Commentary

Life after Ibra at PSG isn't going well

Zlatan Ibrahimovic departed Paris St. Germain after the 2015-16 season following its fourth straight championship. There were a lot of reasons for PSG's runaway success -- it won last season's Ligue 1 title by 31 points and captured all four French trophies in the last two seasons -- beginning with the financial resources offered by Qatar Sports Investments since its takeover in 2012.

Ibra scored 156 goals in four seasons, but PSG should have enough talent to easily retain the French title under new coach Unai Emery, beginning with Uruguayan Edinson Cavani, Argentine Angel Di Maria and Brazilian Thiago Silva.

But that is proving problematic as PSG is in seventh place after four games in Ligue 1 following a 3-1 loss at first-place Monaco and 1-1 tie at home against St. Etienne. In 2015-16, PSG didn't lose a game until Feb. 26 when it lost at Lyon, its first defeat in 36 games over two seasons, a span of 11 months.

Emery's problems have been upfront, where summer acquisition Hatem Ben Arfa was supposed to make up for the Ibrahimovic's departure. Ben Arfa has a reputation for being temperamental but a breakout season at Nice earned him a transfer to PSG.

Relations between Emery -- who has a reputation for being a task-master -- and Ben Arfa are already so strained that Ben Arfa won't suit up for Tuesday's Champions League opener against Arsenal.

"I am waiting for him to raise his game," Emery said last week. "He's here to do that, and he can do it. I am waiting for him to be less personal and more collective in how he plays. He was often the difference individually at Nice, but here he needs to combine with his partners."

Emery has other options up front, including Cavani, Di Maria, French teenager Jean-Kevin Augustin, Spaniard Jese and Brazilian Lucas. Cavani and Di Maria didn't start in Friday's draw with St. Etienne because they had just returned from international duty in South America.

Jese came off before the hour mark with L'Equipe's worst grade -- 3 out of 10 -- but said he wasn't about to sit on the bench behind Cavani.

"Cavani is a great player," Jese, who signed from Real Madrid, where he also struggled to nail down a starting job, told French newspaper Le Parisien, "but I am no substitute."

Jese said he wants to play every game but admitted the competition was fierce at PSG.

"I have character and I like things to progress quickly," he said. "It's up to me to prove that I deserve to play as a starter. I will tell you my target when the season is over, but it is beyond 10 goals."

Emery says the starting job up front is Cavani's to lose, but the Basque coach adds that he's ready to go with young players like Jese or Augustin, the French U-19 star.

"It was important to give confidence to Cavani," Emery told RMC. "And it's hard to sign a very important player who will compete with him. Jese has played striker. He is versatile, and we have Augustin, a young player who is ready to play and who will progress."

Working with youngsters also signals that Emery, who was not in favor of the Ben Arfa signing, wants to build the club in his image, not the star-studded team of former coach Laurent Blanc.

"We are working to improve the small details," Emery added. "But this is a team that has won a lot and I have great respect for PSG. Improving a team like this, it's a great challenge and a great motivation."

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications