GUEST POST BY IGOR MLADENOVIC
Igor is a lifelong Paris Saint-Germain supporter who has written for a number of reputable websites including SF Union. Here he gives a personal insight into his feelings regarding the dismissal of one of the club’s most beloved figures and the implications it has on the club’s heritage.
After years and years of wandering in search of a capable Coach, PSG suddenly terminated its collaboration with the most efficient of them in club legend Antoine Kombouare, with the club sitting at the top of the table in the wake of a convincing first half to the season. Contrary to the city’s motto Fluctuat nec Mergitur (He who rises with the wave is not swallowed by it), Kombouare was chewed up and spat out by his all-too powerful sporting director Leonardo, six years his junior, despite navigating the Parisian ship through rough seas.
Just as he was managing to surf the early waves provoked by the headline grabbing arrivals of 22-year-old prodigy Javier Pastore and other high profile talents, and indeed increasing media pressure for a club always at the centre of attention in France, Kombouare was seemingly sacked in the early hours of Thursday by Leonardo. His tenure lasted one and a half seasons during which he brought about a sense of togetherness as well as improving results on the pitch, finishing last season in a commendable 4th spot – the club’s best ranking in eight years.
Its sixth coach in 10 years, Kombouare had been handed the tough task of getting the club back on track after it ended the 2009/2010 season at a dreary 13th position. He acquitted himself of his task brilliantly, implementing an effective playing style whilst bringing in players like Christophe Jallet and Nene from Lorient and Monaco respectively – since becoming two of Ligue 1’s best performers. Coupled with his glorious playing career as a composed defender renowned for last-minute goals at PSG, Kombouare (nicknamed Casque d’Or by Parisian fans for his great heading ability) established himself as one of the most popular Coaches in recent years. Perhaps not as respected as much as Vahid Halilhodzic (who steered the club to 2nd spot with a record-breaking 76 points back in 2003/2004), he was however more appreciated for his friendly approach and man-management.
All this however proved moot when QSI (Qatar Sport Investment) took over last summer with the clear goal of making PSG one of the top brands in world football within five years. As the lavish new owners took their time to settle in, Kombouare increasingly felt the pressure of his relative anonymity outside French shores. QSI wanted some high-profile names, some brands to make their own brand. So they brought in Internazionale’s Leonardo as the new director of football and Juventus’ Jean-Claude Blanc as CEO, two roles which actually do not exist in French football’s pyramid but probably looked good on paper. Both from Italy and both with the alleged task of getting in touch with Carlo Ancelotti to convince him to join them in the French capital.
Though they did all this with a gloss of reckoning for the club’s past by artificially injecting some identity into the club, Leonardo being a former PSG player himself (though he only stayed for one season in 1996/1997 before jetting off to AC Milan), and some of the new players having been born and bred in or near the Paris area (Jeremy Ménez from Longjumeau, in the South West of Paris and Blaise Matuidi from Fontenay-sous-Bois, twenty minutes from the Eiffel Tower), the Qatari owners had effectively started a campaign which puts a final nail in the coffin as to what the club once represented. Last Thursday it was buried with Kombouare’s layoff.
It is not just that Kombouare, scorer of the winning goal against Real Madrid in the return leg of the UEFA Cup quarter finals in 1991-1992, (a victory widely regarded as the most glorious in the club’s short existence), was made redundant from his coaching position but more so the manner of his dismissal. Boasting the honorable title of Champion d’Automne (top of the table before the end of year break) for the first time since 1996, PSG increasingly looked like a coherent squad both on and off the pitch. A definitive first eleven had been laid out and the egos of Nene, Pastore and Menez quelled for a greater good. Results wise indeed, the change in Coach could not make less sense.
What is more, the news of Kombouare being ousted did not emanate from the PSG board that decided it, but from press agency AFP (Agence France Presse) who disclosed the news the day after a battling victory on the Saint Etienne pitch, one of the toughest in France. Leonardo effectively did not show enough courage to announce the news himself, it is understood. It is of little surprise that Kombouare’s replacement is expected to have no previous record in PSG’s history, as the names of Ancelotti and Rijkaard are making the rounds.
For a club so young (created in 1970) to go through such sweeping overhauls in short periods of time is a bad omen for its prestige. A club’s history is built brick by brick patiently, by leading figures who commit their life into making their club a brand. Manchester United and Liverpool, still the most renowned clubs in England have had some of the longest serving managers at their helm. Therefore, Kombouare being ousted at the very start of this glorious era – supposedly awaiting the club – means more than just his personal career being hampered. It is the whole of PSG’s past which is put on the backseat while the freshly and undemocratically elected technocrats take care of the club’s future.
This is a major point which shows all the difference between experienced foreign owners, such as John Henry at Liverpool and the Glazer at Manchester United, who have had previous experience in US sports prior to landing in the North West of England, and incompetent owners. The former rely on the past identity of the club (Kenny Dalglish being brought in as manager at Anfield and Sir Alex Ferguson continuously cherished at Old Trafford) while the latter are so self-centered that they unconsciously reckon they will be the ones writing the history of the club, thereby paying little heed to whatever was built before their time at the helm.
As they swept out the remnants of PSG’s golden era of the 1990s, where players like Rai, George Weah, David Ginola and Kombouare made the club feared throughout Europe, the Qatari owners effectively behaved much like what has been seen at Manchester City or Chelsea – bankrolling money to discover new found success. However, as much as a case can be made to these clubs having little history in comparison to other English powerhouses, Paris Saint-Germain is a household name in French football whose past, as recent as it is, contains a certain amount of meaning which needed to be reckoned with. The owners need to understand the values of a club like PSG instead of tainting it with lavish spending, greed and total disregard to a proud history.
Thank-you to Igor for submitting yet another excellent article. You can follow him on Twitter @Mladenovic_