Just like last year, Paris Saint-Germain have three nomination for the player of the season. The UNFP revealed last week that current holder Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be up for the award alongside Marco Verratti, Javier Pastore and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette.
Although the Ibra nomination has raised a few eyebrows in a season where he has been plagued by injury, the three other nominations all have a worthy case. No surprise that my 1970 PSG Player of the Season is one of the three Parisians nominated but realistically it was just down to two. Two players who have become quite simply two of the most integral members to this Paris Saint-Germain team; Marco Verratti and Javier Pastore. But the latter just edges it for me as PSG’s Player of the Season.
Literally I could have made a decision based on the toss of a coin for this one. The two of them have been absolutely outstanding. Verratti is quite possibly the best midfielder in the whole of France right now – he has been that good! He has come on leaps and bounds, proving to be indispensable to Laurent Blanc. The form since the turn of the year has been exemplary, racking up more assists and finally netting his first few goals for the football club. Who will forget that header against Barcelona last September?
As quoted by Le Parisien yesterday, former Lyon player Eric Carriere said that Lacazette would be a worthy winner due to the amount of goals he scored. Yet, he also admitted that if Verratti was to pick up the gong he would applaud that decision too. The Italian has already been labelled as the ‘best player’ in his homeland and unfortunately for us he is continuously linked with Barcelona. The interest is there for a reason from the Catalans.
So why does Pastore just pip it for me? His renaissance has been nothing short of staggering. This was a player whose career was petering out in Paris. Just over a year ago he had no direction, seemingly no place in the team, on the bench more often than not and labelled a big money flop. That form in the first two to three months of his PSG career in 2011 was a distant memory. We thought we would never see it again. The FFP repercussions also cascaded huge doubts over his future with the club looking to move players on. It looked as if he would be out the door last summer.
There was a turning point though. And I always look to that goal he scored against Chelsea in the 3-1 quarter-final win in the Champions League last season. That mazey run, along with some pretty sloppy defending and goalkeeping, resulted in Flaco sending the Parc des Princes into pandemonium as he gave us a two goal cushion heading into the second-leg. We come up short in West London of course but that triggered something in Pastore.
His pre-season was very good. The Argentine went about his business quietly. He looked as sharp as he had done for a long time. The confidence was back and perhaps having a full pre-season to fully focus on his game after missing out on the World Cup did him the world of good. This was all in the midst of his agent incessantly reiterating the player’s desire was to remain at the Parc.
He scored a cracking goal in a pre-season friendly in Naples against Napoli last August. He went on a jinking run before producing a smashing finish to give us a 2-1 victory. It was a snippet like that which we would be more accustomed to see as the season progressed.
Whether he was playing on the left-hand of the attacking trio, or just in the middle, he excelled. When playing out wide he would come inside to influence the play. Or if he was in central midfield he would gladly come forward with the ball to make things happen. Gradually, with each game he played, the confidence was getting better and better. Flaco is a man who thrives on that. If he is happy in himself, then the team reaps the benefits. The coach Laurent Blanc must be given credit for this as he showed real faith in him. Carlo Ancelotti, a man who did so many great things during his tenure, was unable to get the best out of the player.
The difference in statistics from last season to this shows just how much he has come on.
Ligue 1: 2013/14
Chances created: 29
Key passes: 26
Successful passes: 1,143
Ligue 1: 2014/15
Chances created: 50
Key passes: 38
Successful passes: 1,694
One telling statistic is that in 13/14, he completed just eight games in the league. He has more than doubled that time around to 19. He has gone from primarily a substitute to one of the pivotal members of this team.
Blanc utilising him in that so-called ‘number 10’ role behind the two strikers is where we are really seeing him at his best. There is a real similarity to Kaka at his peak within that role. He has the vision and awareness to create openings in the final third. His ball control allows him to orchestrate attacks on the break and he is no the quickest by any means but he can set the tone for an attack. Literally, everything goes through JP in an attacking sense. His value cannot be understated. He along with Lucas Moura – when he was fully fit – has been our best attacking outlets.
The club need to tie him down to a new contract at the end of the season. His future has still been questioned because of this as he has yet to put pen to paper as his current deal runs out next summer. President Nasser Al-Khelaifi said last month he wants the player to stay and I am sure a compromise will be reached soon.
Pastore’s renaissance though is stunning. He has not only come back from the brink but is one of the first names on Laurent Blanc’s team sheet. And for that, he is the 1970 PSG Player of the Season for 2014/15.
Statistics courtesy of Squawka.com