Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Youssef Msakni smurfing into PSG?

"I don't care what he says, a blond mohican isn't a good look for anyone"
Here are the Paris St Germain news headlines of the last 24 hours.

- Nasser Al-Khelaifi said stuff to France Football, I'll summarise: New Messis blah blah, staying at the Parc blah blah, club identity important blah blah blah. It's nothing we haven't heard before, and who knows, some of it may turn out to be true.

- At France training Jeremy Menez and Franck Ribery were photographed wearing funny hats (above) which, according to Chronofoot, make them look like Smurfs. I'm saying nothing.

- The club has arranged a punishment treat for the players not on international duty, as the famous Brazilian singer Michel Telo will be visiting the Camp-des-Loges training ground today. Telo is so famous that I had to Wiki him to find out who he was, but it turns out his dance moves are very popular with footballers, who often copy them in their goal celebrations. I do like this new trend of inviting random famous people to the training ground, who next? Danny Boon? Johnny Hallyday? Watch this space.

In transfer news, stories have been floating around this week linking us with Esperance Tunis playmaker Youssef Msakni. Being young, highly-rated, and French speaking, Msakni was inevitably linked with Arsenal in the January transfer window, while Lille and Bordeaux are also meant to be keeping an eye on him. But according to (admittedly unsubstantiated) reports this week PSG are in pole position to land the €5million-rated player due to Leonardo's relationship with former Esperance boss Maaloul Nabil, who presumably still has Msakni's ear

Allegedly known as the African Messi (that should please Al-Khelaifi), 21-year-old Msakni is renowned for his technical ability and silky dribbling skills, and he scored this sexy goal for Tunisia against Morocco at the recent African Cup of Nations. Could be one to keep an eye out for in the summer.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

PSG stars go off on their travels

"While those other losers are in Germany I can stay at home and play Call of Duty"
This blog has been in a stunned silence since Sunday, when we awoke after a Saturday night out to the news that PSG had drawn 4-4 with Lyon the previous evening.

Having been 3-1 and 4-2 down, late goals from Ceara and the lovely Guillaume Hoarau, his second of the match, secured an unlikely point.

The result saw Montpellier take over at the top of Ligue 1, a fact which doesn't seem to concern Carlo Ancelotti too much.

"We played a good match and I'm satisfied with our performance," said the Mister. "We slipped to second but that's not a problem right now. Maybe it will be at the end of the season but we just need to stay confident and play our football.

"We needed to play well in Lyon and we did it against quality opposition."

He's obviously been reading my blog from last week. Or not. Anyway, this mid-week attention turns to another round of pointless international friendlies, it's been a while since we've had this joy. Over here Stuart Pearce will lead out some of England's finest, and Stuart Downing, for a match against Holland, and elsewhere several members of the PSG squad will be busy representing their own countries.

Matuidi, Menez, and Gameiro are all with France for their match in Germany on Wednesday, though there's no place for that man Hoarau. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that this one is unlikely to end well for Laurent Blanc's side.

Italy take on the USA in Genoa, and Thiago Motta will be hoping to win a place in the starting line-up. Less likely to be in the first 11 is Salvatore Sirigu, but I'm sure he'll enjoy 90 minutes sitting on one of those big heated seats that all dug-outs seem to have these days. Plus maybe Balotelli will let him play with his iPad.

Diego Lugano will captain Uruguay in their friendly in Romania on Wednesday. Let's hope he brings some decent form back with him.

Meanwhile Brazil and Argentina will be playing their first matches of the year in that hot-bed of footballing passion... Switzerland. Brazil take on Bosnia, but there's no place in the squad for either Maxwell or Alex. Looking at some of the shoddy defenders the Selecao have selected, one would think a prolonged run of first-team action would put the PSG pair in the frame for a call-up.

Javier Pastore misses out on Argentina's match against Switzerland. El Flaco was on the sidelines when the squad was announced, and only returned to fitness a couple of weeks ago.

Injury also means Milan Bisevac will miss Serbia's friendly in Cyprus. I'm sure he's gutted.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Carlo's Lyon conundrums

It never ceases to amaze me how French football fans don't travel.

