Friday, 19 July 2013

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

PSG complete Cavani capture, Digne deal done?

They say the best things come to those who wait, and that was certainly the case yesterday as the assembled media waited two hours to meet Paris Saint-Germain’s new striker, Edinson Cavani.

Selling club Napoli took the blame for the delay, having apparently been slow to return some documents needed to complete the €64million transfer, though I have my suspicions that Leonardo kidnapped the Uruguayan and took him for a drive round Paris as part of a humorous final day prank.

Anyway, Cavani is here now and apparently happy to have made his move. Stand by for some bland quotes and repeated references to the “project”.

“I'd like to say how happy I am to be a part of this side and this project,” he said.

“My overwhelming emotions at the moment are joy, confidence, desire and a strong motivation to win important trophies here. The sporting project at this club is very ambitious and a great source of motivation.”

Let’s face it, I doubt many football fans would be unhappy if Cavani pitched up at their club. I mean, look at his face; as a man with an unblemished record of heterosexuality covering my entire life to date, I’m not afraid to say he’s an extremely beautiful creature.

But quite apart from his strong cheekbones and voluminous, glossy hair, Cavani’s record on the pitch is not to be sniffed at. His 78 goals in 108 Napoli appearances puts him right up there with the world’s top strikers, and a potential partnership with Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a mouth-watering prospect.

Whether Zlatan will hang around long enough to get acquainted with his new team-mate is open to debate, with various reports suggesting that Ibra, like Wayne Rooney, is angry and confused and wants a move away.

While being angry and confused is Rooney’s natural state, Zlatan’s unhappiness supposedly stems from the appointment of Laurent Blanc as his new boss, and it will be interesting to see whether he makes any comment on his future after returning to training tomorrow. So far camp Ibra has been very quiet, with even his rent-a-quote agent Mino Raiola playing his cards close to his chest.

“Ibra is sure [to stay]”, said President Nasser yesterday. “He will play with Cavani”.

Remember, this is a man who thought he could keep Ancelotti despite Carletto explicitly stating he wanted to leave. And a man who comes out with statements like this:

“Cavani did not choose Paris for the money, believe me 100 per cent. He believes in the project, he believes that with us, he will be able to win many titles.”

That clears than up then. Another man seduced by a big bag of cash the project is Lille left-back Lucas Digne, who was in Paris today for a medical and is likely to sign a five-year-contract any time now.

Yesterday was Leonardo’s last day in his role as Sporting Director. The Brazilian had been expected to stay on until the end of the summer transfer window, but presumably has a pressing engagement with a beach somewhere.

“Leonardo's departure is sad for me. It's his decision, I wish him all the best,” Nasser said, before elaborating on the reasons for his departure.

“The media were aggressive with him. He did not feel the proper recognition for what he did. In last two years, he has done a lot. Yet all that was said or written about him was negative, it was not fair.”

Poor Leo, that squeaking noise you can hear is all the other clubs in Ligue 1 playing a symphony on the worlds’ tiniest violins.

Nasser added that he has not yet decided on whether to bring in another sporting director, and said the club’s management structure could change. Worryingly, this could include David Beckham being appointed as Special Advisor to the president. God help us.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Leonardo's resignation leaves PSG with questions to answer

Having already managed to shed a manager since the end of last season, Paris Saint-Germain now find themselves without a Sporting Director after news broke this morning of Leonardo’s resignation.

“We regret his choice but respect his decision,” said a brief club statement. “We thank him greatly for his important contributions towards the project of building a top European Club in Paris and wish him all the best for his future career choice.”

Leo’s two years at the Parc-des-Princes have certainly been eventful, and not without some success. His capture of Javier Pastore from under the noses of Chelsea in August 2011 signalled PSG’s new status as a major power in European football, and though that transfer hasn’t worked out particularly well, his eye-catching double purchase of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan last summer paid off in spades, with the team winning the title and making a good impact in their first season in the Champions League. His contacts in the Italian also must’ve helped in securing emerging talents like Salvatore Sirigu and Marco Verratti.

But overall his record in the transfer market hasn’t been that great. For every Sirigu there is a Van der Wiel, for every Silva a Lugano, and it has often seemed PSG are happy to throw money at established-but-average foreign players rather than pick up domestic talent.

