Thursday, 31 January 2013

Boules d'or! David Beckham arrives at Paris Saint-Germain

What a day.

Just as Paris Saint-Germain's transfer window was shaping up to be quieter than a nun's birthday party, the club dropped a massive news bomb on us earlier today by snapping up former England skipper David Beckham.

Since leaving LA Galaxy, 37-year-old Becks has been chased by some teams you've never heard of all the world's top clubs, but finally decided to eschew the delights of playing in Australia or the Middle East in order to have a shot at glory in Paris.

"I'm very lucky to have so many offers at 37 years of age. In the last few months, I feel like I've received more crap offers than throughout my entire career," noted D-Beck at his grand unveiling, which took place earlier this afternoon. Interestingly he didn't get the grand Eiffel Tower treatment a la Ibra, I was half hoping that he'd reprise his part in the opening ceremony of the Olympics and come speeding down the Seine in a boat.
He continued: "Obviously I won't be playing at the very highest level for a long time to come, but it's a great honour for me to have been picked to help Paris Saint-Germain become one of the biggest football clubs in the world."

Becks has signed a deal until the end of the season, with all the cash he would have earned being split between the charities supported by the PSG Foundation. Bless his heart.

I honestly don't know what to make of this signing. I'm not a Beckham-hater, and it's hard not to be a bit excited at the prospect of him turning out at the Parc-des-Princes, and maybe even banging in a free kick or two. Plus the donation of wages is a nice gesture and a piece of PR genius; it's easy to be cynical about footballers all the time, and I usually prefer people not to shout about their charitable donations but, none-the-less, bravo Becks and whoever thought up that particular scheme.

But I can't help but think this signing has come a year too late. We needed a marquee name last season to announce our presence to the world, but now we already have two - the best defender on the planet in Thiago Silva and one of the top strikers in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Everyone already knows that PSG mean business, I'm not sure what having Beckham on board brings to the party, other than helping to flog a load of shirts in Asia. It's not the conduct of a truly big club to chase a player with limited on-pitch value just because of his profile, and it makes us look like a bit of a circus.

Moreover, in the long run will it be good for our profile, or good for Beckham's profile? He could be gone in five months, and if so his spell in France will be little other than a footnote on his illustrious career. It seems unlikely his presence alone will be enough to garner PSG a worldwide fanbase in such a short period of time.

From a footballing perspective it makes little sense either. Is Beckham going to make the difference between us winning or losing the Ligue 1 title? Probably not; we should win it anyway with our squad. Is he going to make the difference in the Champions League? Probably not, we're unlikely to win it, and it's not like we don't already have players with experience at the highest level.

What is true is that our midfield often lacks a Beckham-type player, someone who can pick a pass and set us on our way going forward. Perhaps his presence will be good influence on Verratti, who will hopefully play that role on a regular basis once he adds some maturity to his game. But Beckham has never been someone who looks comfortable doing things at pace, and my fear is he'll further slow down a team which already at times can look sluggish and laboured in its passing.

As you can probably tell I remain sceptical, but what's for certain is that his presence should keep things interesting between now and the end of the season. Bienvenue Boules D'or!

Monday, 28 January 2013

PSG 1-0 LOSC Lille: La chance du Champions?

"The Luck of Champions?"

That's the question posed by the headline on the L'Equipe site this morning, after Paris Saint-Germain returned to the top of the Ligue 1 pile with a somewhat fortunate victory over Lille at the Parc-des-Princes.

After seeing the visitors hit the woodwork, have a seemingly legitimate goal ruled out for offside, and squander a number of promising positions, it's hard to argue with them, but there's still a long way to go; after all, it's only goal difference which keeps Les Rouges-et-Bleu ahead of Lyon.

"We were lucky today, but we haven't had it on other occasions," noted Salvatore Sirigu in his post-match interview. Having now broken the club record for Ligue 1 minutes without conceding, previously held by Bernard Lama, Sirigu probably feels he is entitled to the rub of the green, and the Italian's goal hasn't been breached since Valentin Eysseric's winner for Nice back on December 1. That result was the nadir of PSG's "crisis", when Ancelotti's future appeared to be less than certain. Great credit must go to the players and management for getting back on track, and we've taken 19 points from a possible 21 since the defeat at the Stade du Ray.