PSG will be followed south to Lyon tomorrow by nearly 1,000 supporters, their largest away contingent of the season. To put that into context, my "other" team, who play in the fifth tier of English football, took 1,100 supporters to an away match last month. Can you imagine if Manchester City could only muster that many people for a match at Chelsea? Madness, especially when you consider how passionate they are at home games.

Anyway, well done to all those going, it's quite a long way and promises to be a difficult match, despite Lyon's current ropey form. I was over in France last week and the papers were not impressed as OL snuck past Cypriot minnows Apoel 1-0 in the Champions League. Sunday's 1-0 defeat to Bordeaux came as no surprise either.

Nevertheless PSG weren't exactly on fire themselves against Montpellier, and Carlo Ancelotti has choices to make in every area of the team, apart from in goal where Salvatore Sirigu reigns supreme (sorry Douchez).

The main problem for Carletto is at right-back, with Bisevac and Jallet both out injured, and Ceara struggling with a virus. Had he been fit, I don't think Bisevac would have been an automatic choice anyway given his struggles against Montpellier, but with all three players out options are limited, and I suspect unless Ceara recovers Sylvain Armand will get the nod in an unfamiliar role. I suppose Siaka Tiene is an option too.

Matthieu Bodmer should be back after injury, which is a great relief because without him a midfield three of Matuidi, Sissoko, and Motta looked decidedly one-paced against Montpellier. I don't want it to seem like I'm always hating on Sissoko, but I struggle to see what he gives to the team to justify his position as one of the squad's top earners. Bodmer brings a bit more attacking intent to the side, and has the ability to link with the front three, but it will be interesting to see whether he returns or whether Ancelotti hands a start to Javier Pastore. Pastore could also come in as part of one of the upper tiers of the Christmas tree, but dropping either Menez or Nene would be a bit harsh.

Kevin Gameiro's post-Christmas slump has been well documented, and it's hardly a surprise given that the poor bloke couldn't be less suited to a lone striker's role. Guillarme Hoarau on the other hand has all the tools to play up top on his own, and if I were in charge he would be starting at the Stade Gerland, especially after his late equaliser last week. You're always likely to see less of the ball in away games, so having Hoarau's physical presence to hold the ball up and allow others to break forward can only be a good thing. Super Kev is a great player, and it would be nice to see him and Hoarau both in the team at once at some point, but I doubt that point will be tomorrow.

Decisions decision. Montpellier are hosting aforementioned Ligue 1 form-team Bordeaux, so this could represent a good chance to put stretch our lead a little bit. If it doesn't all got seins up that is. Allez Paris!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Ancelotti's PSG: Substance but no style?

Not sure whether Ed is big in France, but they usually like that kind of whiny nonsense
So far the week at PSG has been about as exciting as an evening in spent listening to Ed Sheeran records. Seriously, if that man is the best solo artist Britain has to offer our music industry might as well give up now.

While being terminally boring hasn’t stopped Sheeran achieving fame and fortune, it could prove to be more of a hurdle for PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti. Because while the Italian has yet to taste defeat since taking charge at the Parc des Princes in January, the performances levels on the field have been, er, very similar to those of Antoine Kombouare’s pre-Christmas team. 

This was particularly evident in Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Montpellier where, as I noted in my last post, there was a distinct lack of cohesion and we relied on a couple of moments of individual brilliance to get us through the match.

Ancelotti has made it clear that the priority this season is to keep winning and secure the title regardless of how we do it, and grumbling is already starting. A poll in L’Equipe on Tuesday (thanks to @tomwfootball for pointing this out on Twitter) found only 25 per cent of respondents felt the PSG had improved under Ancelotti. A similar ballot currently running on the more-partisan Parisien site is more even, with 53 per cent of voters declaring we’re no better off with Ancelotti at the helm than we were when AK was in charge.

Another article in the Parisien suggests the players are struggling to get to grips with Ancelotti’s favoured Christmas tree formation: “It's a very difficult system to learn and very demanding” says a made-up un-named squad member, and the last thing we need is unhappy players given that the dressing room already has more than enough sizeable egos in it.

