All the talk about Paris Saint-Germain's exit in the Champions League has been whether it would have been a different story had star man Neymar been able to play. But what about PSG's World Cup winner?
It seems a long time since Julian Draxler was wheeling away in celebration having scored against Barcelona for Paris St. Germain in the Last 16 of the Champions League. In truth, only 12 months separate that moment from Tuesday night, when PSG exited the competition at the same stage for the second successive year. This time though, Draxler played a very different part.
With 20 minutes to go in the second leg, Draxler was about to be brought on. Then PSG scored, head coach Unai Emery pulled Draxler back before eventually throwing him on six minutes later. Draxler said afterwards he didn't understand the decision because a 1-1 scoreline wasn't going to help PSG progress.
"I was surprised and a bit peeved," the 24-year-old added while speaking to German public broadcaster ZDF.
Draxler went on to criticize Emery's tactical approach to the game, saying the team lacked intensity.
"You need to put pressure on Real Madrid when you are losing 3-1, not just make passes and hope something falls from the sky," he said.
In a strange way it was as if the Germany international was talking about a group and a team he wasn't even part of - and perhaps that tells the truth of the story.
A more mature player
In his first year in Paris, Draxler appeared to swap his Bundesliga strop for French sweat. Having followed it up with an excellent outing in the Confederations Cup with Germany last summer, when he not only captained his country to victory but was also named player of the tournament, Draxler appeared to have found his way.
But then came Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. All of a sudden, the club's most expensive signing from the previous season was little more than a footnote at France's biggest club. Perhaps a testament to his growing maturity, Draxler's response was not to pout. Emery rewarded him with minutes - but in central midfield. For all Draxler's quality, it is not the position he excels in.
"All that for this" read French sports daily L'Equipe's headline after PSG's European exit. Draxler could well be asking a similar question. The 24-year-old left the club of his youth (Schalke) because he wanted to play on the biggest stage. After realizing Wolfsburg were not the team to offer him that consistently, he moved to the French capital. Somewhat ironically, while PSG can offer Draxler the biggest stage, they haven't offered him a big enough part and Draxler's frustration is beginning to show.
After the first leg, the winger said: "In the Bernabeu, you don’t want to watch 84 minutes from the bench but, with our squad, you don’t always get the choice."
There were perhaps signs of hope when Emery said:"At PSG, Draxler is in very good hands" when questions were asked about the German replacing the injured Neymar. But when PSG were knocked out on Tuesday, Draxler had only played 20 of a possible 180 minutes against the defending champions.
"It's difficult to accept that we were knocked out without even a whimper," the German said afterwards.
Even Joachim Löw, Germany's head coach, said he didn't understand PSG's approach. The 58-year-old told ZDF that with PSG's three midfielders playing relatively deep, no one moved forward into attack, leaving the three top strikers somewhat in limbo.
With Emery's future reportedly in doubt, Draxler was asked about whether change was needed at the club, and he couldn't have been much clearer in his reply.
"We spent €400 million ($496 million) in the summer," he said. "I think you could describe this as a radical change."
Should he stay or should he go?
There's no doubt the arrival of Neymar and Mbappe changed football's landscape, let alone PSG's squad dynamics and Draxler's development, but if PSG are only good for beating French teams by big scores, then perhaps Draxler (and not for the first time) should look elsewhere for employment.
Then again, with a coaching change likely, the 24-year-old's best bet might be to do something he hasn't done in a while; bide his time. But for a World Cup winner approaching a tournament he wants to make his own, he probably won't be willing to wait too long. And one look at how Leroy Sane and Marco Reus are playing means he probably can't afford to either.