Friday, 30 December 2011

Carlo goes to Paris: Ancelotti unveiled at PSG

"Just think how many cigarettes I can buy with all that Arab cash"
Earlier today in the crazy world that is Twitter, one of the trending topics worldwide was “Eleanor goes to Paris”.

Having done some web-based research, I’ve ascertained that Eleanor is model Eleanor Calder, girlfriend of singer Louis Tomlinson from X-Factor band One Direction. Apparently romantic/sappy (delete as appropriate) Louis whisked his beau off to Paris for a surprise Christmas trip, bless his little cotton socks.

Personally I prefer the story “Carlo goes to Paris”, which sees heroic/scheming (delete as appropriate) Brazilian heart-throb Leonardo whisk Carlo Ancelotti off to Paris to persuade him to become Paris St
Germain’s new manager using the lure of a humungous salary being part of the QSI project.

“I loved my English experience at Chelsea but with PSG there is the possibility of [doing] something great,” said Ancelotti, as he was unveiled as the club’s new head coach earlier today on a two and a half year deal.
“The club has huge ambitions and I am very excited about this project.”

The Italian’s unveiling was preceded by an announcement confirming that Antoine Kombouare had been sent on his way with a golden handshake reportedly worth €3million.

“Carletto” will be assisted by Claude Makalele, and like his predecessor has been set the task of reaching the promised land of the Champions League.

“The priority is to participate in the Champions League next season,” he said. “The team should be competitive and effective in Europe in the near future. We are currently leading the league, we intend to remain there until the end of the current year and grow over that time.
“Improving every day will be the key to my work.”

That last quote is an interesting one for me. As I’ve said before, I have great admiration for the way AK turned a new group of players into an XI that, for all it’s faults, functioned well enough to top the table.

But did they improve during his tenure? You might argue they were no more of a team by December than they were in September, still relying on individual brilliance to get by when the chips were down.

In some ways Ancelotti is on a hiding to nothing between now and the end of the year. If he wins the league, AK takes at least half the credit, and besides which we ought to finish top given our squad and budget.

However if he can guide the team to Champions League qualification while putting a structure in place and engendering some team spirit in a squad which is likely to be bulging at the seams by the end of the
January transfer window, then we should be well set for next term.

After six months working with someone else’s man, the owners finally have a manager in place they are totally happy with. You would hope he’ll be given the freedom to lay some foundations for the future
without having to worry that every bad result is going to cost him his job. Over to you Carlo…

Thursday, 29 December 2011

PSG's year in lists

Clinging as I do to a lowly rung of the media ladder, I've come to realise that filling space at this time of year - be it in print, online, or in a television schedule - is a tricky business.

Unless you get an unexpected bonus like, I don't know, a member of the royal family being hospitalised, there's very little going on in the world, hence the prevalence of banal end-of-year lists. You know the type: Top 50 songs of the year, top ten reality shows, best door-knobs of 2011, that sort of thing.

Of course PSG isn't exactly a news-free zone at present. Indeed the long and drawn out process of changing coach should come to a conclusion in the next few days, given that the internet is awash with grainy photos and videos of Carlo Ancelotti getting in and out of cars across the French capital.

But while we wait for his appointment, I thought I'd do an end-of-year list anyway. For the purposes of this article, the year starts in June, when PSGT was "born". I know that's cheating, but it's my blog so naahh.

Player of the year
Salvatore Sirigu. The Italian has played behind a perpetually changing, and usually uncertain, back four since arriving from Palermo in the summer, but hasn't let that stop him putting in a series of outstanding performances. Without his phenomenal reflexes it's fair to say that PSG would be several points worse off than they are, and he looks a snip at €3.5million.

Flop of the year
Diego Lugano. It's very difficult for me to write this bit, as I'm a big fan of lovely Lugano. But since arriving from Fenerbache in September he's been a bit pants, looking sluggish and being directly at fault for a number of goals we've conceded. To make matters worse for the Uruguay captain, he's now lost his place in the side to Zoumana Camara.
In mitigation, he's probably knackered having played through the last two summers almost non-stop (at the World Cup and Copa America), and hopefully he'll get a new lease of life under Ancelotti.

