 12 years ago.
“There’s nothing to hide,” Marquinhos said. “We’ve slacked off at times during games. That sums up the season well.”
Saint-Etienne won the last of its 10 titles in 1981 when former France great Michel Platini was in the team.
FANS TARGET MESSI
When results were going poorly, some of the fans’ anger was targeted toward Messi, who was seen to be underperforming after his return from winning the World Cup with Argentina.
And yet it was his goal against Strasbourg that ended up clinching the title, underlining his status once again as arguably the sport’s biggest star. It was also Messi’s 496th league goal in Europe and broke Cristiano Ronaldo’s scoring record for Europe’s top five leagues.
But it wasn’t long ago that the record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi became a target for fans, and then was briefly suspended by the club for an unapproved trip to Saudi Arabia.
Messi is not expected to take up the option for an extra year on the contract he signed two years ago, and next Saturday’s home game against Clermont is expected to be his last. This season, Messi has 16 league goals and 16 assists with one game left.
The club’s hard-core ultras even boycotted games after a disagreement with the hierarchy.
They argued that president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who for long has been perceived as over-protective of PSG’s star players, refused to listen to their demands.
Some ultras went too far by protesting outside Brazil star Neymar’s residence.
But it symbolized how unhappy many PSG fans became.
RUN OF DEFEATS
Unbeaten before the World Cup started in November, PSG has lost nine matches overall in 2023.
“A lot of things changed after the World Cup,” Marquinhos said. “It was very demanding in terms of energy, emotions and we were unable to maintain our level.”
The rot started on New Year’s Day when host Lens played PSG off the field in a 3-1 win that exposed glaring defensive limitations that the team’s attack has masked for several years.
PSG was eliminated in the last-16 of the Champions League for the second straight season, losing home and away to Bayern Munich without scoring a goal.
Galtier’s side was knocked out of the French Cup by bitter rival Marseille, and could have lost the league title as well if its challengers had been more consistent.
Marseille won eight straight away games, one short of its own record, but dropped a slew of points at home and let PSG off the hook. PSG lost at home to Brest Saturday.
Also, Lens dominated at Parc des Princes in April before a clumsy red card gifted PSG the initiative and it won 3-1.
Without goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and Kylian Mbappé, who became PSG’s all-time leading scorer and has the most league goals this season, PSG could have lost the title.
Mbappé has netted a league-high 28 goals with one game left.
PSG’s home losses in the league heaped more pressure on Galtier and dented a well-earned reputation as one France’s best coaches.
He led Lille to the title against the odds in 2021 and was unbeaten for Nice in three games against PSG last season, knocking PSG out of the French Cup.
But the fact that he was not even among the five nominees for coach of the season reflected how poorly PSG has played at times this campaign, where it was often rescued by Mbappé’s goals.
Should Galtier leave, his replacement will become PSG’s eighth coach under its Qatari ownership.
One name on many people’s lips is Jose Mourinho.
The 60-year-old Portuguese has won multiple trophies in a hugely successful coaching career, including the Champions League with unheralded Porto in 2004, and with Inter Milan in 2010 — toppling then-mighty Barcelona along the way.
He won the Europa Conference League with Roma last year and is through to the Europa League final this season Wednesday, where he will attempt to win a sixth European trophy.
PSG’s won only one: the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1996.
Unflinching, outspoken and unafraid to challenge the authority of even his own club directors, Mourinho could be exactly what PSG needs.