Our defensive solidity is all the more remarkable given that leaking stupid goals was our Achilles heel last term, particularly after Carletto took over. Thiago Silva's presence - current injury not withstanding - has definitely helped, but Sirigu, Christophe Jallet and Maxwell have also been steady performers, and Mamadou Sakho has, by and large, cut out the silly mistakes that crept into his game last season. Ibrahimovic's goals are often said to be the difference between us and the chasing pack, but with just 12 conceded in 22 matches, our stinginess at the other end of the pitch could be the decisive factor in the title race.

Lille are not the force they once were, and sport a large Eden Hazard-shaped hole in their attack. But Rudy Garcia's side still play decent possession football, with one-time PSG target Dimitri Payet orchestrating things in the final third.

PSG had the better of the early exchanges, Lucas Moura curling a shot wide and Jeremy Menez and Ezequiel Lavezzi almost breaking through on a couple of occasions. But when the early goal didn't arrive the momentum swung to the visitors. Alliterative forwards Ronny Rodelin and Marvin Martin shot wide from good positions, with Payet forcing Sirigu into a good diving save with a shot from outside the box.

The games most controversial moment came ten minutes before half time, when Rodelin headed in from Martin's corner, but saw his celebrations cut short by an offside flag. Replays showed that Nolan Roux was the offending player, but it's debatable whether a) the striker was offside, or b) if he was interfering with play. Either way, the goal was chalked off, and PSG went straight up the other end and hit the post thanks to Zlatan's bobbling shot.

In the second half things got a bit more open, with neither side defending with the discipline they showed in the first period. Jallet did well to slide in and block a cross/shot from Lucas Digne, while at the other end a similarly spectacular sliding challenge from Marko Basa denied Lavezzi as he bore down on goal.

The only goal came in the 69th minute courtesy of some poor defending from LOSC. Benoit Pedretti lost the ball to another substitute, Javier Pastore, who lofted a lovely pass over the top for Lavezzi to chase. The Argentine's cross was aimed at Ibra, but visiting keeper Elana dived out to block it, only succeeding in parrying the ball into the net off the body of defender Aurelien Chedjou. It was an unfortunate moment for Chedjou, but his horrendous, off-centre, blonde stripe hair cut means my sympathy is limited. Even Jezza wouldn't stoop that low. I don't think.

Lille weren't done though, and Payet spurned a glorious chance to equalise, shooting straight at Sirigu from 12 yards. Substitute Tuilio De Melo went even close from a similar position, beating Sirigu with a curling effort but seeing his shot hit the base of the upright and bounce clear. Phew.

Man of the Match: Salvatore Sirigu - PSG's record breaker had a fairly busy night, but kept his cool and dealt with everything that came his way.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

PSG 3-1 Toulouse: Coupe de France progression assured as Rabiot eyes move

Paris Saint-Germain booked their place in the last-16 of the Coupe de France with a comfortable victory over Toulouse at the Parc-des-Princes.

We have a good record against Alain Casanova's side in recent seasons, so it was no surprise when Kevin Gameiro shot us into the lead in the eighth minute, profiting from some good work by Blause Matuidi and a low cross from Ezequiel Lavezzi to slot home from eight yards.

Franck Tabanou's header levelled matters against the run of play ten minutes later, but PSG took charge again after half-time. Gameiro had to be withdrawn ("a slight muscle strain" said Carletto afterwards) but his replacement, Jeremy Menez, was in electric form, and spent 45 minutes terrorising the TFC back-line.

Three minutes after the break Jezza's through ball found Javier Pastore in the box, and he finished with the precision and accuracy of Eden Hazard targeting a ball-boy, finding the bottom corner of Olivier Blondel's net.

Lavezzi then wrapped up the victory with a cute first time chip after another beauty of a pass from Menez had split the defence.

"It was a good performance from us, and proves that everyone is able to replace everyone else, even the important guys on the team," noted captain for the night Sylvain Armand afterwards.
"We knew we weren't great against Ajaccio or Bordeaux, but tonight, there were beautiful sequences [of play], everyone enjoyed it. I hope this is good preparation for the match against Lille on Sunday."

Indeed, PSG played some lovely stuff at times, far removed from the slow, stodgy, fare which they've served up since the return from the winter break. Certainly Ancelotti has some decisions to make ahead of the LOSC game, with Pastore and Menez both pressing their claims for a start, and the likes of Zlatan and Lucas Moura, who was on the bench, to return.

Elsewhere, worrying news this morning is that 17-year-old Adrien Rabiot is already keen to leave PSG. The midfielder started a couple of games earlier in the season, but has not featured of late, and West Bromwich Albion and Bordeaux are both reportedly interested.

