On-field implosions are nothing new for PSG. However, this week they have taken their self-destructive repertoire off the field, with Thomas Tuchel’s increasingly combative relationship with sporting director Leonardo escalating into a public spat. After the manager publicly criticised the club’s haphazard and often glacial business in the transfer market, Leonardo hit back. “We did not like these statements,” said the sporting director after PSG’s 6-1 mauling of Angers on Friday. “The club did not like them and neither did I. If he decides to stay, he needs to respect the board’s strategy.” With his position weakening and circumstances conspiring against him, Tuchel appears to be edging nearer to the exit, with Massimiliano Allegri thought to be Leonardo’s target to replace him.
Tuchel’s relationship with Leonardo had started cordially. With Leonardo acting as bad cop, the pair subtly handled the Neymar-to-Barcelona saga in the summer of 2019. Honest and forthright, Leonardo was able to manipulate the narrative in the media, allowing Tuchel and his squad to stay close to the player, maintaining the line that proceedings were out of his hands and that he really wanted Neymar to stay. The relationship has subsequently soured.
Although Tuchel has criticised decisions before, his frustration has intensified lately. When asked a couple of weeks ago if signings were in the offing, he replied: “I really hope so. It’s no secret.” His mood has only worsened. Highlighting the exits of Edinson Cavani, Thomas Meunier and Thiago Silva, Tuchel explained: “For the moment, we do not have the same quality. If we stay like this, with this reduced squad, we cannot expect to have the same objectives [as last season].” Before the trip to Nice last month, Tuchel went as far as to demand “an attacker, a central defender and a midfielder.”
Tuchel’s grievances partly centre around poor handling of player exits. “We lose too many players for nothing,” he complained after Cavani, Silva, Meunier, Adrien Rabiot and promising youngsters Tanguy Kouassi and Adil Aouchiche left for nothing. “It could continue with Draxler, Bernat and Di María [who are nearing the end of their contracts]. We don’t have money to buy players afterwards.” He has a point. Leonardo’s handling of the press may be shrewd and he helped PSG land Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Silva and Cavani in the first place, but he also has a poor track record as a salesman.
PSG have struggled to recoup sufficient funds throughout the QSI era, especially in recent times. The club’s previous sporting director, Antero Henrique, was at least able to raise funds via sales of youngsters such as Christopher Nkunku and Moussa Diaby – although the form and promise they have shown since leaving suggests it might have been better to keep them.
At the start of September, L’Équipe reported that PSG were planning to bring in €60m during this window by selling players. They have not yet reached double figures. The handling of Silva’s exit has proven especially divisive. “Tuchel always wanted to keep Thiago. Leonardo was the one who didn’t want him,” said Silva’s agent Paulo Tonietto. In an interview with France Football, Silva referred to Leonardo’s handling of both his and Cavani’s exits as “clumsy”.
As it stands, PSG have only brought in right-back Alessandro Florenzi from Roma and striker Moise Kean from Everton – and both are loan deals. In this condensed season, they will need a deep squad. “I’m worried that we will pay the price in October, November, December,” says Tuchel. Having lost two games already in Ligue 1, PSG have given their domestic rivals a head start. They have also been drawn in a difficult Champions League group alongside Manchester United, RB Leipzig and İstanbul Başakşehir. With tricky league fixtures against Rennes, Monaco, Bordeaux, Montpellier and Lyon also crammed into that period, their relatively thin squad could be exposed on both fronts.
In Leonardo’s defence, he is largely correct when he notes that other clubs are also reluctant to spend. “There are not many teams who have strengthened,” says the sporting director. “Everyone has lost millions and millions [due to the pandemic]. Nobody is buying apart from in England, which is somewhat a world apart.” Real Madrid have not made a marquee signing and Juventus have only secured Álvaro Morata on loan – having effectively traded Arthur Melo for Miralem Pjanic. Leonardo says PSG “need to be creative” and that securing Mauro Icardi on a permanent basis represents a “big investment” for the club.
Things looked to be going well for PSG. Neymar had confirmed that he was content in Paris and the club reached the Champions League final with an unusually harmonious dressing room. However, Tuchel’s control has slipped. An unnamed member of the squad complained to RMC last month that “we play without tactics, without ideas, with nothing”. Apparently the players are confused by how the manager uses Marquinhos and joke that his only plan is to “give the ball to Ney.”
“It is always like this,” complained Tuchel after defeats to Lens and Marseille last month, saying: “If he loses a final, he has to go. If he loses to Dortmund, he has to go. If he loses this, if he loses that…” Although Tuchel insists he is “calm” about his future, the pressure may yet intensify. L’Équipe have reported that Tuchel’s contract, much like some of his former players, may not be extended when it expires at the end of the season. Improving on last season’s achievements will be extremely difficult given his thin squad and the truncated nature of the season. With Leonardo reportedly eyeing Allegri, Tuchel may become a major casualty of PSG’s latest implosion.
Ligue 1 results
Ligue 1 results
Montpellier 0-1 Nîmes
Bordeaux 3-0 Dijon
Brest 1-0 Monaco
Metz 3-1 Lorient
Strasbourg 0-3 Lille
Rennes 2-2 Reims
Lyon 1-1 Marseille
Lens 2-0 St Etienne
Nice 2-1 Nantes
PSG 6-1 Angers
• Much like his previous Dijon side, Olivier Dall’oglio’s Brest have become France’s great entertainers. Their 1-0 win over Monaco on Sunday showed that they can defend too. With two powerful strikers in Steve Mounié and Gaëtan Charbonnier, a selection of intense wingers – new signing Romain Philippoteaux is an underrated gem – and a pair of flying full-backs, Dijon’s old-school yet flamboyant 4-4-2 is always worth watching. Who knows where it may take them.
• With the transfer window closing, the traditional exodus of Ligue 1 talent to England intensified this week. Angers left-back Rayan Aït-Nouri (19) has bulked up this summer and will make an exciting addition to the Wolves defence. Dynamic centre-back Wesley Fofana (19) was finally given his €40m move from St Étienne to Leicester City after pleading publicly with Claude Puel to accept the deal. Fofana really wanted to go, even invoking Brexit in an explosive interview. Brest, meanwhile, will miss the under-appreciated technical holding midfielder Ibrahima Diallo, who joined Southampton.