Thursday, 30 August 2012

PSG's start to the season - quelle merde(reau)

I’ve been on holiday to France on a regular basis over the last eight years, but never have I had such an eye-opening trip as the one from which I have just returned.

This is because my in-laws have retired and moved to the country, so Mrs PSGT and I spent the first seven days of our vacation with them in the middle of nowhere. Here are some differences I noticed between Paris and la campagne:

-          In the country it’s acceptable, nay expected, that you stare at strangers. I was gawped at so often that I felt like I was in a zoo.
-          Wife-beater vests are mandatory for country men of all ages and states of physical fitness.
-          Getting good bread is a challenge so difficult that it would stump Stephen Hawking.
-          In the country no one bats an eyelid that one of the supermarkets is called Le Mutant. I wasn’t able to confirm whether Wolverine works on the check-outs.
-          There’s a river called  Le Merdereau. Even those of you who don’t speak French must realise why this is funny.

What a relief it was to drive to the capital and spend five days in civilization. Unfortunately I wasted a couple of hours of my holiday on Ajaccio vs Paris Saint-Germain, a mind-numbing 0-0 draw which was about as appealing as taking a swim in the aforementioned waterway.

In fact, PSG’s overall start to the season has been a seemingly never-ending river of shit. The Ajaccio stale-mate was preceded by a 2-2 draw with Lorient, which saw Zlatan score twice in the second half after Christian Gourcuff’s side had surged into an unlikely 2-0 lead. Then on Sunday Bordeaux came to the Parc-des-Princes and ground out a 0-0 draw.

For me Carlo Ancelotti has got his team selection wrong in two of the games so far, and you worry that he doesn’t really seem to know his best XI. The Lorient match saw him select a midfield trio of Bodmer, Chantome, and Verratti, none of whom provide the defensive stability offered by the benched Blaise Matuidi. As a result, PSG got over-run in the centre of midfield in the first half, and could’ve gone in at the break trailing by more than two goals.

The Bordeaux game saw Menez relegated to the subs bench to accommodate Zlatan, who missed the Ajaccio clash through injury, and PSG struggled to break down the massed ranks of Les Girondins back-line. Now granted Jezza was in particularly rancid form against Ajaccio, but without him and suspended Lavezzi we lacked the pace and direct running to stretch Bordeaux, and chances were at a premium.

It’s easy to be wise after the event of course, and it’s certainly not time to hit the panic button. PSG have what on paper is their toughest match of the season so far coming up this Sunday, when they go to Lille, but I feel this could work to our advantage. There won’t be the same pressure on the team there has been in the last three games, where they have been overwhelming favourites, and Lille are sure to show more attacking intent than our last two opponents (I’ll exclude the excellent Lorient from that comment) meaning our forwards should have more space in which to operate.

Before that we have the excitement of this evening’s Champions League group stage draw. PSG are in pot three, along with Lille, Olympiakos, Ajax, Anderlecht, Juventus, Spartak Moscow, and Galatasaray.

The full seedings are listed here, and below are what I consider the best and worst case scenarios:

Group of Death: Real Madrid, Manchester City, PSG, Borussia Dortmund.

Group of, er, Life: Milan, Braga, PSG, Cluj

All will be revealed when the draw begins at 4.45pm BST.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Heroes: Ludovic Guily

Paris Saint-Germain start the season with a home match against Lorient on Saturday night.

Despite being overwhelming favourites for the match, and indeed the Ligue 1 title, PSG will have to work hard to avoid a repeat of last season’s opener, which saw Christian Gourcuff’s side triumph 1-0 in Brittany.

The wily Gourcuff has strengthened his squad well over the summer, with the arrival of Alain Traore – a lone beacon of light in Auxerre’s relegation season last year – and a familiar face in the form of ex-PSG winger Ludovic Guily.

Guily left the Parc-des-Princes last summer to re-join Monaco, but he was released after a season in Ligue 2 and the 36-year-old is ready for a final crack at the big time.

"This is a club that suits me because there is a culture of football being fun to play, led by the great coach that is Christian Gourcuff,” he said after penning a one-year-contract.

"I know people will be counting on me on the pitch and in the dressing room. I will give everything to make sure I have a great adventure with the FCL."

