How often has Pele been booed on a football pitch? At the Parc des Princes on a cold, wet Sunday night that ended goalless, he was jeered before and after being booked for time wasting.
In the Olympique Marseille goal was Yohann Pele who, after a string of desperate clearances by his central defenders early in the game, decided delaying restarts was one way of denying PSG. To the catcalls, Pele, 34, seemed impervious. Not unexpected perhaps of a man who had beaten pulmonary embolism to resume his football career.
All talk at PSG over the past two days about Olympique Marseille’s new American owners being good for the competitiveness of the French league was exhumed two hours before kick-off. “If you are not jumping, you are Marseille,” the ultras chanted and those already in showed that fans of the 117-year-old club had either stayed at home or been stopped at the gates. Less than one year after the terrorist attack, ‘Je suis Paris’ took on a wholly different meaning this night.
“We usually have 2000 people visiting on match days,” said the manager at PSG’s megastore outside the stadium. “Tonight there will be more.” Outside the store, a giant screen was reliving PSG’s moments of glory; from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s goals and those by Edinson Cavani. When the announcer named the night’s opponents, derision sat like fog on the roads around Parc des Princes.
“Matches like these that often have a psychological effect in future games,” said former PSG and Argentina star Juan Pablo Sorin before kick-off. Marco Verratti seemed to have heard him, showing why so many PSG fans want his name on shirts they pay 140 euros to buy. And to a team, Olympique Marseille seemed to have heard Sorin. Lock down was their mantra and with a bit of luck and a lot of pluck, coach Rudi Garcia’s team prevented PSG’s heavy-duty artillery from causing damage. It led to a barren ‘classique’ but quality is usually at a premium in games this steeped in tradition.
“They defended well as a team. But it’s difficult to take only one point from this game. We dominated, created enough chances but the ball wouldn’t go in,” said Maxwell, one of the few PSG players who spoke in the mixed zone.
Maxwell had a point: Cavani had missed a sliding effort, Hatem ben Arfa hit the upright and Blaise Matuidi’s try was blocked. Matheus Doria had made a goal-line save off Serge Aurier and Cavani was denied a penalty in the first half. But that was expected of the defending champions who haven’t lost to Marseille since November 2011 and have a head-to-head record of 10-0 from October 2013.
In his first match, Garcia changed that. So, Marseille 2.0 could augur well for Ligue 1. But after a 0-0 draw, it was best not said in Paris.
(The author is in Paris on invitation from Paris Saint-Germain)