Personally, none of this bothers me unduly. This season was always going to be about the ends rather than the means, and I’d rather have an ugly winning team rather than a pretty non-winning team, even if said ugly team has had big-budget plastic surgery. You can say that we should expect more given the massive investment of QSI, but this is a club that doesn't have a culture of winning, and installing that has to be the first priority of the "project".

The details (ie looking like a functional team) can come later, but in the short-term Ancelotti could probably do with a dominant performance against decent opposition to nip the moaning in the bud. Saturday’s match at Lyon could present him with the perfect opportunity.

Monday, 20 February 2012

PSG 2-2 Montpellier: Hoarau grabs a slice of the points

I hope their delivery boys wear rabbit costumes
Hello folks, I'm back and refreshed after my winter break. 

Sadly I didn't spot Leonardo on my travels (see last post) but I did learn that France has an amusingly-named chain of take-away pizza shops called Speed Rabbit Pizza. Sounds like the topping combination from hell to me.

In my absence, Paris St Germain laboured to a 0-0 draw in Nice last Sunday, and in midweek edged past Dijon 1-0 in the Coupe de France thanks to a Nene goal. A quarter-final with Lyon awaits.

Then last night, The Big Top-of-the-Table Show-Down in Ligue 1 ended 2-2, with Les Rouges-et-Bleu sharing the spoils with second-place Montpellier.

This morning's French papers are fairly unequivocal in their assessment that MHSC dominated the match and were unlucky not to win. And while I'd agree that we couldn't have complained too much had John Utaka's late goal proved decisive, I think on the balance of chances a draw was about right.

It was a match that showcased the two teams differing strengths. Rene Girard's team looked the more cohesive unit, with the outstanding Younes Belhanda pulling the strings in midfield and Ligue 1's player-du-jour Olivier Giroud roaming around menacingly up front. But PSG's vast wealth has brought them that extra bit of stardust, and a couple of moments of brilliance from Alex and Jeremy Menez earned them a point which keeps them just ahead of their rivals.

Chances came and went for both teams before the deadlock was broken in the 41st minute. For PSG Kevin Gameiro twice passed up good opportunities with only the keeper to beat, while at the other end Giroud couldn't quite connect with a cross from the left and Utaka forced a good save from Salvatore Sirigu.

The opening goal came from a free kick, which was a good 30 yards out in a central position. Nene rolled it to Alex, who wellied in a shot which swerved away from keeper Joudran at the last minute as he started to dive the other way. It was a powerful effort from the Brazilian, but the fact that it found the net owed much to the hideous pink beach-balls they use in Ligue 1. 1-0.

Montpellier didn't let their heads drop, and were back in it a couple of minutes later. Whether the PSG players minds were already in the dressing room is open to debate, but they certainly didn't seem to be paying attention as a half-cleared corner was lofted back into the box, and Belhanda dashed through a sea of static defenders to nod home. 1-1.

After the re-start Maxwell went close with an angled effort that flashed across the goal, but it was the visitors who were seeing more of the ball, and Carlo Ancelotti soon decided to shake things up, bringing on Guillaume Hoarau for Super Kev and slotting Javier Pastore into the central midfield three in place of Sissoko.

It was Pastore's first appearance for a month, and he almost made a dream return when he latched on to Nene's pass eight yards out but saw his chipped effort blocked by the body of the keeper.

Disaster struck in the 82nd minute when Giroud was given far too much time and space to measure a cross from the right, and Utaka raced in unmarked to head past the helpless Sirigu. Alex had left the pitch injured moments earlier, and one wonders whether the goal would have occurred if he, not Diego Lugano, had been stationed in the centre of our defence.

The Paupers looked set to stun the Princes in their own Parc, but PSG poured forward and were rewarded in the 89th minute. Pastore found Menez in the box, and he performed a double pirouette to get away from his marker and cross for Hoarau to side-foot home his first goal of the season! 2-2.

