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. He has seen firsthand what PSG’s defender can do and knew that the Serbian would come to prominence after a trip to Belgrade in 2006 when Carlo Ancelotti’s Milan were in town. Here, he tells the story.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that Carlo Ancelotti’s relationship with Milan is a fairly long and eventful one. Unless by Milan you mean Bisevac, the Serbian defender he only recently came to coach at PSG.
As he took over from Antoine Kombouae as Head Coach of Paris Saint Germain, the Italian faced many questions regarding the transfers he intended to carry through in the January transfer window, which players he relied on and which he judged unnecessary. Ancelotti, who spent five years playing for AC Milan and an additional eight coaching the club (winning the Champions League as both a player and coach, a feat accomplished only by six people), was said to consider luring past or present Milanese talents such as Alexandre Pato or Kaka to build PSG’s backbone. After hearing of such glittering names, room for doubt was left for Milan Bisevac, the low-key 28-year-old defender who joined the club in July before relinquishing his starting-11 spot to Diego Lugano in September. Would ever make a name for himself and stand out among the PSG crowd?
Bisevac was the first player bought by Paris Saint-Germain under QSI (Qatar Sports Investment) last summer. He had definitely not been a Nasser Al-Khelaifi target though, who probably did not even know his identity as he forked out 3.5m for his transfer. This purchase was indeed the culmination of two years of lobbying by Antoine Kombouare who wanted him from his very first day at the PSG headquarters. The fact that his arrival at PSG coincided with that of QSI was just another paradox in the Serbian’s career, one that some would argue never led him to a club his talent deserved.
Kombouare had been keen on Bisevac in the wake of a fruitful collaboration with the Serbian defender at lowly Valenciennes, a club from the north of France he coached for four years before moving on to PSG. There he brought in Bisevac in 2008 from neighbouring RC Lens, the club that took the Serbian from Red Star Belgrade two years earlier. Though the more popular club in the region (and one of the best supported in France), Lens had unexpectedly dropped to Ligue 2 and Bisevac was deemed too good by Kombouare to waste his time there. The upshot was astonishing, as a string of exceptional performances propelled the Serbian to cult status at Valenciennes where he was made club captain at the end of his first season, as well as being named among the top three central defenders in France according to the ratings of L’Equipe newspaper.
It therefore makes sense that Kombouare called the player up at PSG, and though his arrival coincided with that of the Qataris it was indeed his pick rather than Leonardo’s. The latter made little case of Bisevac’s signature and went on to sign Diego Lugano in the very same position. As it turns out the Uruguay captain has been a disappointment, prompting the arrival of Alex from Chelsea, while Bisevac is now a stalwart in Ancelotti’s system.
One of the first things Ancelotti did upon his introduction was to get the Serbian international back into the starting line-up during the Dubai trip the club undertook during the winter, something few people expected considering the complete anonymity of Bisevac outside of France – and even inside it in truth. Playing at right-back against Locmine in the Coupe de France at the beginning of January – Ancelotti’s first official game – his performance was average and the media jumped on the Italian coach to ask him whether he knew Bisevac was not a right-back but a central defender. Ancelotti answered that he knew that well and the confidence that transpired in his assessment of Bisevac surprised more than one. After all, was he not a mere Kombouare foil brought in from lowly Valenciennes ?
On 22nd August 2006 Ancelotti and his (then) AC Milan team – freshly punished for match-fixing in the infamous Calciopoli scandal – made their way to the Champions League through the backdoor of the preliminary rounds. A team that lost the competition in the final to Liverpool one year before was now made to play lowly Red Star Belgrade after the scandal emerged, throwing Italian football into a quagmire that one may argue has failed to get out of since. Drawing the once-mighty Red Star, the team of Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Filippo Inzaghi was confident of going through. It turns out the home and away encounter was one of the toughest they had on their way to winning the competition eight months later.
Hosting the Belgrade boys at the San Siro proved a complicated task as the Rossoneri laboured to a 1-0 win which guaranteed little else but butterflies in the stomach prior to making the trip to the Marakana, one of the most electric grounds in world football, where Milan Bisevac and his team-mates would provide an evening of great entertainment. The second leg, which I had the privilege to attend, had perhaps been the greatest atmosphere I ever witnessed in a football game. A season ticket holder for four years at PSG’s Parc des Princes, I thought I had seen it all when it comes to noisy fans and burning flares. As I entered the Marakana an hour before kick-off, I experienced the noisiest gathering ever known to a man my age. Not even after scoring against arch-rivals Olympique de Marseille, or winning a legendary Champions League tie against Porto did my ears suffer quite as much as when I made my way into the stadium. To think this was an hour before the game actually started says a lot about the atmosphere in Belgrade that evening.
Crvena Zvezda, a former winner of the competition in 1991 with geniuses such as Robert Prosinecki and Dejan Savicevic among its ranks, had little to boast about since the break-up of Yugoslavia. The team they had put up that year would have easily entered the main draw if they had not been paired with the eventual winners. Players of talent such as Bosko Jankovic, Nikola Zigic and Dusan Basta – who have since flown off to play their trade abroad – gave a coherence to a team led by a man in central defence named exactly like the team he faced; Milan Bisevac.
The 23-year-old born in Kosovska Mitrovica (in the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo) had been brought in by Red Star to replace Nemanja Vidic and stepped up to the task immensely. On that evening, he made no one regret the leave of absence of his predecessor as he put in a man of the match performance against an attacking front led by Inzaghi, Alberto Gilardino and Kaka in an indescribable atmosphere. Though Milan prevailed thanks to Inzagh, eventually going on to win the whole thing, the only thing I could think of on my trip back to Paris was how I could get the PSG scouts in touch with that long-haired gladiator at the back of Red Star’s back line.
This is the evening when Ancelotti understood he may have to deal not with one, but two Milans throughout his career. Applauding the Belgrade crowd on his way out of the stadium (a crowd he later called the “noisiest he ever experienced”), the Italian had his attention fixated on Bisevac. Days later, the Serbian centre-back joined RC Lens and the probability they would meet again seemed unlikely.
Now coaching PSG five years later, Ancelotti was brought back to that evening when he saw Bisevac’s name in the squad and the first thing he did was turn him into a right-back, much like he did with Branislav Ivanovic at Chelsea by reverting him from a centre-back to the PFA right-back of the Year in 2010. The result was instant, as Bisevac answered with an unexpectedly comfortable performance against Toulouse at home, earning him a standing ovation from the Parc des Princes crowd and a rating of 7 in L’Equipe. In the next game against Brest, he scored the winner in a scrappy 1-0 away win.
Once more, it does look like Milan will play an important part in Ancelotti’s career, although this time it is not the one we assume.
Thank-you to Igor for submitting yet another excellent article. You can follow him on Twitter @Mladenovic_