Achraf Hakimi will not forget his official debut for Paris Saint-Germain in a hurry. The Morocco international was never going to ease into French football incognito, given that he has moved to PSG for a fee that could make him the most expensive right-back in history. But throughout Sunday evening’s Trophee des Champions against Lille, he was very obviously the centre of most spectators’ attentions, constantly booed and jeered.
The reason? The venue for this season’s edition of what is France’s equivalent of the domestic Super Cup. It was played in Tel Aviv, Israel, before a large crowd aware of Hakimi’s history of engagement with Palestine. In terms of public statements that amounts only to a brief line on his social media - “Free Palestine,” Hakimi wrote during the escalating tension during the spring. But it was enough to mark him out for attention.
“We spoke about it,” acknowledged PSG head coach Mauricio Pochettino of the targeting of Hakimi. “We spoke about the fact he had to keep his concentration. Throughout the game, he did that and stayed focused.”
Some of the 29,000 at the Bloomfield stadium, the first Israeli venue for a showpiece that has been exported outside France for 12 of the last 13 years, had booed and whistled themselves hoarse by the end of 90 minutes in which Hakimi was the outstanding individual in the losing team.
“It was a good performance,” said Pochettino of his new recruit, for whom PSG may end up paying Internazionale over €70m if all the add-ons for the Hakimi deal are triggered.
Some of those are related to future achievements at PSG. Not all of those can be taken for granted. At the moment, the record of achievement under Pochettino, who took over from Thomas Tuchel in January, is mixed. PSG won the delayed 2020 Trophee des Champions - Pochettino’s third game in charge - and last season’s French Cup, but were eliminated by Manchester City in the semi-finals of the Champions League and ceded the Ligue 1 title to Lille in May.
Four months after losing 1-0 at home to Lille in the league game that effectively made the difference in the title race, PSG were stymied again on Sunday by the upstarts from the north, though it took an exceptional goal from Xeka, the Portuguese midfielder, to seal the match 1-0.
Lille were closer to full strength than their wealthier opponents, with Burak Yilmaz, the Turkish veteran, showing some of last season’s fine form and Jonathan David, Lille’s Canadian striker, lively as Burak’s accomplice up front. PSG were missing Marquinhos, the usual captain, from their defence and the entirety of what Pochettino would probably call his best front quartet: Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and Marco Verratti. They all joined pre-season practice relatively late because of their involvement in the later stages of the Copa America and the European championship.
“The attitude and performance levels were good, but we were lacking the most important thing, which was goals,” said Pochettino. The trophy, the least significant silverware of the new season, will now leave Paris for the first time since 2012, PSG having won the traditional curtain-raiser for the previous eight editions.
“The game came at a difficult time for us,” the coach shrugged. “Half of our players were left at home.”
There was no official debut for Sergio Ramos, who is nursing a muscle problem, nor Gigio Donnarumma, who was at the European championship until, as Italy’s penalty-saving goalkeeper, its very last kick. Ramos, signed on a free transfer from Real Madrid, has yet to appear for PSG and his fitness, following the injuries that affected the last six months of his long Madrid career and ruled him out of Spain’s Euro 2020 campaign, is a concern, with PSG’s Ligue 1 opener against Troyes five days away.
More encouraging for Pochettino was the energy Gini Wijnaldum, another free transfer of the summer - the Dutch midfielder’s contract at Liverpool had come to an end - gave PSG in the last 20 minutes as a substitute.
But the best impressions were left by Hakimi, whose intention to command the right flank for PSG was signposted loud and clear. Rather than be provoked by the sustained, repeated noise whenever he had the ball, or tempted into releasing it quickly to quieten the boos, he kept launching his runs, trying his feints and delivering his crosses. “He had a very good game, both in terms of his behaviour and the way he played,” said Pochettino.