And that was how it finished. The match was a good advert for Ligue 1 and showed, if anyone was in any doubt, that Montpellier will not be letting Ancelotti's men claim the title without a fight.

Man of the Match: Alex - Good goal and solid defending until his enforced withdrawal

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Holiday time

Paris's latest landmark, I'm surprised they got planning permission
On Friday Le Parisien published a helpful stalkers guide to where abouts the PSG players live in Paris.

Personally I think it was just an excuse to re-print the Pastore-is-nearly-as-tall-as-the-Eiffel-Tower photo (above), but it did furnish me with the fact that Leonard lives in the 6eme, the same arrondissement as my in-laws.

I'm off on holiday this week, so will be taking my binoculars with me in the hope of sighting of our illustrious Director of Football. This blog will return in seven days or so, hopefully with covert pictures of Leo putting his milk out*. Or something. Allez Paris!

*This is a joke. PSG Tourist does not advocate stalking the rich and famous, especially when the notoriously baton-happy Gendarme are around

Friday, 10 February 2012

A glimpse of Thiago Motta's text life

OM fans often find conversation difficult, poor souls
You'll have probably noticed that the England job has become available this week, and I wonder whether Antoine Kombouare could be a left-field candidate to replace Fabio Capello?

After all, following his experience this season he's used to working under ridiculous pressure in a job where's he on a hiding to nothing. I have no idea how AK's English is, but language didn't seem to be a concern for Capello and let's face it, anything's got to be better than Harry Redknapp.

Thankfully managerial shenanigans are a thing of the past at PSG, for now anyway. It's been a pretty quiet week at the club as the players prepare for the Nice game on Sunday under a humongous dome designed to keep the poor little petals out of the snow.

An amusing little story has come to light today as Thiago Motta's agent Dario Cavoni revealed the midfielder's move to France went through after Motta sent a text to Massimo Moratti, president of his former club Inter Milan, to ask for a transfer. Those who say there's too much player power in the modern game may have a point.

"The will of Thiago was decisive," said Cavoni. "It's incredible. In thirty-five year career, I have never seen such a desire on the part of a player."

Obviously it all worked out fine in the end, but I hope Thiago was careful when composing his message. If the predictive text feature on his phone is anything like the one on mine, he could easily have ended up requesting a move to PSV Eindhoven by mistake.

Cavoni also claims his client took a wage cut to move to Paris, which is nice.

He said: "His [Motta's] salary at PSG is lower than it was in Italy. And all those who say he pocketed a signing bonus are liars."

So there you go, footballer in not-in-it-for-the-money shock, and if you say otherwise you're a liar.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Pastore to return for PSG's Montpellier snow-down?

Worryingly this little chap has his own website

PSG were supposed to be playing Dijon in the good ol' Coupe de France tonight, but the match has been called off due to snow and ice.

If you don't live in Europe, said snow and ice descended at the weekend causing, to quote the Daily Mail, widespread CHAOS, DEATH, and PANIC. Where I live, it's also caused an outbreak of people building snow penises, like the one above. Truly we live in a broken society.

Someone whose season has been very much on ice (see what I did there) lately is Javier Pastore, who tore his hamstring playing against Sable-sur-Sarthe earlier this month, and has been on the sidelines ever since. El Flaco was out in Qatar last week receiving some specialist treatment, and given the weather he's come back to probably wishes he'd stayed there.

"I'm a lot better," he told the official PSG website. "It's been getting a lot better over the last week. My hamstring isnt hurting me in my daily training. We'll keep the treatment going so that I can get back on the pitch as quickly as possible.

"The first step is to get the leg back as strong as the other one. I don't know when I'll be back training with the rest of the squad. I'm working as well as possible every day to finish with vthe treatment and I hope to start running again soon. Only then will I be able to start sessions with the whole squad."

Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, hopes to have his star player available for the top-of-the-table show-down against Montpellier on November 19.

"He's back in training, he's running, he's working well," said the boss.

"He should able to train with the team, not next week, but the week after. He should be ready for Montpellier."