Unsung hero of the year
Christophe Jallet. Though far from the most glamorous name in the PSG squad, the ex-Nantes man has been one of our most reliable performers this season, be it at right back or on the wing, providing pace and energy. It would be a shame if his services were to be dispensed with under the new regime.

Match of the year
PSG 2-0 Lyon. Probably the high point of the season so far, a result against one of the other title hopefuls that took us three points clear at the top, Pastore and Jallet with the goals. Bosh.

Worst match of the year
Marseille 3-0 PSG. Need I say more?

Goal of the year
Javier Pastore vs Evian. Everything that's good about Pastore encapsulated as the Argentine evades three tackles to get his side back into a match in which they were trailing 2-0. Remember those halcyon days of autumn when he used to do this every week...

Nickname of the year
Blaise Matuidi - Mr Elastic. Basically I just wish I was known as Mr Elastic.

Terrible haircut of the year
Jeremy Menez. Again, need I say more?

Quote of the year
Menez again (though he denies it): "Running is for the others. I’m here for the attacking play." Not sure he's really understood the point of football.

Lie of the year
"More than anything we want the new Messi. We don't want to sign Lionel Messi, but we want to invest in the big stars of tomorrow from all over the world, including France."
- Nasser Al-Khalaifi, speaking as QSI formalised their take-over of the club. Cue a six-month pursuit of that well known star of tomorrow, David Beckham.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all PSGT readers, here's to a Red and Blue 2012. Allez Paris!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Kombouare on his bike? PSG set to appoint Ancelotti

"There's no way that Italian bloke with the funny eye-brows is sexier than me"
AUTUMN CHAMPIONS declares the splash page on the PSG website. It's only when you click past this that you find the statement that points to the demise of the man that took us to top spot.

Most French media sources are running the story that Antoine Kombouare was finally dismissed from his position as PSG coach on Thursday morning, and that as of January 1 Carlo Ancelotti will be installed in the hot-seat.

Yesterday afternoon this statement arrived from the club, and hardly does much to dispel the swirling maelstrom of rumours.

It said: "Paris Saint-Germain and their first-team coach Antoine Kombouare would like to clarify that they are engaged in positive discussions, with a view to making a resolution that will protect both parties’ interests." That clears that up then. It seems unlikely these talks are going to end well for AK, apart from in the sense that he'll be walking off with a massive sack of Qatari cash.

As PSGT has said before, the departure of the former Valenciennes has been inevitable for a while, arguably since QSI arrived. 

"The real problem is internationally: who knows Kombouaré outside France?" said former OM president Bernard Tapie, sticking his beak in for reasons unknown. Or to put it another way, a headline in today's Parisien reads "He was just not sexy enough".

Personally I think AK is a perfectly sexy chap - just look at that enigmatic stare and fine bone structure. And the timing of this decision, however inevitable, feels a bit wrong. His critics would say that a lack of tactical imagination has hindered PSG this season, but his sacking (if it's happened) came less than 24 hours after arguably PSG's best team performance of the season, when they won 1-0 in St Etienne. Though the defence still looked shakier than a bouncy castle in a hurricane, the players were working for one other, with even the work-shy Jeremy Menez tracking back to help out when we were under pressure.

It was a result which took them three points clear at the top at the half-way point of the season, thus earning the aforementioned Autumn Champions honour. Given that has remit at the start of the season was supposedly to get into the Champions League, what more could the poor bloke do?

I have no problem with Ancelotti. After all, this is a man who survived a one-on-one confrontation with a bear. And while Tapie may be a match-fixing scum-bag, but he's correct that we need a coach with profile. Soon the team is going to be more Beckhams and Pastores than Armands and Bodmers, and the new influx will need someone who can keep them in check.

But it seems very shoddy to keep a club legend like Kombouare hanging on in his job for half a season while the club so transparently look for someone better. AK has acted with dignity, something the PSG hierarchy increasingly lack. If/when he goes, I'm sure all PSG fans will wish him every success in the future.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Player Profile: Sylvain Armand

Name: Sylvain Armand
DOB: August 1 1980
Former Clubs: St Etienne, Clermont, Nantes
Signed: June 2004, undisclosed
International: Full French international

On my second ever visit to the Parc des Princes, in April 2010, PSG were entertaining then Ligue 1 champions Bordeaux.

