Unai Emery under pressure as player power pervades PSG dressing room
Unai Emery and Carlo Ancelotti might not have much time to share a moment together on Wednesday at the Parc des Princes after the clash between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The Italian and his players will head off quickly to the banquet that the Bavarian club always organises after a Champions League away match.
It would be a shame, though, because Ancelotti would surely have good advice to give to his counterpart at a time when Emery really needs some. In his 18 months in Paris, from January 2012 to the summer 2013, Ancelotti also had some tough times. There was a defeat at Reims where his position as manager was publicly and privately discussed by Nasser al Khelaifi, the PSG chairman. There were egos to sort out between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the rest of the group, for example. Ancelotti, being a master in man management, coped with those situations. He was successful in the end -- the dressing room was happy again and so was Al Khelaifi. Carlo left for Real Madrid, where he had other problems to sort out.
That's the life of a manager, whatever the club or the level he is at. He is responsible for fixing things, for finding some sort of harmony on and off the pitch and for creating a good environment in which the players can thrive. All of this, Emery is finding difficult to do at the moment.
Ancelotti's tips on how to act in a highly tense environment would be precious for the PSG manager. The past eight days have troubled Paris and the Spaniard has not looked in control. There was the Edinson Cavani vs. Neymar clash during the Lyon game 10 days ago and all the aftermath that followed. Then there was a poor 0-0 draw at Montpellier on Saturday where PSG missed the chance to become the first Ligue 1 team since 1936 to win their first seven league matches. There were a lot of questions to which Emery has yet to find an answer: like what is the Plan B when Neymar is not there?
Bayern are in town and this has become an even bigger match for PSG -- and most certainly for Emery. A bad result on Wednesday and the context will become even more toxic for the manager. His failings to deal with "Penalty Gate" between his two superstars has raised more eyebrows. He needed to show his authority by deciding who would take the spot kicks. But he did nothing. The players, to their surprise, still don't know who the No.1 penalty taker is and what will happen when they will eventually get another penalty. This has not reflected well on Emery. The 45-year-old is not showing enough strength and not sending the right message to his players. Let's not forget that last season, in the 6-1 debacle away at Barcelona, the players didn't follow his game plan at all. It's like his voice is not always heard.
The player power in the dressing room is getting stronger and if the players sense more weakness from the manager, they will use it to their advantage.
Emery can feel the pressure from Al Khelaifi, too. After the disappointing result at Montpellier, Al Khelaifi stopped in the mixed zone and sent a little warning to Emery and his staff, again.
"I think they will look at this game again so we can improve," he said.
There are not many clubs where the chairman or people from the top talk so often to the media. Bayern are one. Uli Hoeness or Karl-Heinz Rummenigge often talk to media, expressing their disappointment or unhappiness about something. If they have a message to put through, that's how they will do it.
Ancelotti, whose previous bosses include Al Khelaifi at PSG and Florentino Perez at Real Madrid, is used to it and knows what it takes to deal with this kind of pressure. He manages to stay focussed and it probably comes from his very laid back attitude, which is not something Emery has. He is far too rigid. Through his brother Igor, who looks after his social media, the PSG boss knows everything that is said, written or spoken about him. In a similar context, at Spartak Moscow, it was a disaster for Emery. He arrived in June 2012 and was sacked in November after failing to cope with the demands and scrutiny of that job.
This clash with Bayern Munich could be a huge moment in Emery's PSG career. A win and he will get some peace for a while. A draw would not be a disaster but would keep some pressure before hosting Bordeaux next weekend in Ligue 1. A loss, however, could increase even more stress on his shoulders and widen the gap between him and his players.
Julien Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter: @LaurensJulien.