A tale of two managers as Monaco face PSG in League Cup final
The League Cup final on Saturday between Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco represents not only a battle for the first piece of major silverware in the French season but a tussle of philosophies.
Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim led his side to the French title in 2017. But, with eight games remaining, his players are unlikely to retain the crown because Unai Emery's Paris Saint-Germain are 17 points clear.
When both teams step out onto the pitch at the impressive Matmut Stadium in Bordeaux, there will be a preavailing air of au revoir for Emery while Jardim's Monaco will exhibit the signs of a new work in progress.
Emery, according to the impatient PSG hierarchy, has failed. He replaced Laurent Blanc who - despite steering PSG to three consecutive league titles, two French Cups and three League Cups - was deemed inadequate for the assault on the Uefa Champions League.
Since taking over Emery has been unable to push his team beyond the last 16 in that tournament. In 2017, PSG's star studded ranks thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg at the Parc des Princes but were humilated 6-1 in the second leg at the Nou Camp. In 2018, despite the 222 million euro arrival of Neymar from Barcelona and the recruitment of teenage starlet Kylian Mbappe from Monaco, PSG lost 5-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid in the last 16.
Rise and fall of Jardim
Jardim's journey in European club football's most prestigious competition has been similarly spectacular and shoddy. In 2017, Monaco reached the semi-finals. In this season's tournament, they came bottom of their group with two draws and four defeats.
But the 43-year-old Portuguese is not under threat though. "Status, recognition, titles, salary have changed, but not my way of being. I'm still the same man I was," Jardim, told AFP on the eve of the final. "The club gives me a good salary and working conditions. Some bigger clubs exist but for the moment I'm happy at Monaco."
He added: "Everyone has his methods, his qualities, but I never think someone is better than me. I don't feel inferior to anyone."
However, his team is. Last season, PSG thrashed Monaco 4-1 in the final to win the League Cup. They have been light years beyond them in the league too.
But Jardim has credible excuses for the fall. Monaco's executives sanctioned the departures of the stars who helped the side claim its first title for 17 years. Along with Mbappé's exit, Bernardo Silva left for 50 million euros to join Pep Guardiola's revolution at Manchester City and Tiémoué Bakayoko went to Chelsea for 40 million euros although his form during first season at the English champions has been patchy.
Ironically, it is the team which has dominated the domestic season that is extinguishing the fires. "Unai Emery has a contract until June 2019 at PSG and now is not the time to talk about his job," PSG's sporting director Antero Henrique told the French sports newsppaer L'Equipe on Thursday.
"Every day we're confronted with details about the manager's job at PSG. We're at an important point in the season and we've still got plenty of work to do to reach out goals. No coach can say that he's spoken to us or he's been taken on. PSG supporters have got to know that it's only the club who can speak on this matter."
PSG are also in the semi-final of the French Cup. And, by late Saturday night, the first part of a treble could have been secured. Success for PSG will rob Monaco of its only chance of silverware this season. But it is unlikely to end Jardim's reign.
In two months, the PSG faithful might be able to feast their eyes on a trident of trophies.
But the haul might not be enough to save Emery.