At least Laurent Blanc won’t have to worry about quotas anymore. Having spent a wee time on the sidelines, Larry White has his new gig at Paris Saint-Germain. Some people get revived by smelling salts, but Blanc has had his career revived by oil fumes. That means, of course, that while there can be loads of excitement about France this season, we can evaluate the work that Carlo Ancelotti has done in his season and a half in France. There won’t be time to include the work we can assume he has done in the city’s restaurants, even if food is obviously more interesting than football. Food!
One would have reasonably assumed that when Ancelotti took over, as 2011 was on the verge of becoming 2012 and PSG were three points clear of Montpellier, that a manager of his experience and a team with such financial advantage would have easily won the league for the first time in over 500 years. It wasn’t to be. Despite that in the summer of 2011, PSG had bought Salvatore Sirigu, Jeremy Menez, Blaise Matuidi, Kevin Gameiro and Javier Pastore, they could only finish second. Montpellier played such thrilling and consistent football, lead by Younes Belhanda and Olivier Giroud’s partnership in attack, that their victory was well deserved. They truly played like a team, while PSG played like they were on their first date. There had been moments of excellence, particularly if intermittently from Pastore, but the sense was that Montpellier’s form for that season carried them to the title, partly because PSG were incapable of pulling their fingers out.
And they didn’t pull their fingers out (this is a metaphor, not a genuinely revolting scoop being put out there) in Ancelotti’s first transfer window. They bought Maxwell from Barcelona and Alex from Chelsea. This was not so much a statement of intent as it was a statement of just looking forward to the end of the season. Work was being done to lay the foundations for success and to sensibly attempt walking before they would consider running. There were plenty of boos from the club, as there were at the start of the 2012/13 season, but that said more about the type of fans PSG have. Paris’s fans were already known for their arrogance, and the city is widely loathed for the same. The takeover attracted the fairweather, flashy fan – the type Chelsea have started to attract – with a sense of entitlement expressed first and foremost in willingness to express dissatisfaction. If there was one thing Ancelotti failed to improve, it was the new fans’ attitudes. What he did do, though, was to weather the fans’ displeasure and commit himself to steady progress that would leave PSG able to focus almost exclusively on the future, rather than mistakes of the past.
Ancelotti did not transform the team in this season, nor did he appear to try to. The owners and Leonardo had said Champions League football was the aim for that season, and so it proved. PSG finished second, and Ancelotti had begun to build his team. He had identified those players capable of performing in the Champions League, he identified the players who would improve the squad, and more importantly, began the process of removing the players who were no longer needed. Improvement was gradual but can be seen more clearly in retrospect than simply in each transfer window.
Without Carlo Ancelotti at Paris Saint-Germain, it would have taken more effort, and more z-e-r-ohs on the cheques to attract the players necessary to really compete in Europe. Obviously that is not to say PSG were ready for the Champions League last year, but they were a team who looked far more at home in that competition than they did in Ligue Un. That summer, the side added Zlatan Ibrahimovic, bringing an ego and swagger that would normally take years to develop. Ibrahimovic is an utterly staggering arsehole of truly ridiculous proportions, but a man with the standing of Carlo Ancelotti is one of the few capable of keeping him – more or less – onside for a season. Ibrahimovic delivered crucial goals, and his self-regard in turn demanded that his teammates raised their game to meet his expectations. Without Ibrahimovic, the title wouldn’t have been Paris’, and his arrogance was one of the building blocks for the team to get used to being in Europe. Ibrahimovic would have had no concerns about whether or not he really deserved to be there, and his side increasingly started to believe that was the case. When Barcelona eventually defeated them in the quarters, it was PSG who surprised everyone with their competence, not the other side.
As for the others, Ezequiel Lavezzi may not have had an incredible season, but he scored the decisive goal in the last leg against Valencia, and has undeniable class. Thiago Silva had problems with injuries, but displayed often enough that he is potentially the greatest centre back of his era, with a calmness and adroit sense of positioning not seen since Rio Ferdinand at his peak. Marco Verratti, the next Pirlo, was bought from Pescara and could well—no understatement—be the best midfielder of his generation and define PSG if he and his side are successful. Ancelotti needs praise for working with Leonardo to not waste the opportunity of the transfer window – there were no obviously idiotic signings, and all the players added were part of a plan to solve deficiencies, whether or not they were overwhelming successful in doing so. Ibrahimovic added stardust and genuine class, Thiago Silva would improve the defence immeasurably, Verratti was a player to build a side around.
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