How Messi became the latest superstar dragged into PSG's 'player power' row


Mauricio Pochettino admitted earlier this week that he hadn't heard from his countryman, who had contracted Covid-19 in Argentina


The quality of the Paris Saint-Germain squad cannot be questioned but on occasion the attitude has been.


The invisible work that the best teams and individuals do away from the field is not always evident at the French capital club, where some players have earned a reputation for living life in the fast lane and acting out when things do not go their way.


On the field, problems have manifested as angry outbursts when facing adversity, best typified by Idrissa Gueye’s red card in the second leg of last season’s Champions League semi-final defeat to Manchester City.


Meanwhile, star players have regularly come under fire for their off-field lifestyles. Marco Verratti, Leandro Paredes, Neymar and even poster boy Kylian Mbappe are regularly pictured at high-profile parties, with Neymar's 28th birthday a particularly notorious example.


And now Lionel Messi has been dragged into it.


Over the Christmas break, the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner was pictured at numerous parties back home in Argentina and ultimately contracted a Covid-19 infection, the effects of which could yet rule him out of Sunday’s Ligue 1 clash with Lyon.


Following Monday’s Coupe de France victory over Vannes, coach Mauricio Pochettino frankly admitted that he had no update to offer on Messi’s condition as he had “not heard from” the player.


“The coach is above everyone, whether you are a star or not,” former PSG player Jerome Rothen raged to RMC.


“Through his words, he admits he doesn’t know where Messi is. It simply means that Messi didn’t answer his phone to speak with Pochettino.


“I find that shocking from Messi. The coach must do as he wants.”


Neymar, in particular, has become a target of criticism because of his regular forays to nightclubs. A string of long-term injury problems have not helped the Brazilian’s cause, while his lamentable form this season has left him vulnerable to such attacks.


Presently convalescing from his latest setback, an injury sustained against Saint-Etienne in November, he was given extra time off over the Christmas break in his homeland. While an ultra-professional figure like Cristiano Ronaldo, who famously only drinks water, might have used the time to recover, Neymar took to Instagram to show the world just how good a time he was having.


PSG’s problem is that such an attitude is endemic among their squad. This persistent undermining of Pochettino, Rothen believes, extends from throughout the playing staff.


“If you don’t respect your coach, you can’t get to where you want to go," he lamented. "PSG suffers greatly from this in recent years.”


Messi, as a new arrival, is not the source of these problems, which has been seen but ignored by those above the parade of coaches who have tried and failed to win the Champions League for the Parc des Princes side.


While much of the criticism of PSG’s failures falls upon the man in the dugout, the entire football operation is overseen by sporting director Leonardo, who has remained immune from criticism.


The Brazilian’s track record is not all positive. He has helped attract some of the game’s biggest players to the club but those players haven't always remained under control, while he has undervalued the role of the coach.


Thomas Tuchel, for example, departed a year ago after falling out with Leonardo then promptly led Chelsea to the Champions League title.


Analyst Rothen is one of the few willing to question the 1994 World Cup-winning midfielder's work.


Examining the case of Neymar last week, he fumed: “How can you accept that from a player? It’s not normal because the image of PSG still suffers from it through the bulls**t of Neymar on social media networks… poker, parties, New Year.


“You say you’re the sporting director of one of the biggest clubs in Europe and you want to win the Champions League. You’ve got the resources, no problem. But go to Germany or go to England and see how he’d go there.”


The odds are increasingly being stacked against Pochettino, whose ability to direct the squad appears to grow thinner with each superstar arrival.


Messi's signing in the summer should have been a blessing for Pochettino but it hasn't always been plain sailing. He, like Neymar, has too big a profile and too much support from above to be dropped, despite only one Ligue 1 goal since his arrival.


PSG may perform like a big team in the transfer market, but until these internal problems are sported out, that dream of winning the Champions League may well remain just that.


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