Unai Emery has finally been announced as the new manager of Paris Saint-Germain. Emery’s contract will keep him in Paris through 2018 with an option for an additional season.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) June 28, 2016
The appointment of the Spaniard has been speculated for weeks but is still somewhat unbelievable. This past February, Laurent Blanc signed a two-year extension and appeared to have the full confidence of club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi even after the loss to Manchester City in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League. After the season though, Al-Khelaifi promised there would be wholesale changes at the club and even hinted that the Frenchman could be on his way out.
Al-Khelaifi is known as a man who keeps his word so the fact that he felt the need to sack Blanc means only one thing: Qatar Sports Investments have lost their patience and they want to win the Champions League as soon as possible. With José Mourinho signing with Manchester United, Pep Guardiola joining Manchester City, and Jurgen Klopp taking over at Liverpool, the pool for big-name managers seemed to have dried up. So Al-Khelaifi turned to Spain and went after the man who delivered Sevilla three consecutive UEFA Europa League trophies.
Taking over at a club the size of Paris Saint-Germain will be a big leap for the manager so here are five things I believe Emery must do in order to help the club reach their lofty goals:
1. Don’t Change Too Much
No matter how you look back on Blanc’s time at the club, he was successful in building a team that has dominated French football the last two seasons. On the European stage, the team matched up well with other big guns when healthy and with better luck he could have gone farther in the Champions League. Emery will be wise to build on Blanc’s system rather than making wholesale changes. As sudden changes could ruin the team’s chemistry and take awhile to be adjusted to. With a huge amount of pressure from the board, Emery must avoid making too many changes to make the transition period smoother. Luckily, the former Sevilla manager appears to be open to playing Blanc’s possession-style football, so the transition could be smoother than expected.
2. Develop a Plan B
Unlike his predecessor, Emery seems to be a more tactically adaptable manager, which will be key for a PSG side that has struggled without Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti in the lineup. Both Motta and Verratti serve as the heartbeat of the squad and it’s no coincidence that the last two exits in the Champions League have come as a result of one or both of these players missing from the starting XI. Emery will be wise to come up with an alternative system that is less dependent on the Italian duo, especially one that can create chances even when things aren’t going his way.
3. Work on Defense
Defense seemed to be Blanc’s main priority when he was manager, as pointed out by the fact that he often chose to go with three defensive-minded midfielders to complete his preferred midfield trio of Blaise Matuidi, Motta, and Verratti. PSG broke the record for least goals conceded in Ligue 1 with 19 and only allowed one goal in the group stage of the Champions League last season. However, the defense looked frail, especially in the knockout stages of the Champions League, where they allowed five goals in four matches.
Now that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is gone and the team unlikely to sign another world class attacker in the summer, strengthening the defense even further must be a priority.
4. Create a Competitive Atmosphere
This is another area Blanc struggled with. Some players were guaranteed starters no matter what due to the club’s need to boost their image but you also had the Kevin Trapp/Salvatore Sirigu situation. You can certainly understand Sirigu’s frustration after hearing his comments about how he was treated last season when he was benched in favor of the German who committed a series of howlers during the season.
With Al-Khelaifi’s comments about PSG going into a new era with a place in the starting XI being given more on merit, Emery has the chance to instill a competitive atmosphere, which will definitely help keep players performing at their best.
5. Use the PSG Academy
Paris Saint-Germain is blessed with some talented youngsters from the academy and in building a competitive atmosphere, Emery must trust those players and give them minutes—an area where Blanc could certainly have done better.
Since losing France international Kingsley Coman on a free, PSG has made more of an effort in keeping their young talent by securing them to professional contracts. It will be up to Emery to use those players more to help encourage other members of the academy to stay in Paris in hopes of getting their chance with the first team and endear himself more to the supporters who desperately want more homegrown players.
There’s no doubt that luck has a lot to do with winning the Champions League but taking care of these issues that haunted the Blanc-era will go a long way to helping Emery accomplish Paris Saint-Germain primary objective. There will be doubters and those who question Emery’s ability to lead a team like PSG, but he’s the manager now and we’ll have to support him all the way. Who knows, the “hire a new coach and win the Champions League” trend, which has been the case in the last three seasons may just work for PSG this time. Good luck Unai and welcome to Paris.
Photograph by Dan Istitene/Getty Images.