A malaise has set in around Paris Saint-Germain since their exit from the Champions League, with a section of the club's support turning on Lionel Messi amid a run of results that has given their domestic rivals an improbable glimmer of hope in the French title race.
On Sunday Messi's name was jeered by some fans at the Parc des Princes as the teams were announced prior to PSG's home game against Lyon.
The Argentine then turned in a flat display as his team lost 1-0 against mid-table opponents, their second straight defeat in Ligue 1, both at home and both without scoring a goal.
As a consequence, PSG's apparent march towards a record 11th French title – and a ninth in 12 seasons of Qatari ownership – has been slowed and their lead at the top of the table from Lens and Marseille is down to six points with nine games left.
As Europe's biggest clubs prepare for the quarter-finals of the Champions League this month, PSG have to try to lift themselves to see the domestic title over the line. It is all they have left to play for.
"We must show a reaction of champions," said coach Christophe Galtier after Sunday's game, which was PSG's eighth defeat in 18 outings in 2023.
It is their worst start to a calendar year since 2001, and PSG's next match will be away to a Nice side who are themselves unbeaten since early January.
"Every spring, after their elimination from the Champions League, the Parisian players display their lack of interest for all things Ligue 1 and make you doubt that the Parc des Princes is their favourite place to spend an evening in Paris," wrote Vincent Duluc in sports daily L'Équipe.
One difference at PSG this year is the backdrop of Qatar's interest in Manchester United, which has led to questions about the Gulf state's commitment going forward.
Galtier hanging on
Meanwhile, jeering Messi might seem absurd, just a few months after he crowned his career by leading Argentina to glory at the World Cup.
Nevertheless, some fans see him as a symbol of all the club have done wrong in focusing on superstar signings while failing to build a genuinely competitive team.
L'Equipe suggested one reason for booing Messi is that he spends so much time on the pitch walking, apparently not putting in the necessary effort.
Yet Messi has, for years now, appeared to run less than most other players on the pitch – research by statista.com showed that during the recent World Cup Messi covered over 14 kilometres at walking pace just during Argentina's three group games.
Walking is not the problem with Messi, but age is. He will be 36 in June, when his contract expires after two years in Paris.
PSG must ponder whether it is wise to retain an ageing player who is costing them around 40 million euros (US$43.6 million) a year in wages at a time when the club have to keep in line with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules.
Messi's mind may in any case already be elsewhere, with Barcelona openly courting their former number 10.
"I would love it if he returned," said Barca vice-president Rafael Yuste last week as he admitted there had been "contact" with the player.
Meanwhile Luis Campos, effectively PSG's sporting director, is pondering how to build a team around Kylian Mbappé that will be strong enough to finally go all the way in the Champions League next season.
There is no suggestion PSG will listen to offers for Mbappé this year, but the future of Galtier is very much up in the air after an underwhelming first season in charge.
"The problem in Paris is that once the main objective is no longer reachable, everyone says the season is finished," observed Lyon coach Laurent Blanc, in charge of PSG from 2013 to 2016, of the job facing Galtier.
While major clubs like Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have all sacked managers in recent weeks, Galtier is hanging on in Paris for now.
by Andy Scott, AFP