Last summer Unai Emery told the PSG leadership that they should either back him, or get rid of him. A disappointing season had come to an end. That 6-1 defeat to Barcelona combined with Monaco finishing top of Ligue 1 to render the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue victories somewhat hollow. In order to make the next leap in the Champions League, which is PSG’s dream, they needed to bolster the starting line-up.
Neymar and Mbappé showed PSG's confidence in Emery
The arrivals of Neymar and Kylian Mbappé represented a vote of confidence in Emery, and his ability to connect with the Brazilian, who joined to be the leader and needed to be treated as such. Man management is one of Emery’s strengths. His handling of David Villa and José Antonio Reyes worked out well for him in the past.
Neymar needed time to settle in. At the start of the season he and Emery had a pleasant conversation, but it was rather superficial. The Brazilian was timid, his eyes lowered. His body language showed a timidity that vanished when he took to the pitch. Rather than demanding tactical discipline of Neymar, Emery allowed him space to breathe and granted him freedom take up spaces from which he could exert his influence.
The results confirmed that this PSG team is special: unbeaten with 11 victories and two draws. Their spectacular record in the Champions League reads 24 goals scored, one goal conceded. They have already qualified for the knockout stages.
Meanwhile, the team came under pressure from those who sought to destabilise the atmosphere at the Parc des Princes. The French press came in from one flank, publishing everything that a snubbed player pedaled. On the other flank, managers circled, keen to replace Emery at PSG.
Neymar and Emery had productive chat before international break
Neymar experienced similar difficulties as when he was at Barcelona. His apparent reticence to engage with long tactical instructions was spun in to supposed facts that confirmed his ‘irreparable’ divorce with Emery, whose future was in doubt. Both the president and the sporting director of PSG insisted that such ‘information’ was false.
The player and the coach spoke to each other for almost an hour before the last international break, and it was there that they placed themselves on the same page. They shared desires and doubts.
“I have no problem with [Edinson] Cavani, nor with Emery. Stories are being invented,” Neymar said recently.
But it is always ‘sexier’ to talk about controversy, rather than the inevitable process that takes place between two people when they meet in a new environment.