RC Lens vs Paris Saint-Germain
Tonight, Antoine Kombouare returns to the capital at the Stade de France against his former club Paris Saint-Germain as coach of RC Lens. The setting of the SDF is somewhat fitting having led Les Parisiens to a Coupe de France triumph there in 2010. It is also fantastic for a man who had done so much for the club – not only as a player – but as a coach to get a rousing reception form the Paris support. Carlo Ancelotti may have taken the club to dizzy heights, but Toni laid the foundation.
It was certainly a bittersweet afternoon of the 30th December 2011. On one hand, welcoming one of world football’s elite coaches to the Parc des Princes in Ancelotti was a landmark day for the club, but also losing a humble man in AK was unpleasant.
He lead the club to two back to back Coupe de France finals – winning one in 2010 and just coming up short against Lille the following season. He gave the PSG faithful a sense of pride after years of mediocrity.
Things in the league drastically improved too. In his inaugural campaign (2009/10), the club only managed a 13th place finish but turned fortunes around the following year and cemented a 4th place finish, the club’s best for seven years. Qualification for Europe was secured, only missing out on a place in the Champions League by four points.
He also integrated the younger players with the veterans, finding the correct balance that formulated magnificently. The influence of Claude Makelele and Ludovic Giuly during the 2010/11 campaign epitomised that. Giuly in particular had a wonderful swan song in his final year for the club, playing a major role in the attack and contributing with eight assists.
Kombouare also brought in the likes of Nene and Christophe Jallet who went on to become pivotal members of the team. Nene especially was a key component in the early QSI days. Himself, Jeremy Menez, Kevin Gameiro and Javier Pastore struck up an immediate understanding but unfortunately it all fizzled out. Jallet would end up becoming captain under Ancelotti, albeit a brief stint until Thiago Silva came through the door.
Qatar Sports Investment taking over the club instantly put Kombouare’s job in jeopardy. They wanted a marquee name that would put the club well and truly on the map. Unfortunately, he did not match that criteria and his position became untenable. He really could not have done anymore though, steering the club to the summit of Ligue 1 heading into the winter break of 2011 and with a three point lead – losing just three matches. However, elimination from the Europa League a few weeks prior gave QSI the perfect excuse to make a change and reel in Monsieur Ancelotti.
Despite his low-key departure, the 50-year-old played a pivotal role in laying the foundations for what was to come. Two league titles, a Coupe de la Ligue triumph and Champions League football.
The man holds no grudges against the club, instead handing out praise and being thankful for his time as coach. It just epitomises the class of the man. He told Le Parisien; “I played part in a beautiful page in the history of the club as a player. I coached the reserve team for four years and then the first team for two and a half years. I’m really grateful to PSG who gave me a lot”.
Laurent Blanc said yesterday in his presser that he does not have many friends in football, but Kombouare is one. He is a well-respected man – a good man – and should be remembered for being the coach that got the ball rolling for what was to come.