Ten days after a remarkably drab World Cup draw, football fans got a more significant dose of excitement when Monday's Champions League last-16 matchups were revealed.
It wasn't a fun afternoon for every party involved, however, and Paris Saint-Germain manager Unai Emery stands out among those unenthused by the draw, since defeat by Real Madrid could swiftly lead to his sacking.
On the heels of three Europa League titles on the trot with Sevilla, the Basque manager moved to PSG to do what his predecessor Laurent Blanc could not: Guide the club to continental success.
Bounced from the tournament at the quarter-final stage in four successive seasons, PSG's first campaign under Emery's tutelage saw the capital club draw Barcelona in the last-16. After a 4-0 first-leg victory, Les Parisiens suffered one of the most memorable shock defeats in Champions League history, a 6-1 loss at the Camp Nou. PSG's fluid attack and smothering press from the first leg mysteriously disappeared. Emery's charges already faced a nearly insurmountable deficit in the latter stages, then conceded twice more in injury time.
Emery bore the brunt of the responsibility, and rightly so, though club chairman and chief executive Nasser Al-Khelaifi was quick to support his manager. "Everyone was saying he is the best coach in the world after the first leg. He has not become the worst after the second," Al-Khelaifi offered.
"I have already had lengthy conversations with (Emery). He has qualities that we believe in. He has my full support. We are going to speak with him about the changes that will be needed during the offseason."
While those words may have snuffed out reports of a search for Emery's successor, Al-Khelaifi has proved to be reactionary in his decisions since taking over the club in 2011. The Qatari businessman then introduced a five-year plan for success that included appointing former PSG attacker Leonardo as director of football.
However, Montpellier pipped PSG for a shock Ligue 1 title in the 2011-12 season as the capital club slumped to a Europa League group stage dismissal and bowed out of both domestic cups. In the following transfer window, the club lured the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Verratti, Thiago Silva, and Lucas Moura to the Parc des Princes, and success was immediate. PSG won four Ligue 1 titles on the bounce and both the Coupe de la Ligue and the Coupe de France in three consecutive campaigns, giving France's top flight an unenviable reputation as a one-club league.
Though domestically assertive, the one crown that continued to escape PSG was the Champions League, and with the influx of resources from Al-Khelaifi's cash-rich Qatar Sports Investments group, there were no excuses.
Al-Khelaifi displayed his knee-jerk instincts a year later when the club stumbled without Ibrahimovic, losing out on a fifth successive league title to Monaco. Patrick Kluivert's tenure as Olivier Letang's replacement ended in less than a year, and the club appointed Antero Henrique. The Portuguese director's decade-plus at FC Porto yielded success both domestically and in the Champions League, and Al-Khelaifi brought the backroom savant to the capital to replicate it at PSG.
In the Champions League, fate and fortune can have as much of a bearing as quality. A fortuitous round of 16 draw can help a team's odds, but eventually, as the adage goes, "you have to beat the best to be the best."
For Emery, a two-legged defeat to twice-defending Champions League winner Real Madrid could result in an unceremonious pink slip, especially in light of the way PSG bowed out of the competition last year.
With the additions of the two most expensive footballers of all time, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and after capturing Group B honours ahead of perennial continental power Bayern Munich by virtue of a staggering plus-21 goal differential, Emery is out of excuses.
If Emery was dubbed a European specialist while with Sevilla, Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane has snatched the title from his Spanish counterpart. Zidane's first two seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu resulted in two continental crowns, and although bookmakers have pegged PSG as second favourites to capture a maiden Champions League, few would be surprised if Emery's charges again slumped to defeat against a La Liga behemoth. It doesn't help that Emery has never won at Real's famed ground, with nine defeats and a draw to show for his efforts.
Considering football's tradition of managerial sackings following votes of confidence from a club's brass, Al-Khelaifi's words of support for Emery take on a less reassuring tone.
Reports suggest the club has already short-listed former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique as Emery's successor. Max Allegri, Antonio Conte, Diego Simeone, and Jose Mourinho have all been linked with the post as well, and despite Al-Khelaifi's assurances, another Champions League flop would likely end in Emery's dismissal.
"We are determined to push forward. As I have always said, our project is a long-term one. We know the path to the Champions League is long for those clubs trying to challenge the established hierarchy," Al-Khelaifi said.
For Paris Saint-Germain, completing that long-term project has become an immediate need. The Valentine's Day first-leg clash at the Bernabeu marks a meeting between football royalty and its nouveau riche – the kind of club Al-Khelaifi wants PSG to become, and the one it is now. If Emery can't fulfill those demands, and quickly, it's likely that Al-Khelaifi will look elsewhere.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
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