PARIS — Thomas Meunier was an immediate favourite with the fans at Parc des Princes after his surprisingly good debut season with Paris Saint-Germain.
Supporters were fond of the Belgium international’s hard-working approach on the pitch, as well as his interesting, frank and opinionated views and down to earth personality off it.
Fast-forward 12 months and Meunier, once touted as a potential future PSG captain, is now loathed by the French champions’ fanbase. But how has it come to this?
Q: Why was Meunier booed by PSG fans against Guingamp and Les Herbiers recently?
A: Basically, Meunier “liked” a tweet praising the atmosphere created by Marseille fans at Stade Velodrome ahead of their 5-2 Europa League quarterfinal second leg win over RB Leipzig back in April.
OM are PSG’s bitter rivals, of course, so it quickly spread via social media and enraged the capital club’s fanbase.
Q: Just for liking a picture of a Marseille tifo on social media! Is that all? Surely the PSG fans are being touchy? It seems a bit harsh…
A: In isolation, perhaps. However, Meunier’s feud with the supporters escalated.
The 26-year-old exacerbated the issue by refusing to apologise (which is his own prerogative), as demanded by the Collectif Ultras Paris> (Paris Ultras Collective or CUP), and branding others “pseudo-supporters” and “12-year-olds” who tell him to “‘get the f— out of PSG.'”
Meunier, formerly of Club Brugge, also told another fan in a heated Twitter exchange that they “know their place as a supporter,” which did not go down well.
Q: Ok, so things have escalated — how has it reached this point?
A: A mixture of Meunier’s stubbornness and refusal to apologise, the fans’ anger (already raised by Neymar and Dani Alves’ behaviour: see below) and a lack of intervention from PSG.
The CUP issued a number of communiques and took banners to recent matches imploring the players to respect the institution but the issue rumbles on.
Q: Shades of Serge Aurier’s Periscope debacle — why have PSG not stepped in themselves and why does this keep happening with the club?
A: That is unclear. PSG did meet with the Ultras recently, although that was scheduled in reaction to the supporters’ behaviour during the 7-1 Ligue 1 title-clinching thrashing of Monaco, which the CUP boycotted in protest against the partial closure of the Auteuil end of Parc des Princes because of their use of flares.
Meunier claimed after the 2-2 draw away at Amiens last week that he is answerable only to PSG’s Ultras because of their unwavering devotion to the capital club.
No intervention from chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi, sporting director Antero Henrique, or team coordinator and former teammate Maxwell, does portray the “institution” that the CUP are pointing towards as weaker than at any other time under Oryx Qatar Sports Investments’ (QSI) ownership.
Q: Meunier was a bit insensitive… Do too many members of PSG’s current squad not know enough about PSG’s history, so lack the necessary respect?
A: The episode arrived at a bad time. Fans were already unhappy with Neymar’s clumsy but seemingly well-intentioned poker post on Instagram during the Monaco win and Dani Alves saying that he would return to Barcelona “tomorrow, if called.”
Some even tried to challenge Julian Draxler’s Instagram tribute to Andres Iniesta because he was wearing a Spain shirt!
All of this has created a feeling among supporters that too few players respect PSG and the club’s pre-Qatari ownership history.
At the same time, Edinson Cavani’s flag-waving, badge-kissing and respectfully-worded behaviour embodies everything that those fans want from their players — commitment, passion and a genuine love for the shirt.
Q: Could Neymar face similar treatment at PSG’s final match of the season at Parc des Princes this weekend?
A: Possibly. However, it is unlikely. Mika, the Ultras‘ vice-president has already told Le Parisien that not enough is known about Neymar’s agreement with PSG regarding his recovery in Brazil.
However, after their recent meeting, the CUP may have enough information to act this weekend.
Q: Is there any way back for Meunier?
A: Probably not — at least not in the supporters’ eyes. Meunier is still of value to PSG, particularly with Alves out for the rest of the club season, but the Belgian has assassinated his own reputation with the fans.
Though the issue should never have been allowed to escalate into this full-blown controversy.
Q: Will this result in Meunier being sold this summer?
A: Depending on the severity of Alves’ injury, PSG’s ultimate financial fair play (FFP) situation with UEFA and available alternatives, yes. Meunier could well be sold after this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.