Previously a smiley, likeable, type, Leonardo has also shown an uglier side of his character over the last couple of years. His comments in the media have at times been bizarre, and you often get the impression that he thinks French domestic football is beneath him. That’s before you even get on to the business of him, er, pushing a referee over and getting banned from all football for a year.

It’s also reasonable to assume that Leo’s behaviour was at least partly to blame for Carlo Ancelotti’s departure, as his not-very-discreet courting of other managers at various points last season must’ve left Carletto feeling distinctly undermined. Nasser Al-Khelaifi and QSI must now be thinking that they backed the wrong horse in that respect.

So in the long-term I think we’ll probably be better off without Leo, but in the short-term his departure so soon after Ancelotti’s isn’t ideal, and does raise a number of questions.

Leo had built a team with a South American core and strong links to Serie A. Do they bring in a Sporting Director who will continue in this vein? Or is it time to go in another direction? Is Project Wenger still on? And if so, is there any point getting another Sporting Director in until next summer, or can we do without?

What does Leo leaving mean for current members of the squad? It’s common knowledge that Zlatan isn’t his biggest fan, so he probably won’t be too fussed, but Thiago Silva is another matter. The recent stories linking the defender with Barcelona could turn from rumour to fact given the close relationship that supposedly exists between the two Brazilians. Will the Edinson Cavani deal, which has been all-but done for about a week but is still not finalised, be affected? Lots of questions, and at the moment not many answers.

One man who probably is happy about Leo going is Laurent Blanc, as the news has overshadowed the fact that PSG’s pre-season campaign began in inauspicious fashion yesterday, with a 3-1 defeat to Sturm Graz in Austria. Young striker Hervin Ongenda, who recently signed his first professional contract, got the PSG goal in the second half with a rather delicious chip.

"We were worse than average tonight,” said Blanc. “We knew it was going to be tough because we were up against a side that began preseason training three weeks ago and begins their season next week.

“We will analyse what happened in this match, but this result will not change anything of our preseason."

Friday, 5 July 2013

Leonardo's year in the merde as PSG eye Cavani deal

They say a week is a long time in football, which by my calculations means a year is an, er, very long time.

Leonardo is about to find out just how long a year in – or more accurately out of – football is, after it was revealed this morning that the French Football Federation (FFF) had rejected his appeal against a nine-month ban from football-related activity. For good measure, the FFF decided to stick the boot in by adding an extra five months to the sanction, meaning he will now be out of action until the end of June 2014.

Leo was busted for shoving referee Alexandre Castro at half-time during PSG’s match against Valenciennes in May. Despite his protestations of innocence, I never fancied his chances of getting off scot-free; as discussed previously, the FFF need to be seen to be backing their referees, even if the referee in question is an idiot.

But the fact that he’s had his already-lengthy suspension increased was a bit of a shock. Perhaps they weren’t impressed by Leonardo’s no-show at the hearing on Wednesday.

“He’s in negotiations with a great player”, reported Jean-Claude Blanc by way of explanation, a statement which sounded to me a bit like the footballing equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”.  True or not, it comes across as a bit disrespectful, so you wouldn’t exactly blame the FFF panel for taking umbrage.

It will be interesting to see whether the club decide to take any further action against Leo. On the face of it his suspension shouldn’t interfere with his day-to-day business of being Director of Football too much; he’s banned from dressing rooms, technical areas, referees’ changing rooms and other such official business, leaving him free to travel to Italy, sign new players and schmooze rich people at his leisure. If anything it might work to our advantage that he isn’t able to stick his nose into team affairs all the while.

But this whole episode has been a bit embarrassing for the club, and you wonder whether QSI are considering jettisoning the smiley Brazilian. Certainly it's difficult to see what sort of role he would have were Arsene Wenger to show up next summer.

Meanwhile the PSG squad, sans Leo and all the international players, have flown out to Austria for a pre-season training camp.

New boss Laurent Blanc has been putting the squad through their paces this week, while also finding time to make kissy faces at Edinson Cavani.

"He's a player that I, and others, admire," said Blanc, who was officially appointed last week, paving the way for Carlo Ancelotti's long-anticipated moved to Real Madrid.

"If he became part of the PSG squad I'd be very happy"
Reports coming out of Italy overnight suggest a €64million fee has been agreed between the clubs, and that Cavani will sign a contract worth €8million-a-season. Nice work if you can get it.

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