I think it's very difficult for young players at PSG now - look at the lack of progress made by Neeskens Kebano and Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, currently on loan at Caen and Troyes respectively, since they signed their first professional contracts 18 months ago.

But I think Rabiot is being a bit premature if he does want to go. Not many players are starting every week at his age, and Ancelotti obviously rates him, having selected him ahead of more senior colleagues in the past. QSI always talk about PSG having a youthful focus going forward (the oft-repeated "new Messi's" line), and it would be nice to think Rabiot could be a key part of that.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

So long Lugano; PSG's Dorian Gray is Leonardo's latest failure

It has long been my suspicion that Diego Lugano has a secret picture of himself hidden away in his attic.

Given the form he’s showed during his rare appearances for Paris Saint-Germain in the last 18 months, I imagine the portrait of Uruguayan defender is hideously disfigured; there can be no other explanation for his steadfastly youthful good looks other than that he sold his soul some years ago and is actually 67.

Lugano, age supposedly 32, left the Parc-des-Princes yesterday bound for the sunnier climes of Malaga, who have taken him on loan until the end of the season with an option to buy. One can only assume this an extreme act of charity from one Qatari-owned side to another because, as Jonathan Johnson notes in this piece, it’s difficult to name one positive contribution he’s made during his time in France, other than amusing me with these quotes about his “really good” contract.

On paper, Lugano seemed an ideal signing, joining the club to add experience to an area of the pitch where we were short of options at the time. But it soon became apparent his legs had gone, most notably when he put in an embarrassing performance as PSG were tonked 3-0 in Marseille last November.

Another of last summer’s recruits, Momo Sissoko, could be on his way before the end of the month having slipped down the midfield pecking order, and their potential departures got me thinking about our dear Director of Football, Leonardo, and his record in the transfer market. Let’s look at the players who have come in since QSI took over and Leo has been in charge of recruitment.

Milan Bisevac – Obviously a Kombouare signing, already gone. Verdict: N/A.
Jeremy Menez – First team regular, one of our better performers this season. Hit.
Blaise Matuidi – A one-man midfield. Hit.
Mohamed Sissoko – Bit of a liability, gets sent off a lot, probably going. Miss.
Salvatore Sirigu – Outstanding keeper who arrived at a bargain €3.5million. Hit.
Javier Pastore – Time is running out for him, has rarely performed like a €42million man. Jury still out.
Diego Lugano – See above. Miss.
Maxwell – Solid, reliable, does what it says on his Brazilian tin. Hit.
Alex – Mobility not the best, useful to have around for attacking set plays. Better than Sakho? Hmm. Jury still out.
Thiago Motta – Injured a lot, debatable if he’s even first choice anymore. Jury still out.

Ezequiel Lavezzi – Settled in well after early problems. Hit.
Thiago Silva – Say no more. Hit.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Zlatan says Zlatan is a hit, and I for one won’t be arguing with him. Hit.
Marco Verratti – Great potential, of which we saw flashes earlier in the season. Hit.
Greg van der Wiel – Better than Jallet? Not so far. Jury still out.
Lucas Moura – Too early to tell. Expensive. N/A.

I make that eight hits versus six non-hits. 

Then consider that two of the hits, Thiago Silva and Zlatan, are two of the biggest names in world football. You don’t need to be a genius to know they’d improve any team, and was it the lure of Leo that was key to their arrival, or the prospect of loads of lucre?

Similarly, you can’t imagine Leonardo was much of a factor in the arrival of Matuidi – a Ligue 1 player who PSG could conceivably have brought even without their Arab cash.

Suddenly, his record doesn’t look great, and that’s before you take into account the embarrassing transfer misses with Beckham and Pato, and his dalliance with Rafa Benitez. All in all the Brazilian hasn't covered himself in glory since his arrival.

I used to think Leo was a nice chap, but since he took charge of PSG he reminds me more and more of Georges Duroy, the main character in Maupassant’s Bel Ami. Despite having no discernible talent other than being a smooth talker, Duroy rises to a position of power by manipulating rich people.

If we fail to win anything this season, no doubt Ancelotti will be the one who gets the boot. But in the event of failure, QSI might be better served looking at the future of their own Bel Ami instead.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Bordeaux 0-1 PSG: Girondins Zlatan-ised as Parisiens regain top spot

It's been a difficult week at Paris Saint-Germain following the death of fitness coach Nick Broad in a car accident on Thursday.