Guily was a favourite player of mine even before he signed for PSG, mainly I think because of his diminutive frame. He stands at 5’4”, and you can’t help but admire little guys who succeed in an era where, Leo Messi aside, being 6’ plus seems to be a pre-requisite for a top-level footballer. He makes up for his lack of inches with no little pace and dribbling skill, and can always be relied upon to make an impeccably-timed run into the box to notch a goal at the far post.

After starting his career at Lyon, Ludo became known on the international stage thanks to his performances at Monaco. He spent six years in the principality, eventually becoming captain of the team once Didier Deschamps took over. He was a key member of the team which so nearly won the 2004 Champions League, but succumbed to injury early on the final as Monaco were beaten 3-0 by Porto.

That summer he was on the move again, joining Barcelona for €7million. Here he won the La Liga title and the Champions League, before losing his place in the side in 2006/07 season due to the break-through that Messi bloke. A one-year spell at Roma followed, before he arrived at PSG in the summer of 2008 for a fee of €2.5million.

“I’ve always loved Ligue 1,” Guily told Le Parisien on arrival. “In Italy, I did not feel very comfortable. It was not sport, more personal [issues]. So, I did not hesitate for a minute when I knew that a big club like Paris was interested in me.”

The season that followed was probably my favourite as a PSG fan to date. Paul La Guen’s side were in and around the top five all season, with Guily, Jerome Rothen and Stephane Sessegnon providing the ammunition for a stellar cast of strikers: Guillaume Hoarau, Peguy Luyindula and, er, Mateja Kezman. Despite registering some good results (a superb 4-2 win in the Velodrome against OM, in which Guily didn’t actually play, springs to mind), they eventually finished sixth, missing out on the European places.

Guily ended the season with nine goals, but only managed four the following season despite remaining an integral part of the team under new boss Antoine Kombouare, winning a Coupe de France medal. He continued to play regularly in 2010/11, despite his advancing the years, but was released last summer at the end of his contract, with PSG preparing for the big-name revolution that followed.

A move back to his old stomping ground of Monaco appeared to provide the perfect finale for a glittering career but, as at PSG, foreign money intervened. Monaco were taken over mid-season by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, who soon appointed Claudio Ranieri as boss. To the chagrin of many supporters, the Italian decided that Ludo wasn’t part of his plans.

"Giuly has had ​​a great career, but this is a new project and I rely on other players,” said Ranieri after freezing the veteran out of the first team. “Is it justified? I talked with him, I explained my reasons and as a professional and great man, he understood. It is up to him and the club to find a compromise. "

At one stage it looked as though Prince Albert II, Monaco’s head of state, might intervene to keep Ludo at the club, but it was eventually agreed that he would be released half-way through a two-year contract, and now has a final chance to make an impact on the Ligue 1 stage with Lorient.

It remains to be seen how much involvement Ludo will have in the first team, but having such an experienced character around the place will no doubt be a big boost to Gourcuff as he looks to better last season’s 17th place finish, which saw them escape relegation by a single point.

And if he starts at the Parc-des-Princes on Saturday night, he will no doubt relish the opportunity to score one last goal at his old stomping ground and help Les Merlus cause an upset. PSG beware!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Mour Mour Mour! PSG beat Manchester United to Lucas Moura signature & other stories

As we reported (with some glee) last week, Carlo Ancelotti had said that PSG's business this transfer window was finished.

But that cheeky little Italian scamp was pulling the wool over our eyes, as today the club have announced they've reached an agreement to sign Sao Paolo's Lucas Moura.

The Brazilian winger, who is currently at the Olympics with the Selecao, had been the subject of one of the summer's slowest and most boring transfer stories, with Manchester United seeming to be perpetually on the brink of signing him from Sao Paulo.

Inter Milan were also heavily interested, but it appears that PSG stole a march on their rivals by offering more money impressing the player with their exciting project. Now it has been confirmed he will be joining us in the January transfer window, once the Brazilian season ends, with a fee of €35-40million being banded about.

The statement on the club website is pretty brief, but the player himself has been widely quoted in the media over the last couple of days.

"I cannot talk about it [joining PSG], I'm focused on the Brazil team," said Moura, before proceeding to, er, talk about it.

