L’Affaire Aurier could not have broadsided Paris Saint-Germain at a more inconvenient time.
With Ligue 1 all but sewn up, PSG should have been spending the 48 hours from Sunday in earnest preparation for their showdown with Chelsea in the Champions League’s Round of 16. Instead, the French football powerhouse had to suspend Serge Aurier after the right fullback disparaged manager Laurent Blanc and several of his teammates on Periscope.
The banishment—indefinite at this point—could spell the end for the Ivory Coast international at Parc des Princes, although some senior PSG players are thought to be lobbying for a gentler handling of the situation.
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Aurier, they recognize, is one of a burgeoning group of next-generation footballers at the club, and they need the 23-year-old, who has been wildly impressive this season, to help them over the Champions League hump.
Impertinent he may be, but many of the veterans won’t have to put up with him much longer, anyway. (Besides, the club can still sell him in the summer if his remarks remain unforgiven, which is unlikely given the short memories in football.)
The squad-building movement that began with the 2009 acquisitions of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has almost run its course, and given the latter’s age and likely exits of Edinson Cavani, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Thiago Motta, the PSG team a year or two from now could have a markedly different look that it will Tuesday at home to the Blues.
In other words, the Champions League window is closing for many of the club’s established players—a reality that only adds to the weight of pressure, that creates a sense of urgency that may or may not be helpful.
And no one will be feeling it more than Ibrahimovic.
For all his goals (more than 400 for club and country), league titles (10, and a further two revoked from his time at Juventus) and character casting as a sort of lovable eccentric (he’s turned “Zlatan” into a pop culture term) the 34-year-old has never got his hands on the European Cup.
He, in a person, represents the experiment that, thanks to Qatar Sports Investments, turned PSG into the preeminent Ligue 1 force overnight, and it’s appropriate that his expiring contract would signify the end of an era in the capital—an era that will retain a major shortcoming if Champions League glory isn’t part of it.
“I have yet to win the Champions League, and that is one of my goals,” he told L’Equipe in December. “But,” he added, “my career will still have been great if I don’t win it. My museum is already huge.”
Typical Zlatan. Although his employers and teammates would no doubt prefer to see his trophy case expanded before his likely summer departure.
“I hope he can finish his career with a Champions League title. It’s his dream, and our dream,” Silva told Omnisport last month. “I will do everything possible to help him win the Champions League.”
Silva, for his part, is 31 and has, himself, yet to pick up European club football’s most prestigious trophy. Ditto Lavezzi, 30, and Cavani, 29—both of whom are likely off in a few months.
Previous Champions League winners Maxwell and Thiago Motta, meanwhile, are 34 and 33, respectively. This is almost certainly the final chance at further continental success for both.
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Not that PSG will be bereft of ability in their absences, when contract expirations, outgoing transfers, retirements and the effects of age take the club into a full-on generational shift.
Kevin Trapp, Marquinhos, Marco Verratti (who has just agreed a new contract), Adrien Rabiot and Lucas Moura are each 25-years-old or younger, and Aurier, should he return to the fold, is also part of that impressive next wave.
What PSG have in their squad—and this is a commonality among champions—is a generational variance that combines energy and exigency. It won’t be there much longer.
Which is why Aurier’s behaviour is especially disappointing, and which is why, incredibly, his expulsion may not be as lengthy as it might have been otherwise.
The window is closing on the Ibrahimovic era. And urgency, for this team, is mindset that trumps all others.
Jerrad Peters is a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow him on Twitter