2017 has been an eventful year for Marco Verratti; it was one that began full of optimism in January but quickly turned sour infamously in the Camp Nou in March. The uncertainty surrounding his future this summer then made the situation complicated for the Italian thus affecting his form for PSG.
Like the majority of those that played a part in the debacle at Barcelona, Verratti arguably displayed his worst performance in a PSG shirt that night and in truth, still hasn’t recaptured his pre-Barcelona form.
Granted, the Italian international is still capable of his moments of magic and madness, whether that be a pin-point 20-yard assist or the most ludicrous but comical foul. But aren’t these the things we relish about Verratti and have become accustomed to?
After all, Verratti is the prince of Paris, a vital cog in the ambitious Parisian machine and a hugely influential figure in the team. In his homeland he is viewed as the future of the Azzurri midfield and hopes are pinned on him delivering his brilliance particularly with a World Cup in Russia looming.
Rewind back 12 months, PSG were in somewhat of a transitional phase post-Ibrahimovic. Goals and creativity were not as free flowing as the previous season and Verratti, along with Cavani were arguably the only stand-out performers in an underperforming side.
Verratti helped to carry a stuttering PSG and under-fire manager Unai Emery through a torrid spell of domestic form by PSG’s standards towards the end of 2016 but as the season transpired and when PSG needed his influence more than ever, particularly in Barcelona, he failed to deliver. As a senior player in the squad, although not entirely his responsibility, he failed to galvanise his team-mates when needed.
That calamitous night in Barcelona was the catalyst for what was to come and for what has still been occurring with Verratti. The interest from Barcelona this summer not only unsettled the Italian but seemingly uncovered a somewhat arrogant side of him that hadn’t been seen to date.
An arrogance that he can perform at whatever level he wants, despite the yearly contract renewals and to be able to dictate to a point, what calibre of player PSG should be signing for him to stay in Paris long-term and rebuff the overtures of the Catalan giants.
This understandably upset some of the PSG fan base who feel that Verratti has been handsomely rewarded financially during his time in the capital and has been given a platform to develop into the player he is today.
Although the move to Spain failed to materialise, Verratti’s early season form has been reflective of some of that arrogance.
What is slightly concerning is Verratti’s slow and drawn out transition back to finding his best form. It has so far been a below par start to the season after the off-field tribulations this summer and that began with a feeble display in the Trophée des Champions against AS Monaco in late July.
This transcended into his league form with some further uncharacteristic and nonchalant displays stemming from poor ball retention to overplaying and being carelessly dispossessed in dangerous areas. The Italian was also sent off against Toulouse in week 3 leading to a 3 game suspension.
Verratti hasn’t escaped criticism from the Italian press either after his below par performances with the Azzurri in September. Verratti was jeered when replaced by Riccardo Montolivo during Italy’s recent narrow 1-0 victory over Israel which followed the thrashing by Spain in Madrid a few days earlier.
In the days following, the PSG man was targeted by Italian Sports newspaper Gazzetta Dello Sport who launched a scathing attack on Verratti’s international performances.
In France, World Cup winner, Christophe Dugarry tore into Verratti last week in an interview with RMC saying “I thought this lad could become a future (Andrés) Iniesta but now he’s very, very far away from that”.
Dugarry also went on to express concerns over Verratti’s mentality stating “I have doubts about this lad, even though I’d really like to be wrong. I’m worried he’s approaching his job in the wrong way. You don’t go to the next level just because you get a wage increase every six months.”
Verratti’s sub-par performances have been masked by the spotlight being placed firmly on Neymar and Kylian Mbappé and for that reason he has been fortunate as the criticism could and should have been much worse.
However, there are slow signs that the Italian is gradually finding some form and with some crucial games coming up in the Champions’ League and Ligue 1 this will be welcome news for a PSG midfield lead by 35-year-old Thiago Motta and lacking in squad depth.
There is no more room for Verratti to coast through games as he has done so far this season. Verratti has set a high bar for himself since moving to Paris in 2012 and with regular lucrative contract renewals during that time, he is undeserving of escape from the criticism aimed at him by the media.
But the sooner Verratti finds his best form, the better for this exciting PSG side who are fighting on four fronts for honours this season and for Italy who still haven’t secured qualification for the World Cup.
The ball is firmly in Verratti’s court, but now is the time to start delivering. Whilst Verratti’s place at PSG is unlikely to be under serious threat, the same cannot be said in the national team.