Paris Saint-Germain learned on Wednesday the extent of Neymar’s (£19.84) foot injury, and as expected, the verdict was a negative one.
The 26-year-old is set to be absent from the pitch for 10 weeks, ruling him out of the forthcoming Champions League clashes with Manchester United and potentially both legs of the quarter-finals should the capital side negotiate that tie successfully.
His absence will, of course, be a hammer blow to the club’s aspirations of winning Europe’s premier competition, yet this headline-grabbing problem could serve to hide greater structural issues that undermine their challenge even further.
Edinson Cavani (£2.90)and Kylian Mbappe (£17.04) are two players well capable of leading any attack. Between them, they have scored 34 Ligue 1 goals this season – more than 14 of the other 19 teams – while Mbappe has already shown himself capable of carrying a similar burden of expectation with France at World Cup 2018 this summer.
Meanwhile, PSG are not short of capable replacements for the world’s most expensive player. Admittedly Julian Draxler (£2.86), Angel Di Maria (£2.14) or even Moussa Diaby (£2.23) are not in the same bracket, but the former two at least are experienced at the very highest level and there is no doubt that all are capable stand-ins.
Instead, it is in the very heart of the team where Thomas Tuchel has his greatest problems.
During Sunday’s Ligue 1 encounter against Rennes, the German deployed a central midfield duo of Marquinhos (£3.52) and Dani Alves (£2.18), largely because he is lacking the type of player he would like in that role.
Marco Verratti (£2.35) has been out with an ankle problem, although he is likely to win a race for fitness to feature against Man United, while Adrien Rabiot (£2.87) remains ostracised by the club’s hierarchy, though not necessarily Tuchel.
PSG have sought to solve the problem by dipping into the transfer market, but their fight over the Zenit’s Leandro Paredes (£2.33) with Chelsea was drawn out and only completed on Tuesday – just a fortnight before the crunch trip to Old Trafford.
He will barely have time to have learned his way to the training centre, let alone strike up an intimate understanding with those around him.
Another arrival may bolster the squad before the transfer window shuts, Everton’s Idrissa Gueye (£0.74) or Lille’s Thiago Mendes (£1.78) seem likeliest, but there are no guarantees and time is fast running out.
The bottom line, Tuchel feels, is that it should never have come to this.
It is the latest episode in the standoff between the former Dortmund boss and sporting director Antero Henrique.
“I must say, honestly, I’ve looked for him for days but he’s never been here. I’ve looked for him in the showers, the changing room, with the physios or with the groundsmen, but he’s not there,” Tuchel told Canal+ on Sunday, very publicly pondering exactly what the Portuguese was doing with his time during this precious window of opportunity to strengthen the squad.
“Normally, I’d cry. I still hope for a second player, but we have to begin with a first player!”
He may have since been granted that reinforcement, but tension continues to run high and there is a very definite sense that all this dawdling could fatally undermine their chances against a resurgent United.
Henrique’s failing to get a deal rapidly over the line this January has been especially alarming given it was a position that needed reinforcement in the summer following Thiago Motta’s retirement. However, it was bizarrely overlooked, generating the tension between the sporting director and the coach in the first place.
If the focus on PSG’s failings in the Champions League has typically fallen upon the shortcomings of the team on the field, the squad has, at times, been undermined by immaturity at a boardroom level meaning that the players have been unable to reach their greatest potential.
Hamstrung by a sporting director and coach at each other’s throats this season, it is simply the latest issue working against the team.
Neymar’s injury may be damaging but taken in a broader context, PSG have greater problems to contend with.