"I spoke to Thiago Silva and Leonardo and they spoke very well. I know they are building a wonderful project at this club, with a fantastic structure and major players. That is what they said.

"No doubt it would be better if I can help Sao Paulo a little bit more, though. I said before I want to win a title before leaving and qualify for the Copa Libertadores."

The first thing to say is well done to the club for doing their business in private for once. We hadn't heard much about any PSG interest until a couple of days ago, but they've closed the deal quickly, in stark contrast to our other fumbles in the transfer market.

I've never seen Lucas play, so can't offer any informed opinions, but it seems likely that we've overpaid - is any teenager who has never played any football in Europe worth quite so much money? He could be the next Ronaldinho, but equally he could be the next Denilson. Either way, there are lots of videos on YouTube of him doing some fancy tricks:

Elsewhere Inter and AC Milan are both casting admiring glances at grumpy old Nene, who is also, to use the French expression, in the visor of Ruben Kazan. Poor old Inter seem to be becoming what Chelsea are to us, as they have also been linked with Jezza Menezza.

And, in an event more rare than an Australian gold medal at the Olympics (tehe), PSG look set to acquire a player already plying his trade in Ligue 1. The player in question is Lyon right-back Anthony Reveillere, who could be arriving in Paris along with €2.5million as part of a swap deal for Milan Bisevac.

This seems a remarkably sensible move on behalf of the club. We need another proper right-back, and though Reveillere is 32, he has played over 70 matches in the Champions League and his experience could be vital to have around the place. It would be a shame to see Bisevac go though, perhaps we can persuade Lyon to take Lugano instead.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Stupid PSG picture of the week: Al-Khelaifi - big (hair) in the 90s

In general I’m a big fan of the 1990s, the decade that gave us Brit Pop, The X-Files and, er, Tony Blair. But let’s face it, we all look better now than we did then.

Back in those heady, pre-millennium, days, I sported the centre-parting-with-curtains haircut which was all the rage at my school, and often accompanied this with the baggy old jumper, jeans, and parka combo as modelled by my fashion icon of the time, Liam Gallagher.

Like me, Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khalaifi probably wishes all pictorial evidence of this time period had been destroyed. But, as these photos taken in 1998 and published on the Le10Sport website show, back then he already carried a candle for PSG. Not sure the haircut, or indeed the t-shirt, do the former professional tennis player any favours though.

Pics from:

Monday, 6 August 2012

What shall we do with the grumpy Nene?

*Just for your information, I find the headline works best if you sing it to the tune of What Shall we do with the Drunken Sailor. At least, that's what I've been doing all afternoon.

On Saturday night Barcelona picked up what is surely the biggest title they've won in recent seasons, the Trophee de Paris.

They claimed the prestigious, sought-after prize 4-1 on penalties after a thrilling hard-fought 2-2 draw with Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes. The visitors had taken a 2-0 lead through Rafinha and Leo Messi (pen), but PSG hit back through Zlatan Ibrahimovic (pen) and Zoumana Camara to take the tie to spot-kicks, where the man from Catalonia prevailed. Having achieved such success so early, new Barca boss Tito Vilaneuva has set himself a high bar for the forthcoming season.

One man who wasn't around for the shoot-out was Nene. According to reports the Brazilian left the stadium at half-time, apparently angry at having been substituted. To put this into context, Nene was one of five players who got the hook at the break as Carlo Ancelotti, quite reasonably, decided to take a look at as many players as possible in his team's last friendly before the start of the season. According to the Parisien, this latest diva-strop came just 24 hours after he turned up late for a training session.

Fits of pique have always been part and parcel of Nene's game, his suspect temperament is one of the things that makes him one of Ligue 1's most entertaining characters. He gets away with acting like a bit of a brat because his output on the pitch is impressive - last season he was joint top-scorer in Ligue 1, bagging 21 goals and contributing 11 assists in 35 games. That he's not an out-and-out striker makes those stats all the more impressive and, like most PSG supporters, I am a massive fan of his mad skilz.

But all good things must come to an end and, much as it saddens me to write this, I believe that it's time for a club and player to part ways.