I always find it extremely trite when people say that incidents like this "put football into perspective"; it surely doesn't require a death to highlight the importance of sport in the grand scheme of things. But what is certainly true is that this is a tragic event for Nick's family and friends, may he rest in peace.

Carletto, assistant coach Paul Clement, and the players were visibly shaken before the match with Bordeaux, with a minute's silence held in the Stade Delmas. But they pulled themselves together and claimed the three points which took them back to the top of the Ligue 1 table.

PSG were a bit understrength for the match, with central defenders Thiago Silva and Alex missing through injury. This meant a first league start of the season for Papus Camara alongside Sakho, and the veteran did not let his team down, making a number of crucial interceptions to stop crosses, and one great sliding challenge in the second half when Bordeaux's Yoan Gouffran was about to pull the trigger.

In fact it was the defence that stood out in a first half dominated by Bordeaux. Their chief threat came down the left through enterprising full back Benoit Tremoulinas, who spent the first 30 minutes tormenting Christophe Jallet and whipping in a number of dangerous crosses. But as usual with Francis Gillot's side, a lack of cutting edge let them down, with no one on hand to profit from Tremoulinas's good work.

Going forward PSG were having difficulty stringing more than a couple of passes together, and our attacking play lacked the pace and intensity you would expect from a front line including the dynamic talents of Lavezzi, Menez and Lucas Moura. Cedric Carrasso did well to stop a free kick from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his opposite number Salvatore Sirigu had to be on his mettle to parry away a shot from FCGB's Obraniak.

The only goal of the game came two minutes before the break courtesy of Lucas, who was given the time and space to play the ball into Zlatan in the box. The striker's angled shot was powerful enough, but Carrasso will be disappointed that it squirmed through his body into the net.

After half-time Ancelotti's men were a different proposition, enjoying much more possession and restricting Bordeaux to speculative efforts from distance. A shot from Mariano was deflected past the post, and Sirigu had to tip a Saviet effort over the bar, but other than that it was the visitors who looked more likely to add a second. The best opportunity fell to the outstanding Maxwell, who benefited from a lucky bounce in the area but saw his attempt to beat Carrasso at the near post palmed away by the keeper.

Overall it wasn't a vintage performance from PSG, but we should be happy to come away with three points against opponents who had been defending an unbeaten Ligue 1 home record stretching back to the start of the season.

"I am happy the team got a victory and first place in the championship for Nick," said Sakho afterwards. 

"This is, I think, the best tribute we could give him, to thank him for all the work he has done for the team. It was really difficult to play tonight, we've been thinking about his family a lot."

Man of the Match: Maxwell - diligent in defence, and offered good attacking threat in the second half. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

PSG vs Ajaccio: Lucas Moura ready for debut

Lucas in the gym. Thanks for that google.
According to a poll of 100 Ligue 1 players conducted by Le Parisien this week, 76 per cent of those questioned thought that Paris Saint-Germain would win the title this season.

Even for the perpetually pessimistic French this seems to me to be a unnecessarily fatalistic outlook with half a season still to play, but you can see where they're coming from: while other leading contenders such as Lyon and Marseille are more concerned about who will be leaving this January, PSG are getting to show off their latest expensive recruit, Lucas Moura.

The Brazilian, who arrived from Sao Paolo is set to make his debut against Ajaccio tonight, with Javier Pastore or Jeremy Menez making way. PSG will be much changed from the side that just about squeezed past part-timers Arras 4-3 in the Coupe de France last Sunday, with Thiago Silva, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Salvatore Sirigu all set for recalls. Van der Wiel and Armand are the only absentees through injury, with Momo Sissoko also missing due to his involvement with Mali at the Africa Cup of Nations.

We drew 0-0 with Ajaccio in Corsica back in August in a match which was most notable for Ezequiel Lavezzi's dismissal and the floodlights going out in the last minute.

"It's been a long time since that fixture," noted Carletto, showing that even top football managers know how to read a calendar. "We didn't show the right attitude there, notably defensively. Today, we're a team, and Ajaccio will face a very different proposition this Friday. We have to be careful, though, as we'll be playing a compact team that will try to catch us on the counter-attack."

Ajaccio will indeed be much changed, with new coach Albert Emon installed just before Christmas. They also have Romanian striker Adrian Mutu in their ranks. Mutu famously pledged to outscore Zlatan this season, but has some catching up to do, having only notched four times in the first half of the season. He is joint leading marksman for the Corsicans alongside Chahir Belghazouani, who is with Morocco at the Cup of Nations. In fact Ajaccio will be missing five players due to international duty, and with their already limited squad so depleted, this a match we need to win if we're going to prove the 76 per cent right.