Hurrah and indeed hooray.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

PSG 3-1 Evian TG: Ancelotti's unbeaten start continues

Lazy journalism is a cry that often goes up when folk in the media get things wrong.

In my experience, errors are usually born more out of over-workedness than laziness, but there’s no excuse for a lack of basic fact-checking.

For example, the commentator in last night’s PSG v Evian match repeatedly referred to Diego Lugano as “the Italian defender”, despite the lovely Lugano being captain of Uruguay and one of his country’s most high-profile players. Everyone makes mistakes but a little bit of rudimentary research would be nice.

At least the commentator managed to get the scorers of PSG’s three goals right, as Nene and Co secured a third successive Ligue 1 victory of 2012 to stay clear of Montpellier (who also won again) at the top of the table.

“Naturally, I think that we must play better, with more order, more confidence, and more rigour because we allowed Evian to get the ball forward too easily,” said the Mister afterwards. “But even when you don't play well you must win. We created more good chances in the second half.”

PSG created plenty of chances in the first half too, but as per normal were a bit suspect at the back. Thiago Motta looked as though he was playing with a cigar on as he strolled around the pitch in what was an impressive debut. The Italian’s reading of the game was excellent as he broke up a number of Evian attacks, and going forward he rarely wasted a pass.

Jeremy Menez also started the game in decent fashion, but faded after an astonishing miss in the 34th minute, when he took the ball round the keeper but rattled the post with the goal gaping.

By then Kevin Gameiro had also shot narrowly wide twice, while Nene and Maxwell had shots blocked, and it seemed only a matter of time before les Rouges-et-Bleu opened the scoring.

Alas they switched off as the half drew to a close, and it took a fantastic tackle from Sakho to deny Yannick Sagbo a shooting opportunity as the striker got clear down the right channel.

It was only a temporary reprieve though, as on the stroke of half-time Cedric Cambon was on hand to divert Olivier Sorlin’s shot past Sirigu from close-range. Perhaps the defence was distracted by Evian's awful, awful, kit, which makes their players look like human bottles of pink mineral water.

PSG appeared to have been rattled by a harsh yellow card for Motta moments before the opening goal, but crucially they were able to conjure an equaliser two minutes after the restart.

Menez played the ball through to the outstanding Nene, who shuffled away from a defender and round the goalkeeper in trademark fashion before poking a shot towards goal which just about crossed the line despite keeper Andersen’s best efforts.

Anyone who expected PSG to go on and dominate for the rest of the match was in for a shock, as Evian pushed forward for a winner. Fortunately for us their best chance fell to the hopeless Sidney Gouvou, who got clear on goal but rammed his shot straight at the body of the advancing Sirigu, who blocked.

With 12 minutes left Ancelotti introduced Guillaume Hoarau for Bodmer and went 4-4-2, and saw his team in front barely a minute later. Menez’s advance into the box was halted illegally by defender Rippert, and that man Nene stepped up to send the keeper the wrong way.

It was left to Super Kev to seal the points in the 89th minute as he netted a welcome goal, his first in the Ligue of 2012. Substitute Blaise Matuidi did brilliantly to intercept the ball 35 yards out and feed Nene, and though his angled shot was saved Gameiro did what he does best and snaffled the rebound from six yards.

All in all a satisfactory result. With the way the game panned out 3-1 is a flattering scoreline, but the PSG created more chances than their opponents and were worthy winners. A more clinical approach in front of goal is needed, and Ancelotti will no doubt be concerned about how open we were on the counter.

But Motta looks a good signing, and I was impressed by the width Maxwell gave us down the left, particularly in the first half. Though still far from the finished article, PSG has the feeling to me of a team moving in the right direction, something you couldn’t always have said earlier in the season.

Man of the Match: Nene – involved in all his team’s best work, and grabbed two goals to take his tally for the season to 11.

Friday, 3 February 2012

A mini Menez and a sulking striker

Reports that the Emilie and Jezza have posing contests at home are unconfirmed
Everyone likes a heart-warming tale on a Friday afternoon, so I'd like to start today's blog by saying congratulations to Jeremy Menez, who is soon to be a father. Jezza and partner, reality TV "star" Emilie Nef Naf, are expecting the pitter-patter of tiny feet later this year.

