PSG’s Neymar accuses Marseille player Alvaro Gonzalez of racist abuse in night of chaos at the classique
Seventeen times on Sunday evening referee Jerome Brisard reached for his top pocket.
Nor was his work done by the end of an explosive Ligue 1 ‘classique’ between Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille.
Brisard’s official report from a foul-tempered 1-0 win for Marseille, in which five of the cards he showed were reds, will be closely studied.
There are several suspensions pending, and if grave accusations – of racist abuse towards PSG’s Neymar and a spitting incident, allegedly by PSG’s Angel di Maria – are found to be true on investigation, there will be some long ones.
Neymar claims the Marseille defender Alvaro Gonzalez directed a racially-charged insult at him in the first half, appealed to the match officials to take action and has asked the French football authorities to study video and audio evidence from the match.
The Brazilian was one of five players sent off – Leandro Paredes and Layvin Kurzawa the others from PSG; Dario Benedetto and Jordan Amavi from Marseille – after a mass confrontation in the seventh minute of second-half injury time.
Neymar had also been among the four players booked – two from each side – within the first 13 minutes of a match that was spiteful from the start, and finished with Marseille’s first victory in a league meeting with the fiercest rivals since 2011.
As the dust settles on the various disciplinary issues, PSG are left confronting a bizarre and unfamiliar situation: the champions of France for seven of the last eight seasons are in the relegation zone, 18th in the table, after two matches in which they scored no goals and garnered no points.
This is the club who, barely three weeks ago, were taking the field in Lisbon for the first European Cup final in their history.
That was supposed to mark a threshold moment after close to decade of huge investment by their Qatari patrons, a breakthrough in their ambitious drive to establish Paris as the home of a heavyweight force in elite club football.
PSG lost the final, 1-0, to Bayern Munich, and the emotional drain on some of their key players was vivid after the whistle. Neymar, whom PSG bought for a world-record €222m (Dh904m) in 2017, was in tears in Lisbon. He had done much to drive his team into the final.
In the days that followed, several of the PSG players spent a period of their short vacation together in Ibiza, a fresh sign of togetherness at a club where the relationship of the superstars with other staff has not always been easy.
It also suggested that there is a unity of purpose to go one better than Champions League runners-up,
But PSG’s short pre-season got off to a disastrous start. Several of the players reporting back from Ibiza for training tested positive for coronavirus.
Strikers Neymar, Kylian Mpappe and Mauro Icardi, midfielders Di Maria, Paredes and Marquinhos, and goalkeeper Keylor Navas were all in quarantine when PSG opened the defence of their league title at newly-promoted Lens. The champions lost 1-0.
Neymar, Di Maria and Paredes came back into the squad, having self-isolated and tested negative, for Sunday’s visit by Marseille.
Five thousand spectators were at the Parc des Princes, too, the maximum permitted under French laws that allow some audience presence at events, provided there is social distancing.
That was enough to generate some of the charged atmosphere that always surrounds this fixture, and Marseille captain Dimitri Payet was targeted by groups of PSG fans for special jeering. Payet had delighted in PSG’s Champions League final defeat on social media last month.
After weathering half an hour of boos each time he touched the ball, Payet set up the only goal of the classique as an unmarked Florian Thauvin volleyed home his free-kick. The rest of the contest would feature little sparkling football, but a great deal of snarling.
According to Marseille manager Andre Villas-Boas, Di Maria deliberately spat in the face of Alvaro. If television footage confirms the accusation, Di Maria could face a five-match suspension.
Neymar, shown his second yellow card in the melee at the end of the game, also struck Alvaro in the neck.
The Brazilian alleges Alvaro had racially abused him, and through Sunday night posted several times on social media that Alavro should be punished and should own up to the abuse. “My only regret is that I didn’t hit him in the face,” Neymar added.
The Spaniard denied having racially insulted Neymar, while Villas-Boas said: “There can obviously be no place for racism on the pitch, but I don’t think it happened in this match. But Di Maria did spit at one of our players.
“I hope what happened at the end does not cast a shadow over what we achieved. It was an emotional night for our players.”