Monday, March 19, 2018

UCL: A Monologue To PSG Manager Unai Emery

This was originally meant to be published by The Stoppage Time. Since this was not published, I am posting it here and also on Tumblr. 

The fans depart, the teams depart, and the only ones in the stadium are the janitors cleaning the stands and the lights still being on. I enter the Parc des Princes pitch, still strewn with debris from the rage of the home fans, and in my hands is a bottle of Normandy cider. No wine or champagne tonight, the outcome dictates none of those drinks. Just cider. And a young local, a PSG youth academy product of 14 years, accompanies me on the field like youngsters accompany the heroes on the pitch during classic battles.

I tell the young lad, hold my cider, and he does. With this, I begin addressing the audience of a few grounds staff in practice but in reality, a certain fallen individual.

So the full time score reads, to my right: Paris 4, Real Madrid 2. Aggregate scoreline 5-5, Real Madrid advance to the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals on away goals 2-1. Based on this result, Unai Emery Etxegoien of Hondarribia, Spain, I, Jo-Ryan Salazar of Los Angeles, California and The Stoppage Time, welcome you with open arms, open hearts and open the beginning of the end of your managerial career with the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club of the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, France, with its administrative center based in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Yvelines.

I know, I know, you only saw me once, and that was at a prematch press conference for the International Champions Cup at StubHub Center in Carson, ahead of a 4-0 hammering of the Cinderellas of the Premier League, Leicester City Football Club, who are still hanging around (thankfully) in England's top flight. But that was two years ago. Ages ago. An eternity ago. Times have changed. And so I shall slowly walk the perimeter of this recovering pitch in my own pseudo-lap of honor to continue this spiel.

So why do I cover this team? Why do I follow, as my main European club, Paris Saint-Germain, a club that has never been relegated from Ligue 1 for nearly a half century and has won more trophies than any other club in French club football? I could be scrutinizing other clubs, like Chelsea (my main team in the Premier League), Juventus (the gold standard of Serie A), Bayern Munich (my main team in the Bundesliga)...heck, I could be ripping apart Brendan Rogers's tenure at Celtic in what is a similarly future European exercise. Celtic are my main team in Scotland.

First off, as mentioned, they have more silverware across all competitions than any other team in French club football. Secondly, PSG are meant to be an extension of one of the most influential cities in the world, Paris, a beacon of hope for the world's finest people, the French. PSG is the Finest People's Ally and it is up to the Rouge et Bleu to win not just for Paris but for all of France. A defeat of this magnitude to Paris Saint-Germain is a defeat for Ligue 1 and the entire French Republic. It is not meant to be trivialized.

Finally, Paris is a city built by skilled workers who honestly mastered their craft and leave an indelible impression. Like any self-respecting city, Paris demands that it hires reputable established employees. There are no fakers or fake news meant to be milling about in a genuine metropole like Paris, at least one would imagine.

Unai, I have been monitoring your body of work these past two seasons. You came into the 2016-17 campaign as a passenger and a hack with an unproven reputation, and you will exit the 2017-18 campaign the same way you came. A passenger. A hack. One who misused and mismanaged the big money signings, the talent, the names, and have actually allowed PSG to regress from their quarterfinal exits in the UEFA Champions League under Laurent Blanc. The French have a term for this: honteaux. Disgrace. In Spanish, that's verguenza or fracaso.

The handling of Kylian Mbappe's injury against Toulouse FC was scandalous in its own right, but nothing can compare to the way you treated Hatem Ben Arfa. Here was a player that could only do training and was ready to be called up but never got to play a minute in this last year of his contract because you did not let him. Hatem is Parisian through and through, like Lassana Diarra and Kylian Mbappe and others on PSG's first team. To only allow Hatem to take part in training and nothing else is damaging to his career. You forced him to be a passenger and by not allowing everyone to play this season, it has added to the case that you are not qualified to manage this group of playes.

As an aside, Neymar Santos Jr. realized that the pitch of Le Parc des Princes has a soul, and it chose to keep him in line as it was tired of the Brazilian king not respecting French club football. And so he is out for the remainder of the season, recovering from a broken foot after landing awkwardly on one of his ankles in a Ligue 1 duel against Marseille, who PSG dismissed on back-to-back 3-0 scorelines. That was not your fault, Unai, but just so you know, this stadium does have a soul, vibes, an aura, and it must be respected and paid hommage to.

That leads us to the next point, where does Paris Saint-Germain go from here as the endgame is now in full swing in the City of Light? Nasser Al-Khelaifi will undoubtedly allow you to finish the season, granted that no future cup ties end in defeat and very few draws or losses are incurred in Ligue 1. The only other opposition that stands a chance of defeating you is AS Monaco and they're already been out of European competition since Christmas. But even if Paris run the tables the rest of the way and win out, it does not change a single thing.

Unai Emery, Paris Saint-Germain is not to be managed by passengers or hacks. It needs proven names to keep the vein of silverwear going while getting over the Champions League hump that is the knockout rounds. Perhaps a future job awaits you in the lower leagues of Spain, or maybe a job analyzing or commenting on the game fits your fancy. But I cannot vouch for you anymore as the Parisians have regressed in European competition and you have wasted your oppotunity to harness the power of Edinson Cavani, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. This club is a  straightforward club to play for as a player, but a documented challenge as a manager, and you failed in this challenge.

I now complete my pseudo-lap of honor. This is where we have to say goodbye, Unai Emery, even though you will still undoubtedly be the gaffer, at least in name only, for the rest of the season. Your only legacy will have been the domestic trophies won at Paris Saint-Germain Football Club. But the true legacy are your eliminations to La Liga's power duo of FC Barcelona and the masters, the European and World Champions, the gold standard of the Real Madrid Club de Futbol of Madrid, Spain.

Adieu, addio, adios amigo. And make sure the door smacks you hard in the derriere on the way out. You will not be missed. Because even through these darkest of days, this is Paris, and Paris will always be magical. And with that, I retrieve my cider and make my exit from Le Parc des Princes into the cold, dark Parisian night.

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