It is not very often that you see a manager unhappy after winning the biggest domestic game of the season. It happened in Marseille on Sunday night where Thomas Tuchel, the Paris Saint-Germain boss, admitted that he was upset despite his players beating their arch rivals 2-0.
You would have expected him to be beaming with joy. His team made history by claiming 11 victories from 11 league matches so far this season, equalling the great Tottenham side of 1960-1961. Yet he was angry, but not at the win, the performance of his team or PSG’s record. Instead, he was angry at the decisions he had to make prior to the match, only a few hours before kick-off.
Kylian Mbappe and Adrien Rabiot arrived late at the team meeting on the afternoon of the game and Tuchel punished them for it. They were supposed to start but were dropped to the bench instead. The two French internationals had wanted to watch the end of the first half of El Clasico between Barcelona and Real Madrid and in doing so, they were five minutes late to a team meeting. Tuchel didn’t like it.
“For me, it was not a good evening. You make plans and you have to change them. I don’t like that. I am saddened by all of this. I have to think about it. It has upset me,” Tuchel told journalists.
A bit earlier, he also said: “I had to make that call. It was a disciplinary sanction. I hate playing without Kylian and Adrien but it was necessary.”
So why did he do it? Simply put, Tuchel had to show his authority. He had to be firm, inflexible and unyielding. There was no pleasure for him in doing it and he would have rather not done it, but he had to. Because he is the boss and he needs to show it to his players. What went under-reported was the fact that Sunday’s lateness wasn’t the first time that Mbappe and Rabiot broke the rules.
Mbappe was late for training three weeks ago. He was also told off by Tuchel at training for not being committed enough, and then was again late to go to the team’s hotel on Tuesday last week, the day before the Napoli clash at the Parc des Princes in the Champions League. (Mbappe responded to this particular criticism on social media, saying it was “false information” and that he was “among the first to arrive at Parc des Princes on Tuesday night and you can check by using UEFA’s cameras.”)
Rabiot has been too nonchalant for Tuchel’s liking and late a few times this season as well. The former Dortmund coach could have been more critical publicly about his two players, but he wasn’t. However, he did reveal a lot when he said recently that “if it happens once, the player is not out…”
The player who benefited from Rabiot’s punishment was Julian Draxler. He started instead of the Frenchman and scored PSG’s second goal deep in injury time. He had strong words after the match: “We showed that the club and the team are more important than a player.” The dig was surely aimed at Mbappe, perhaps underlining that there was maybe a bit of an issue with the young striker inside the dressing room as well.
For his part, the French prodigy looked angry and frustrated all afternoon and evening. Gianluigi Buffon, who was a sub as well, had a long discussion with him on the pitch before the game. Then Mbappe came on after 62 minutes and changed the game, with Rabiot replacing Angel Di Maria 17 minutes later. Yet, if Rabiot didn’t say a word after the match, Mbappe was interviewed by French TV and had a chance to apologise or to show that he learned a lesson. He chose another option.
“A great team relies on leaders and they have to make the difference in key moments. I think I can take on this role. I did it today. I have to continue and stay on the right path,” he said.
And here lies the biggest problem. Based on his remarks, it seems as though Mbappe doesn’t even believe that he was in the wrong. Leaders don’t arrive late to team meetings. Instead, they lead by example and are beyond reproach in their attitude and behaviour.
This weekend’s incident is the latest episode of Tuchel adjusting to the size and scope of his new job and the pressure of his environment. It’s his “Welcome to PSG” moment and every manager gets one at the club.
Essentially, this is the knock-on effect of the culture Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery created during their time in Paris. The pair gave too much freedom and liberties to the squad over the years. After he joined the club, Blanc was annoyed by the lack of discipline and the general attitude from the players. He gathered them all and asked them: “Who has won the World Cup here?” After a moment of silence, he replied: “only me.” He thought he had earned the respect of the dressing room and asserted his authority but this didn’t last long at all.
Emery decided very early not to take on the dressing room while in charge but Tuchel’s taking a different approach. Throughout his managerial career, he’s always been very strong with his players. At Dortmund, he dropped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he went to Milan on a day off to party without the club’s permission. The striker was in the stand for the game against Sporting in the Champions League in November 2016 but was back four days later against Hamburg and scored four times.
Tuchel knows how to hold a dressing room. For him, the rules are the rules and they must be respected. Equally, he’s convinced that this is the only way success will come.
Will he be able to change PSG’s dressing room mentality? It’s by no means a given but he will certainly try.