With the score at 0-0 in the 31st minute, visiting keeper Ulrich Rame was sent off for handball giving PSG a free kick outside the box.

Up stepped a rugged looking defender going by the name of Sylvain Armand, who proceeded to welly the ball through the wall and into the net to score the opening goal.

It was one of nine goals the 31-year-old has scored in his seven years at PSG, during which time he has become a firm fans favourite.

Young Sylvain started his career in the academy of St Etienne, but was released at the end of his scholarship, and had to defect to Clermont in 1999 in order to get some first team football under his belt.

After just one season at the Stade Gabriel Montpied he had already caught the eye of bigger clubs, and the following summer he was on his way to then Ligue 1 side Nantes.

He probably didn’t imagine at the time that 12 months later he would be collecting a title winners medal, as Les Canaris romped away with the Championship under the stewardship of Raynald Denoueix.

This gave Armand the chance to play in the Champions League, and although Nantes didn’t make waves in the competition, the left-back notched this sexy goal against Lazio, which probably helped bring him to the attention of Europe’s bigger clubs.

It was also around then that he hit the headlines for alleged spitting incident involving Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy.

“I lost my mind a little bit because of an incident that happened on the pitch with their left-back,” said Ol’ Horseface.

“I got a bit annoyed in the tunnel. You don't often see that with me. It had been something on the pitch. I don't like to mention it because it was quite dirty. It had nothing to do with football.”

Armand denied expelling any fluids in RVN’s direction, and indeed the incident didn’t stop Sir Alex, along with Manchester City and Blackburn Rovers, expressing an interest in bringing him to the Premier League.

But he remained at Nantes until June 2004, when he and team-mate Mario Yepes made the switch to PSG.

Faced with the daunting task of replacing Gabby Heinze, who had moved to Manchester United, Armand was philosophical.

“I like Heinze,” he said. “The comparisons will come inevitably because he left his mark at PSG. He has qualities that I do not and vice versa.”

Since then the Rouges-et-Bleu fans have come to appreciate Armand’s qualities, and he has racked up over 300 appearances, staying loyal to the club through the bad times despite strong interest from the then all-conquering Lyon.

Named player of the year in 2006/07, he initially forming a strong left-sided partnership with Jerome Rothen. However in recent seasons he has become something of a utility player, having been deployed in the centre of defence and in midfielder since Antoine Kombouare took over.

In the course of researching this profile, I found a couple of other amusing things.
Firstly, the La Strada restaurant in Nantes has created a Pizza Armand in his honour, though I’m unsure of the toppings.

Secondly, he has his own website, which features an amusing biography section. Here we learn that Sylvain’s biggest weakness is gluttony (“at home, there are always treats at hand”) and that his dislikes include discrimination, injustice, and, er, aluminium foil.

What a guy. I’ll leave the last word to the man himself, who said upon making his 300th appearance for PSG: “I’ve had seven seasons here and had many beautiful times. More difficult times too, but I have no regrets. I won titles with PSG and that's all I remember. I hope to play many more matches in the Red and Blue.”

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Sochaux 0-1 PSG: Tevez talk as we re-take top spot

Neither Britain's coalition government nor PSG boss Antoine Kombouare appear to have a bright long-term future.

But while the cracks in the ConDem regime have widened this week following David Cameron's ill-fated appearance at the Eurozone negotiations, AK is probably feeling a bit more secure in his job than he did seven days ago.

Yesterday the PSG picked up their second successive win, beating Sochaux 1-0 thanks to Kevin Gameiro's excellent angled finish. Combined with Montpellier's surprise defeat at the hands of AK's old club, Valenciennes, it means Les Rouges-et-Bleu are joint-top of the table once more.

"Everyone had a great match," said Super Kev afterwards. "The defensive work of the whole team was great. Personally, I had more touches of the ball and more shots than before. We all realise that we must go through this if we want a successful season. Each player supports each other."

