Players are bigger than the club at Paris Saint-Germain
FILE - PSG's Neymar watches the ball during the Champions League Group B soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich in Paris, France, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
By Samuel Petrequin, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — It's a scenario that has been repeating itself at Paris Saint-Germain.
A scenario where a player becomes bigger than the club, and is basically allowed to do anything he wants.
It used to work that way with Zlatan Ibrahimovic when the Sweden international was the most emblematic figure of the French league. Now it's Neymar's turn to call all the shots at PSG, and it does not seem to be a problem for the club's Qatari owners.
It was with their blessings that Neymar, the world's most expensive player who just turned 26, hosted a lavish birthday party on Sunday, less than 48 hours before a French Cup game at Sochaux, and only a few days before PSG's biggest game of the season in the Champions League.
Neymar invited about 250 guests including all of his teammates as well as PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
Many videos of the players partying and dancing late circulated on social media. On one of them, left back Yuri Berchiche appeared to be drunk. The videos drew the ire of Sochaux captain Florian Tardieu, who said it showed a lack of respect toward his team.
For PSG coach Unai Emery, who attended the party, it was not a problem at all. He said the event was a rare joyful gathering for his players. "It's good for our collective mindset to have shared this moment with Neymar," Emery said.
Fortunately for PSG, the party had no immediate impact on the team's results. Neymar — who joined from Barcelona for a world record 222 million euros ($260 million) last summer — was granted permission to skip the cup match, and Angel Di Maria scored a hat trick as PSG eased into the French Cup quarterfinals with a 4-1 win.
But Neymar's party could come back to haunt Al-Khelaifi if PSG fails to produce a good result at Real Madrid next week when the teams meet in their Champions League last-16 first-leg tie.
In any case, the party organized about a month after PSG stars returned from their winter holidays, once again underlined the players' power at the club.
When Ibrahimovic was at PSG and Laurent Blanc was coach, everything revolved around the athletic forward. Ibrahimovic could mock journalists and the quality of the French league without anyone at the club publicly finding anything wrong with it. Ibrahimovic was allowed to go back to his native Sweden on hunting trips, while Thiago Silva enjoyed tailor-made modifications to his training program.
A serious incident during Blanc's time spoke volumes about PSG's lack of authority on its players and stained the club's image. Just before a Champions League game against Chelsea two years ago, defender Serge Aurier abused Blanc and insulted teammates during a live session with fans on social media. Instead of being fired, Aurier got away with a six-week suspension.
Nothing has really changed under Emery's leadership. For instance, PSG's all-time leading scorer, Edinson Cavani, has kept the habit of returning late from his Christmas holidays, doing it again this winter without much consequence.
Emery has failed to make a clear decision on who should be PSG's first-choice penalty-taker. In September, Cavani and Neymar argued over who should take a penalty kick, and the pair clashed again in November during an 8-0 win against Dijon. That night, PSG was 7-0 up and Cavani needed one goal to become PSG's outright all-time leading scorer. But instead of showing generosity and letting Cavani take a penalty, Neymar guarded the ball and blanked his teammate when he approached.
Sebastien Tarrago, a reporter who has been covering PSG for years for L'Equipe newspaper, said Emery was not the only one to blame for the anarchy.
"Club officials are obviously the main people responsible for creating the possibility for players to have too much power," he said. "If club officials were strong, it would never happen."