Departing Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery has admitted he hasn’t been the main man at the French capital outfit since the arrival of Brazil superstar Neymar from Barcelona for a world-record €222 million last summer.
Speaking with Marti Perarnau’s famed Tactical Room, the Spaniard set the record straight regarding some of the issues that have plagued his second season at Parc des Princes — notably Neymar’s influence.
Emery said: “One day, Jorge Valdano [former Real Madrid sporting director] made me think by saying the following: ‘In Barcelona, the leader is Lionel Messi. At Real, it is [president] Florentino Perez. At Atletico Madrid, it is [coach] Diego Simeone.’
“So, a player, a president and a coach — each time, a different leadership profile. I know when I am the main person responsible for a squad and when I am not. It is something that you learn with time and through experience. At each club, you must know which role you occupy and what role the squad has entrusted you with.
“My opinion is that the PSG leader is Neymar. Or, more precisely, will be called Neymar because he is in the process of becoming that.”
Emery also added that he felt he never really had the confidence of the PSG dressing room and that certain players did not fully respect him because he has not won the Champions League yet, despite three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla.
“I tried to fight against this comfort zone by risking plenty, discussing things more often and shaking the dressing room up,” Emery said. “However, these changes, as I had never won the Champions League, proved prejudicial — it was detrimental.
“Succeeding in being convincing is fundamental for a coach — the players must believe in you. I think that I can try to achieve what the likes of Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane have but I am still missing a lot.”
Meanwhile, former PSG sporting director Olivier Letang, now with Rennes, told SFR Sport about his efforts to sign Neymar for PSG back in 2016 and how close an actual deal was.
“I can confirm that I tried to recruit Neymar for PSG back in 2016 — there were many exchanges with the player and his father,” the Frenchman said. “We met several times, particularly on an island in Spain.
“Things went a significant distance, but we were unable to seal the deal for a number of reasons. However, PSG’s interest in Neymar was there one full year before the actual transfer. The clause was not the same amount, though, it was slightly lower then compared with what PSG paid last summer.”
He added: “It would be inappropriate to reveal why Neymar did not sign one year before he actually did.”
Neymar is expected back in Paris on Friday and there is still hope that he will play one final time for PSG this season as he continues to work his way back to full fitness ahead of the World Cup.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.