Zlatan is being allowed to play after being found not guilty of stamping on Dejan Lovren in our 1-0 win over Lyon before Christmas. As I said at the time, it looked a lot worse slowed down than it actually was, and don't think it was particularly deliberate. Others, notably Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, would beg to differ of course.

Meanwhile Nene has chosen his next destination, and will be heading back to Brazil to ply his trade with Santos: "The club is really close to what he wanted," Costa Gilvan, Nene's agent, told L'Equipe. Way to make a team feel special. The 31-year-old has apparently an 18-month-contract, no fee is involved.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Don't Hoarau be happy: PSG striker snubs Premier League for China

Last week I was thinking about starting a new game called Where's Hoarau?

It would've involved finding our gangly hero (bobble hat optional) amidst a crowded scene of football clubs fighting for his attention.

Sadly the game has lost a lot of its marketing potential now that the chief protagonist, Paris Saint-Germain striker Guillaume Hoarau, has decided on a new club.

When the 28-year-old departed early from PSG's Qatar training last week, it sparked a speculation-fest in the media, with various reports having him travel to England, the Middle East and China for talks with interested clubs that apparently included Everton and Sunderland. No one seemed to know what his actual destination was, and the player himself added to the confusion with some cryptic messages on his Twitter page.

Yesterday it became apparent he is planning to continue his career in China, having signed for Dalian Aerbin, a team named after and funded by a construction company, not, as I'd hoped, a tribute to former Aston Villa front-man Dalian Atkinson. Their badge looks a bit like Lazio's, so I hope Guillaume doesn't think he's going to be playing in Serie A:

I've been a big Hoarau fan ever since he joined PSG in 2008. The Reunion-born striker had an unconventional route into professional football, only leaving his native island to sign his first professional contract with Le Havre at the age of 20.

Even then, it took him a while to make his breakthrough, but his fourth season with the Ligue 2 side proved to be a watershed one. With 28 goals in 38 appearances, he propelled his team into Ligue 1, attracting attention from a host of top clubs. PSG won the race for his signature for a bargain price of €500,000, and he repaid them with 20 goals in his debut campaign, Paul Le Guen's side secure a Europa League spot.

Since then he's struggled to repeat that kind of goal output, only managing double figures once in the three and a bit seasons since (2010/11). He never seemed to gel effectively with Mevlut Erding, and latterly injuries and the big-name QSI influx haven't helped.

Nevertheless he remains one of my favourite players of recent years. A predator in the box (all his 38 Ligue 1 goals came from inside the area according to @OptaJean), his hold up play is also decent, and I felt he was chronically under-used at times last year - there's no doubt in my mind that Kevin Gameiro would have benefited from having a bigger presence alongside him.

By all accounts he was a good figure to have in the dressing room too, often playing his guitar and initiating jappery and top bantz with his team-mates.

It seems a shame that he's going to a league where the money challenge may be good, but the standard of play is perhaps not comparable to the main leagues in Europe. Hopefully he'll be back sooner rather than later, as I feel he still has a lot to offer at the top level. Merci et bonne courage Guillaume.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Stupid PSG pictures of the week: Momo Sissoko's trip to Qatar

Happy New Year readers, hope you've enjoyed a good start to 2013.

Paris Saint-Germain's players and assorted hangers-on staff returned to France last night after escaping the winter blues at a hot weather jolly training camp in Qatar.

While they were there they managed a 5-1 win over Qatari league champions Lekhwiya, with goals from Lavezzi (2), Gameiro, Nene and Menez. The match also saw Lucas Moura make his first appearance in a PSG shirt following his big-money move from Sao Paulo.

Also enjoying himself in the sun has been Momo Sissoko, who hasn't let his current position at the bottom of the PSG midfield pecking order get to him too much.

I've discovered that Momo's Twitter account is jam-packed with visual gold. Exhibit A, his profile picture, which may have been taken when he was auditioning for the role as host on the French version of Take Me Out:

Then there's this classic picture of him in the changing room before the Lekhwiya with Sakho and Matuidi. Bangin' on the westside:

But best of all is this one, after all you don't often see footballers holding birds of prey. "An encounter between the Eagle of Mali and a falcon of Qatar" tweeted the ex-Liverpool man. I'm not sure who's more impressed - the falcon or the Qatari bloke who was probably expecting to meet Ibrahimovic or Thiago Silva:

 More of Momo's holiday snaps as we get them.

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