Frank Leboeuf says he expected more from Neymar in PSG’s loss to Bayern Munich in the UCL final. (1:22)
It is 12.40 a.m. and Thiago Silva is the first Paris Saint-Germain player to get off the bus at the Myriad hotel in Lisbon city centre, for the last time. Unlike in his dreams, though, the captain is not holding the Champions League trophy. Instead, he heads to the entrance of the hotel, mask on his face, AirPods in his ears, white plastic bag with his match shirt in his hand… and he seems to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. After eight years, Silva has played his last game for the club. He will leave with great memories, but without the Holy Grail.
The rest of the squad and the technical staff follow him, like a funeral march. Thomas Tuchel is there, in the middle of the pack, still on his crutches. Outside, the fans who turned up to welcome their beaten heroes are singing « thank you, Paris, thank you. » It is little comfort for the Parisians after they lost a cruel final. Hardly any of them acknowledge the supporters. Neymar does. He is the last player to get off the coach and he offers a wave.
Inside the Myriad, a late dinner is ready but most players go straight to their rooms. They won’t be able to sleep. How could you? Ever since referee Daniele Orsato blew the final whistle, signalling a 1-0 win for Bayern Munich, the key moments have been replayed in their heads over and over. Had they taken their chances? Could they have defended better for Kingsley Coman’s winning goal? What if Marco Verratti been fit to start? So many questions, so few answers.
There are also a lot of regrets, of course. In the changing room after the final whistle, the comforting words of coach Tuchel, sporting director Leonardo or president Nasser al-Khelaifi, who told the players after the game that they were proud of them, were scant consolation. Neymar had tears in his eyes. The Brazilian was sat next to Kylian Mbappe on one side, with Silva on the other. Both tried to comfort an inconsolable player. So far in Neymar’s career, big finals had been his forte, particularly in winning the Copa Libertadores (2011), Champions League (2015) and Olympic Games (2016). This time he came up short, and his display was disappointing. He looked lost when trying to rescue the game alone as the clock counted down.
PSG had big chances to make this final their own. They had to be super clinical. Instead, they were left to rue missed opportunities. What maybe hurts most is that it was their two superstars, their two princes, who misfired. First Neymar and then Mbappe, one early and the other one late in the first half. They could have become kings of Europe right there, but Manuel Neuer was a colossus in the Bayern goal.
On the opposite side of the room, Mauro Icardi is also quiet. The Argentine didn’t even get off the bench, just like in the semifinal against RB Leipzig, and just like in both legs of the round-of-16 tie against Borussia Dortmund. A €60 million player sat on the bench. The big difference was that in this game, PSG really needed him.
Instead, Tuchel chose Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, the saviour in the quarterfinal against Atalanta. It was a decision that seemed to defy reason. If the coach’s tactical approach was effective for the first hour, his decisions after Bayern scored were questionable. Angel Di Maria should not have been substituted. Icardi should have come on.
Rumours soon resurfaced — though they have never been far away — that Tuchel would be sacked. Officially, the line is that he will be on the PSG bench next season (or should we say this season, considering the 2020-21 Ligue 1 campaign kicked off on Friday night?). It would be harsh, considering he has just taken PSG to a first Champions League final in the club’s history and after winning the domestic treble. He should get the chance to build on this.
Craig Burley and Frank Leboeuf react after Bayern Munich win the Champions League final against PSG.
There are plenty of positives to take from this extraordinary 2019-20 season, even if they seem so far away right now. This team finally is a team. PSG took a Bayern side that thrashed Barcelona 8-2 in the quarterfinals right to the wire. They have showed great togetherness and with some additions to the team, they can come back stronger. When the best player for the opposition is their goalkeeper, the performance of your own team has to come with great credit.
But there are things to fix. When Thomas Meunier agreed to join Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer, he also opted out of the Champions League mini-tournament. That proved to be a huge blow because Thilo Kehrer, who had to fill in, was simply a centre-back playing as a right-back. With Silva now departed, PSG need a top-class centre-back to replace him. Even if Marquinhos drops back into defence, that leaves a gaping hole in defensive midfield.
Leonardo will have to be clever and shrewd. It won’t be about signing a big name, it will be about signing the right name.
More important is that Mbappe and Neymar remain at the club. The club is hoping to open talks over extending their contracts, which both expire in June 2022. But rumours of big-money moves to Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively won’t go away. That PSG are on the right path might help persuade the two forwards to sign.
The disappointment and the frustration for the whole squad right now will be huge, but they will return home with their heads high. They made their club, their fans and their community proud. They have little time to reflect, however, as on Saturday they are due to face Lens away as their Ligue 1 title defence begins. Tuchel and his players will have to overcome their Lisbon hangover quickly and switch their focus to the league. Champions League finalist or not, no one will give them a pass domestically.
For now, this will be seen a huge missed opportunity, but PSG must hope that it is the first of many and not just an isolated moment.
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