I've been doing some research into Nef Naf, who won the third series of Secret Story - a sort-of French version of Big Brother - in 2009, and it's fair to say she's an interesting looking creature; I'm predicting that the fruit of their love will be the most pouty baby ever. Amusingly Nef Naf recently opened a hairdressing salon in Paris, and given the state of Jezza's barnet I don't think I'll be booking myself in there any time soon. The pair have only been dating six months, and this early move into parenthood could signal their intentions to become the French Posh and Becks.

Moving swiftly to the other end of the happiness scale, Peguy Luyindula has been ranting again. Poor old Peg has been cast out into the wilderness by PSG this season, to such an extent that he's now taking his employers to court. Today he has opened his heart to So Foot, and unsurprisingly it's not filled with glad tidings towards the club's hierarchy:

"It's as if I did not exist in the eyes of PSG," he moaned. "Those guys, they pissed on me from a great height. They did not stop humiliating me and going behind my back. I read that one day I laughed at Nene who was locked in the toilet after the match against Arles-Avignon . I think that was the height of their idiocy!"

In fairness, if one of my team-mates got locked in a toilet I'd probably have a giggle. The club's grievance with Peg goes back to last season, when they say he refused to come on as sub in a cup match against Montpellier. The striker also has Leo, AK, and Jean-Claude Blanc in his sights, and you can read more here, though it's in French.

As well as all this exciting off-field stuff we've got a match tomorrow, and it's Evian who are the visitors to the Parc-des-Princes for our latest Ligue 1 fixture. The PSG made hard work of their trip to the mountains earlier in the season, having to come from 2-0 down to claim a draw with goals from Pastore and Bodmer. With new-boys Alex and Motta in the squad, and likely to make their debuts, lets hope we can get three points on the board rather than one. Allez Paris.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Player Profile: Thiago Motta

Name: Thiago Motta
DOB: August 28 1982
Former Clubs: Juventus SP, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Genoa, Internazionale
Signed: January 2012, €10million
International: Brazilian under-23, full Italian international

Paris St Germain’s only signing of January transfer deadline day 2012 turned out to be Inter Milan’s elegant midfielder Thiago Motta.

Costing the PSG an estimated €10million, Motta brings with him experience by the bucket-load, having served time at some of Europe’s top clubs.

Born in Brazil, the 29-year-old started his career at Juventus, an appropriate club given his Italian lineage (more of which later). Interestingly enough, his new team-mate Alex is also a graduate of the Juve youth system, they’ve probably got friends in common on Facebook.

But Motty didn’t hang around long, soon attracting the interest of Barcelona, who snapped him up in 1999 when he was just 17. After a couple of years mooching around in the B team, Motta got his chance with the Barca big-boys in 2001/02, making his debut in a 3-0 win over Mallorca.

That year he went on to make a none-too-shabby 25 appearances for Charly Rexach’s side. The fact that he only managed another 71 in the following five years is perhaps testament not only to the strength of Barca’s midfield, but also to the injury problems which have dogged Motta during his career.

Motta first came to the attention of football fans in the UK when he was sent off for a tunnel clash with Celtic keeper Rab Douglas in a UEFA cup tie in March 2004.

“As I went down the tunnel I looked back and [Bobo] Balde was coming towards me. He was chasing me and punching our players to get at me,” explained Motta

“I grabbed Douglas and dragged him into it, I was only trying to protect myself.”

Trying to protect yourself using other people, I’m sure we’ve all been there. I should say that Motta has regularly been linked with a move to these shores throughout his career, but has never made it for whatever reason. My googling has discovered stories suggesting he was at various times about to join Man City, Man Utd, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, West Ham, and Middlesbrough.