Nene's mood seems to have been getting increasingly bad over the summer, with the thorny issue of his contract causing him some distress. His current deal expires next year and the club seem unkeen to offer an extension to a player who will be 32 by the end of the season. Now if I was in charge I would just give him a two-year extension to keep him quiet - what's the point of being filthy rich if you can't indulge your star players? But given that the hierarchy seem unwilling to do that, perhaps because he isn't the kind of massive name that will sell shirts in the Far East, we have to assume that we will either be selling him or keeping an unhappy player.

The PSG squad this season contains more than it's fair share of ego. The likes of Zlatan, Menez, and Sakho are certainly not shrinking violets, and dressing room strife is probably one of the biggest threats to our chances of winning the league. An unhappy Nene increases the likelihood of a bust-up, and it seems unlikely that buggering off home at half-time will have endeared him to his team-mates.

And while his stats are impressive, they are perhaps a little misleading. It's well-known that he doesn't really turn up away from home - 18 of his 21 goals last year came at the Parc - and he only scored once in matches against the top five, a penalty at Lyon in that memorable 4-4 draw at the Stade Gerland. A outstanding Ligue 1 player, but is he likely to make an impact in the big games against the teams the new PSG now measure themselves against? I'd say probably not.

As I say, I'm gutted that I'm even thinking this, and my ideal scenario would be that he signs a new contract, accepts that the world of PSG isn't going to revolve around him anymore, and plays a big part in the team for the next few seasons. At the same time I understand why he might not be happy with that either- after all he has done nothing to deserve being demoted below Ibra, Lavezzi et al.

But sadly with the way the club is now I have a horrible feeling that Nene's time at PSG is destined to end on a sour note. Perhaps it would be better for all concerned if he left now as a hero, with memories of two superb seasons still fresh in the mind, rather than in a few months time with everyone feeling bitter.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Window shopping over as PSG prepare to tackle the mighty Barcelona

Like most football fans I struggle to get excited about pre-season friendlies, described brilliantly by Nick Hornby in Fever Pitch as methadone football - giving us addicts a taste without the kick of the real thing.

But playing Barcelona is always pretty exciting, so I'll probably be tuning in tomorrow night when Messi, Iniesta, and co arrive at the Parc-des-Princes for Paris Saint-Germain's last warm-up match of the summer. It's a shame Pep Guardiola is no longer in charge of the Spanish side, as it would have been interesting to see him and Ibra get re-acquainted. This is what happened last time they met. Maybe.

With just a week to go until the start of the new Ligue 1 season, we might get a few clues as to what sort of team Carletto will pick for the big kick-off against Lorient.

Amidst the usual bland platitudes, the boss used his pre-game press conference to confirm that there will be no more new signings this transfer window. This is sad news because it could mean an end to PSG window bingo until January, but on the other hand it might put a stop to ridiculous stories like today's crop which suggested we might sign Ashley Cole.

"Yes, for us the transfer window is over," said Ancelotti. "I think the club has done a fantastic job this summer. It is true that many rumours still come from the English press, but do not listen to what they say."

A good lesson for life there I feel, never listen to the English press. Hopefully we won't be letting anyone go either. Although the world and his mother have been lining up to predict the departures of Sakho, Chantome, Gameiro, Armand, et al, we don't have the squad depth to cope with those guys leaving. Certainly it seems the club will be hanging on Sakho and Chantome to help them comply with Champions League home-grown player rules.

Sakho, who is likely to start the season in the team with Thiago Silva away at the Olympics, seems to have got over his little hissy fit from earlier in the summer.

"This season, I have big ambitions. Very big!" He told the official website. Note the jaunty exclamation mark, this surely erases any remaining doubt about how big the French international's ambitions are.

He continued: "We want to win the Ligue 1 title and the Champions League is also very, very important for us this season. It won't be easy, but we are building a team here.

"Above all, everyone has that burning desire to succeed. That's important. To hear the Champions League music at the Parc des Princes, that will be something incredible for me, a dream come true."

Bless him, I wonder if he has it on his iPod?

Sissoko and Motta remain on the injured list ahead of tomorrow's match, Menez and Lugano aren't in consideration either due to fitness issues, and Chantome could miss out due to sickness. Kick off at the Parc is 6.45pm UK time.

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