Remontada revisited: The scar that’s defined PSG

There is a taboo in Paris Saint-Germain around the topic of ‘La Remontada,’ a defining moment in their modern history that they would prefer to never think about. A scar they have attempted to cover over and ignore, but one that never permanently fades, it’s etched too deep and healed unevenly. 

Like Liverpool have Istanbul, Manchester United have Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid have Hampden Park, PSG will always have ‘La Remontada.’ The night when they arrived at the Camp Nou with a 4-0 aggregate and left Barcelona the victims of a monumental collapse, a 6-1 defeat that eliminated them from the Champions League. 

No side had ever exited the competition from such an advantageous position, it was simply unheard of, one of those statistically possible results that a long history in the sport had never previously allowed, but on the 8th of March 2017 history was made to PSG’s displeasure, and what has come next for the club has in many ways been a response to a night they have yet to forget despite their proclamations otherwise. 

‘I was brought to my knees’ – Luis Enrique on ‘Remontada’ 

Luis Enrique finds himself in a strange position as PSG host Barcelona on Wednesday evening. It’s hard to ignore that the manager for Barcelona on that famous night now leads PSG as the two collide once more in the Champions League. It’ll not be the first time that the two clubs have faced each other since ‘La Remontada,’ but his role as the architect for the comeback draws the focus once more onto the eminent scar. 

‘La Remontada’ didn’t help us with [the Champions League]. Juventus eliminated us. While it’s true that it was a special match, it wasn’t the most important match of my coaching career,” Luis Enrique stated. It was no surprise that the manager was dismissive of the importance of the game. Many of his predecessors have lost their roles at the club due to their inability to waltz the political dance that comes with managing Ligue 1’s richest and most successful side. 

And yet on the night when Barcelona stunned PSG, there was an entirely different message from the manager, an almost religious declaration to the feat he helped oversee, “I was brought to my knees. I would like to thank everyone who kept their faith after we lost 4-0. This is dedicated to them because this isn’t the Harlem Globetrotters, this is football.” 

It would have served no purpose to remind the world that his most defining game for PSG came as an opposition manager, and it’s hard not to suspect that ‘La Remontada’ is in some way responsible for the fact that Luis Enrique is now at the helm in Paris. The scar that his management has left on the club is largely responsible for the trajectory the team now finds itself on. 

The dawn of a new era for PSG

Partly why the defeat mattered so much to PSG was that the first game had been an announcement, that the project that QSI had been building in France since 2011 had finally matured into a serious team, that was ready to threaten on the global stage. It was the promise that had been offered since the investment first flooded into the capital, a team capable of European glory. 

The criticism that the club were flat-track bullies only able to dominate in a league where their riches far outstripped the rest of the competition could finally be put to rest. They were one game away from defeating one of Europe’s historic giants, embarrassing one of the best teams in the world, a team that two seasons before had won a historic treble, and could boast the talent of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar. 

This was to be the dawn of a new history for the club, it was going to be the moment that Europe took notice, and unfortunately for PSG both of these statements ended up coming true for all the wrong reasons. ‘La Remontada’ confirmed an anxiety within the club that they were the laughingstock of Europe’s elite, a team considered as nothing more than an expensively put-together shambles that would collapse under the first bit of pressure. 

The need to prove this wrong became all-encompassing, an obsession that has defined the team’s modern history and has in the end done more harm than good for a club still pursuing European glory. That summer as PSG licked their wounds they went all in on prizing the star away from the club that had shattered their ego, a world record fee that has yet to be matched, as Neymar joined for €222 million. 

The Parisian Galacticos 

In that same window, the club also signed Kylian Mbappé on loan but with an obligation to buy for €180 million, a fee that would make the then-teenager the second most expensive player in the world. The club had always focused on collecting star players, but this was a different category altogether. From ‘La Remontada’ a new project built around gathering a glittering array of superstar attacking talents began. 

There were successes in Europe a narrow loss to Bayern Munich in the 2019/2020 Champions League final and a semi-final defeat the season after to Manchester City. However, outside these two instances, PSG continually failed to progress past the Round of 16. Even the addition of Messi in 2021 did not help the club past the first stage of the knockout rounds. This has been an unsustainable failure when considering the amount that has been invested.

In 2022, when Mbappé renewed his contract with the club for two more seasons there was an acceptance from PSG that their approach built from the ashes of ‘La Remontada’ had not benefitted them in the long term. It had led to a fractured team environment where a battle for control of the club from its expensive Galacticos was centre-stage, as Neymar and Mbappé could barely stand to cohabit on the same pitch for a moment longer.

There was to be a new focus on building and developing young talent to try and create a balanced squad. Last summer this saw Neymar and Messi leave, and with Mbappé set to depart at the end of the season, the era of the superstar may finally be over at PSG. ‘La Remontada’ has left its indelible mark on the team despite the declarations otherwise, a scar like that may never fully heal, but with time they have perhaps grown to live with it. At the very least, they enter the quarter-finals of the Champions League with the belief that they are finally heading in the right direction. 

GFFN | Nick Hartland

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