The Frenchman may pay the price for his limitations after PSG's Champions League elimination at the hands of Chelsea
The inevitable question was fired at Laurent Blanc towards the end of his numbed post-match media duties at Stamford Bridge. He knew it was coming. Any manager overseeing a team constructed at lavish expense by owners who expect swift returns on their outlay would be ready for a grilling following elimination from the Champions League, a fate Paris Saint-Germain had just suffered. The same would happen at Chelsea or Manchester City, Real Madrid or maybe even Barcelona.
"Have you spoken to the owner since the final whistle?"
"And what did he say to you?"
"That is of no concern to you."
It was a brief exchange, the manager too submerged in his own disappointment to bite back with any real snarl, but the weeks ahead may be littered with similar exchanges until some certainty is provided over the manager's future at Parc des Princes.
Blanc was not Qatar Sports Investments' first choice to succeed Carlo Ancelotti last summer. He was not even their seventh choice, with José Mourinho, Fabio Capello, Arsène Wenger, Guus Hiddink, André Villas-Boas, Frank Rijkaard and Manuel Pellegrini all sounded out once it was known Ancelotti was keen on a move to Madrid. When Blanc was unveiled the sense was that, even as a former France international of considerable standing, he was a last resort for an increasingly desperate recruitment drive having failed to secure one of the glitzier candidates.
The 48-year-old signed a one-year deal with an option for a further season. Given his team have gone 13 points clear at the top of Ligue 1, with successive domestic titles in sight, and had triumphed 3-1 in the first leg of the quarter-final against Chelsea, the assumption had been that, at some point over the next two weeks, confirmation would emerge that the PSG president, Nasser al-Khelaifi, had taken up the second season and Blanc's stay would be extended. The noises were all positive. Now, the hierarchy may pause and consider their options before committing.
Tuesday night was a reality check. PSG have grown used to success – they had been beaten only three times in their 46 games this season up to the trip to Chelsea, and were on a club record 11-match winning streak in all competitions. They had gone into the second leg confident they had the individual quality and collective resilience to retain their comfortable advantage from the first match. A glance at their official Twitter feed in the buildup was enough to confirm their confidence. Indeed, Blanc had fronted his pre-match press conference by insisting their "footballing philosophy" would not change, even if Zlatan Ibrahimovic was hamstrung. They would weather the hosts' early storm, hog the ball, impose their own attacking qualities and, all being well, secure a first Champions League semi-final since 1995.
Yet, as the script was ripped up in the frenzy at Stamford Bridge, Blanc's limitations appeared to be exposed. While he could not be held culpable for Edinson Cavani's profligacy in front of goal – the €64m Uruguayan appears fragile after a season played in Ibrahimovic's shadow – other elements of his evening's work were baffling. The decision to start with Marco Verratti, undoubtedly a classy player when his passes pay off but far too careless in possession in both legs, ahead of Yohan Cabaye, a midfielder who knows the Premier League and was surely better suited to this frantic occasion, felt unnecessarily risky. If PSG were going to prosper, they had to tap into the pace of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura down the flanks, but the ball tended to stick with Verratti as he over-elaborated. Cabaye might have liberated the visitors' on the counterattack more productively.
Blanc's body language on the touchline was far too anxious and his exasperation transmitted to his players. The substitutions were too reactive: Chelsea flung on three forwards (none of whom has been prolific this term), so on came Marquinhos for the outlet that had been Lucas, with Thiago Motta forced ever into retreat. Lavezzi, a constant thorn in Chelsea's side, had departed early for Javier Pastore. Cabaye's introduction for Verratti came too late. "We didn't manage to play our game' tonight," said Motta, "and I don't know why. The way we played, it's not the same as we did to get to this stage of the competition. Our philosophy is to play our football but we didn't do that out there." That felt damning, all those bold pre-match pledges having come to nothing.
Blanc spoke of Chelsea's greater experience at this level, suggesting they were more streetwise when the tie came to its defining moments, but his own naivety felt exposed at times, certainly when contrasted with Mourinho. His brushes with this competition as a manager are limited to two campaigns with Bordeaux, when they failed to emerge from a group that contained Chelsea in 2008-09 and then stumbled out to Lyon in the quarter-finals a year later.
"This is the highest level," said the full-back, Christophe Jallet. "Every team goes through a little lull in a game but we didn't negotiate ours well enough. We leave here really frustrated and very disappointed."
PSG's training session Wednesday was cancelled, with players and staff granted time off to lick their wounds. They travel to Lyon on Sunday seeking respite in their dominance of Ligue 1, with Khelaifi offering up positive noises in public. "We are disappointed not to be going into the semi-finals but we are accumulating plenty of experience," he said. "We were very close to qualifying, it's true. We would like to thank the fans who were magnificent [at Stamford Bridge], and I am sorry for them. We did all we could, but that is football and you have accept these things happen. We move on and continue to pursue our objective."
Ultimately, that is to become the best in Europe though elimination at the same stage as last season – Ancelotti had drawn both legs against Barcelona only to exit on away goals – will inevitably leave the hierarchy contemplating whether they boast the right manager to oversee that progress.
They will wonder still about Wenger while the uncertainty surrounds his future at Arsenal. They will be intrigued by Diego Simeone's progress with Atlético Madrid, or even Louis van Gaal's clear desire to coach a high-profile club side, whether in the Premier League or the Champions League. They may have options, candidates who might seem better bets to ensure success in Europe. This did not feel like progress. Blanc may just have fluffed his lines at precisely the wrong time.