Motta stayed at Barca until the summer of 2007, when he made the move to Atletico Madrid for an undisclosed fee. He went with a parting shot aimed the Catalan club’s hierarchy; "I needed a change. I wanted to play with continuity and it was very difficult for me last season. Txiki (Begiristain) and the president (Joan Laporta) didn't treat me well, but I have no problem with [manager] Frank Rijkaard, who always spoke to me face-to-face. Anyway, I want to leave that all behind."

It’s often said that a change is as good as a rest, but that wasn’t the case for Motta. He’d spent seven months out of action in 2005 after having reconstructive surgery on his knee, and by September 2007 a similar injury picked up in training had sidelined him once more. He returned to the team but in February went under the knife of renowned American knee surgeon Richard Steadman.

Atleti made him available on a free transfer in summer 2008, and this alerted Harry Redknapp, who loves a slightly-soiled foreign free transfer almost as much as he loves a slightly soiled pound-note (allegedly). Redknapp was at the time in charge of Portsmouth, but after taking Motta on trial a deal was never struck. The Brazilian also interested Everton, but ended up on his way to Italy, joining Genoa on a free transfer.

At this stage Motta’s career looked like drifting to a fairly mediocre conclusion; just another injury-prone player who had failed to live up to his early promise. But little did we know he was about to blossom at Genoa, making 27 appearances and netting a career best six goals, while also providing the bullets for another erstwhile PSG target, Diego Milito.

Genoa finished fifth, qualifying for the Europa League in the process, and coach Gian Piero Gasperini was full of praise for the influence Motta had on his team; "We have known for some time that Thiago Motta is excellent,” he said. “Undoubtedly he is a world class player who is back to his best. I think any team that stays in these top spots consistently has to have some great talents in its squad.”

Alas for Genoa, world class players are always going attract the attention of world-class teams, and Inter Milan soon came calling for both Motta and Milito, agreeing a crazy swap deal which saw five unwanted Inter players heading the other way. It must do wonders for your self-esteem to know that you’re worth two and a half normal men.

"Gasperini gave me a second life in football," said Motta on signing for Inter. "I owe almost everything to him. He actually built the team and adapted it to my characteristics.”

It was at around this time that the midfielder first expressed an interest in playing for the Azzuri. Despite being born in Brazil, and having represented their national team up to under-23 level, Motta said he had his heart set on representing Italy, the land of his grandfather: “I have Italian blood, I feel Italian and I only ask to be considered as an option for a place with the Azzurri,” he said.

“I have always had the passport, even before arriving in Europe (…) I never thought I could be part of the Selecao. Of course I always wanted to wear the shirt of Brazil as a child, but now things have changed."

The call-up finally came last year when Motta was named in Cesare Prandelli’s squad for a friendly against Germany. He required FIFA clearance due to his previous with the Brazilian national side, but having been given the all-clear he made his debut as a second half substitute. He went on to net the winner on his second appearance, a 1-0 Euro 2012 qualifying win in Slovenia, and injuries permitting it seems likely he’ll be at the tournament in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

Rewinding slightly, Motta’s first season at Inter got off to a good start as he netted a goal in a 4-0 win over rivals AC Milan. Jose Mourinho’s side were pretty irresistible in 2009/10, winning the league, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League, with Milito scoring twice in the win over Bayern Munich in the final.

Sadly for Motta he wasn’t involved, having been sent off in the semi-final against his former club Barcelona after allegedly striking Sergio Busquets in the face. Replays showed that, surprise surprise, Busquets might have made a little bit more of the incident than was strictly necessary; "He always does it,” said Motta. “I have seen it on TV and he is holding his face and then looking at the referee - it is terrible behaviour."

Since then he has remained an important player for Inter, despite suffering what Zonal Marking’s Michael Cox described to me as a “classic post-Mourinho dip”, he has remained a key player for Inter, as is evidenced by Claudio Ranieri’s desire to keep him at the San Siro.

Motta’s main strength is that he’s a good all-rounder; strong in the tackle but with a cool head on the ball and a good range of passing. In theory he’s a perfect fit for the middle tier of Carlo Ancelotti’s Christmas tree, and at 29 he should have a few good years left in him if he can stay out of the treatment room. Let’s hope this new challenge will bring the best out of him.

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