Teamwork eh? A radical new concept for PSG to consider, but one which they could do with embracing on a more regular basis, starting this Thursday when they entertain Bilbao in a crucial Europa League match. I didn't see yesterday's game, but apparently we were starting to show signs of being a more effective unit, which can only be a good thing.

However any chance of team spirit manifesting itself could be nipped in the bud, with reports surfacing on both sides of the channel that PSG are in the running to sign Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez. Apparently we're set to gazump AC Milan, who want to take the striker on an initial six-month loan, by making a €25million cash bid.

"I spoke with the player's agent, he told me that Carlitos preferred to go to Milan," Leonardo told Italian paper Corriere della Salla. "But Manchester wants to sell and not pay. If the City agree to loan Tevez goes to Milan, the case is closed. Otherwise the market is open..."

Monday, 5 December 2011

Rafa Benitez to PSG? Yes, no, maybe

Typical, I go offline for a few hours and miss Rafa Benitez's entire reign as PSG boss.

As is the way with PSG these days, what's actually happening isn't particularly clear, but here's how the story broke last night

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Crunch time for PSG (and Kombouare) as they host Auxerre

In about 50 minutes time PSG kick off against Auxerre, looking for a first win in five games.

Whether this afternoon's match will be the last time we see Antoine Kombouare on the PdP's home bench remains to be seen. Following Thursday's 2-0 Europa League defeat at Red Bull Salzburg, multiple sources claim that whatever happens this afternoon, the former Valenciennes boss is for the chop, with the untried Claude Makalele reportedly ready to step in as interim boss.

Personally I'll believe it when it happens, as these kind of rumours seem to have been floating around all season. A win against an Auxerre side 16th in the table and struggling for form is obviously imperative, and we could probably do with a stylish performance of the sort that hasn't been seen since the defeat of Lyon back in October.

PSG have reverted back to their tried and tested league line-up for this afternoon's game, with Pastore, Menez and Gameiro back in up front, Matuidi restored to the midfield, and Camara in at the back for Bisevac.

"I believe in the ability of my group, the quality of my players," said AK at his pre-match press conference on Friday. This is perhaps a surprising statement given that they've let him down so badly of late, but it does show admirable courage in his convictions. After all, this is the team that got us to the top of the table, and it would look a bit weak if he ripped it up and started again just because of a few bad results.

Kombouare's stubborness is one of his most endearing characteristics in my eyes, and we can only hope the players repay his faith in them this afternoon.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Broken PSG look for quick fix at Red Bull Salzburg

In the words of Michael Cox of Zonal Marking fame, PSG looked a "broken team" in Sunday's yes-it-really-did-happen-and-yes-it-really-was-that-bad clasico defeat to OM.

Ahead of tonight's Europa League clash with Red Bull Salzburg, Antoine Kombouare has not so much made repairs to his flagging as torn it to pieces and started again.

AK will be making his customary Europa League changes, meaning starts for Nicky Shower in goal and Mevlut Erding up front. Injuries will deprive him of Jezza Menneza and Diego Lugano, though on Sunday's evidence neither is a great loss, while Javier Pastore has been left at home because he's feeling a bit tired

"Let's be clear, this is not a penalty," said AK, which is lucky really as on current form El Flaco would probably miss if it was.

"He needs to have a breather and recharge his batteries. When he's in better shape physically, he'll be better mentally as well. I'm not punishing him; he needs some time."

Without the three big names, Clement Chantome is being tipped to make a first start for a while having recovered from injury. Irritatingly, he got a red card for the reserves at the weekend and won't be available for Sunday's league match with Auxerre. Pastore's role will be filled by Matthieu Bodmer, and with Momo Sissoko or Blaise Matuidi filling the third central berth, the team already has a more balanced, if less explosive, look about it.

Regardless of the side that starts, the 11 AK selects should have enough to see off Salzburg, a team who are muddling along in the middle of the Bundesliga table, but (slightly worryingly) come into this match on the back of a 6-0 tonking of the mighty Kapfenberger SVA.

A draw would be enough to take PSG through, and even with a win they're unlikely to win the group unless Bilbao cock up big time against Bratislava. Allez Paris!

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