To the outsider looking in, Paris Saint-Germain luring the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and the rest must look like something of a fantasy. The club has grown to astronomical heights in these past four years and with the latest Deloitte figures revealing that we are the fifth most valuable club in the world, speaks volumes! However, it is not all about the superstars when it comes to making a successful team. There are those who are undervalued yet offer so much! Well, in January 2012 Carlo Ancelotti stamped his mark at the Parc des Princes by identifying three players who would go on to be fundamental to the club’s success.
The whole situation regarding Ancelotti’s appointment in December 2011 was a little bit messy at the time. QSI were courting him when Antoine Kombouare was still in charge which was not pleasant to witness – especially as it involved an iconic figure at the club. Nevertheless, the opportunity to lure one of Europe’s top coaches was one not to be scoffed at. Carletto had been out of work for seven months having previously been dismissed by Chelsea – despite leading them to their first ever league and cup double a year prior. So, just after Christmas in 2011, the Italian took the helm at a club where the project was in its infancy.
Back then we had a good crop of players even before the summer splurge where Javier Pastore, Jeremy Menez and Blaise Matuidi – to name a few – arrived at the club. We had the likes of Nene, who at that time was our best player. The captain and a player who looked for the entire world would become a superstar at the club, Mamadou Sakho (although he was injured at the start of the season). And some of the unsung heroes like Ceara, Guillaume Hoarau and Mevlut Erding. These were players that were pivotal in the club getting back into Europe the season before.
Although we were embroiled in a fantastic title race with Montpellier, the remit was Champions League qualification. And the then director of football Leonardo – who was a figurehead in the recruitment – made three signings during that January window which were key. Thiago Motta, Maxwell and Alex all arrived at the Parc des Princes.
The combined total for all three was just €19m! Motta cost the largest portion of that at €10m with Alex costing €5m and Max just €4m. You talk about getting your money’s worth! Les Parisiens did some of the shrewdest business in Europe when you consider those figures. Two of them are still at the club. The other departed just last summer in Alex who opted to head for Italy on a free.
The Motta signing was needed at the time. Mohamed Sissoko, remember him? Well, he was perhaps our best player in that position. This was during a period where we predominantly played with two holding midfielders under Kombouare. This was to change under Ancelotti who had a new system he wanted to implement. Even though we had Matuidi at the club, injuries restricted his playing time. It is incredible to think now but Ancelotti did not see Matuidi as consistent starter during his early months in charge. Motta was brought in for his experience and largely to sit as the holding man in Ancelotti’s favoured Christmas tree formation.
But as all new coaches do, they like to tinker with things and Carlo was struggling to figure out his best formation. We sometimes played with two holding midfielders and TM would always be one if fit. Sissoko, Matuidi, Clement Chantome and Mathieu Bodmer all rotated as his partner.
In defence we had Maxwell and Alex who slotted straight into the back-four. Siaka Tiene who was the first-choice left-back at the time was more or less ousted straight away by Max who arrived whilst the Ivorian was away at the African Cup of Nations.
Back then we had a real problem at defending set-pieces. We were useless at it to be honest! During the summer Diego Lugano and Milan Bisevac arrived but neither exactly pulled up any trees. Bisevac had a decent spell during the winter but he was always down in the pecking order behind Sakho and then Alex. Lugano however never showed the promise that Leonardo hoped to see from his days at Fenerbahce and although it is harsh to say, the fans consider him one of the club’s worst investments in the modern era. So signing a man of the statue of Alex who was out favour at Chelsea made perfect sense. But, the defence still leaked goals.
We suffered a heavy defeat to Lyon at home in the Coupe de France and then a few days later we were beaten away to Nancy. This transpired just after a lucky 2-2 draw in Caen and a scraped 2-1 victory away to Dijon. It was definitely a team under transition and Ancelotti did not find it easy.
During those five months from January to May 2012 there were positives but also some flaws in the team that needed to be addressed. Acquiring Champions League qualification was absolutely massive for the football club! And that ultimately allowed us to bring in a centre-back of the calibre of Thiago Silva which brought out the very best in Alex as the two forged an immediate partnership. Maxwell benefited from this too as did Motta as he had a rear-guard of immense talent to sit in-front of.
The three of them have been fantastic servants to the club – especially Maxwell and Motta. I have called Maxwell Mr Underrated over the years and that is exactly what he is! Motta has taken some stick this season as his performances have dropped but nobody can dispute the influence he has had since arriving at Paris. And for me, he was our player of the season last year!