Hi everyone, remember me? Back in the day I used to write words about Paris Saint-Germain, before taking an unannounced and indefinite hiatus.
But, like Halley’s Comet, I’ve come round again and have dusted off my blogging keyboard after becoming increasingly angry about PSG’s form, or lack thereof.
The nadir of the team’s recent meh-ness came on Saturday at the Furiani, where, after racing into a 2-0 lead, PSG somehow contrived to lose 4-2 to Bastia.
In many ways the result was a bit of a freak one; Bastia had four shots on target and scored four goals. But losing to a team who are demonstrably not very good – Bastia are 19th in the Ligue 1 standings – is a worry, not least because results elsewhere saw us slip to fourth in the table.
Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Saint-Etienne was a welcome one, but let’s face it, PSG’s season isn’t going to be defined by the team’s progress in the Coupe de la Ligue.
I have a few things I’d like to say about the current situation at the Parc des Princes, and will spew them forth now like a torrent of inarticulate bile.
Firstly, the top of Ligue 1 at it looks at present shows how premature the doom and gloom mongers were when they proclaimed the death of a competitive top division in France. At the start of the season I lost count of the number of seasoned Ligue 1 watchers saying that no-one would ever be able to live with PSG, and how the only interesting stuff in the league would be what happened below us.
Of course, as by far the league’s richest team PSG should win the title every season, but when has football ever worked like that? Atletico Madrid’s triumph over Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain last season, and Bayern Munich’s non-dominance of the Bundesliga over a number of years show that it’s by no means impossible to topple the big boys. Lyon and Marseille are proving that with smart management and a bit of ingenuity it’s possible to compensate for a lack of cash and put yourself in a position to capitalise if your rivals slip up.
And how PSG have slipped; presently we’re nine points worse off than we were at this stage last season, and arguably performance levels have gone even further backwards. A Champions League last-16 date with Chelsea looms large, and at present the chances of us competing with Jose Mourinho’s men in the same way we did last year are slimmer than an anorexic stick insect
The obvious solution to try and illicit a change is to fire the coach, but I don’t think this would be very constructive in this case. While not being the most exciting or innovative coach in the world, ol’ Larry White showed last year that he’s capable of steering the PSG ship to success while keeping the potentially mutinous crew members on-side. If we get rid of him now we’ll need to find someone else, and the market isn’t exactly jam-packed with obvious replacements.
Instead I’d be looking to make changes in the squad. Big changes. Since QSI took over, they have basically built two teams; the 2011/12, buy-anyone-who’ll-consider-joining-us squad which failed to beat Montpellier to the title, and the 2012 second wave of big names including Zlatan, Thiago Silva et al. Though the squad has been expensively tinkered with in the last couple of summers, the core of the team has remained unchanged.
And it’s a core that’s done pretty well for us, winning two Ligue 1 titles, a Coupe de la Ligue as well as holding its own in the Champions League. But despite the success, doubts over the squad’s attitude, particularly in run-of-the-mill Ligue 1 games, have persisted. I don’t have a particularly have a problem with this as long as the end result is right, and we’ve managed to dig ourselves out of many a self-inflicted hole in the last couple of seasons.
The problem for the class of 2012 is that age and injury seem to be restricting their digging ability; Greg van der Wiel has chronic knee problems, Thiago Silva seems to have been off-form for a year and has a recurring thigh injury while Maxwell, bless his heart, is 33 and starting to look it. Thiago Motta’s powers appear to be on the wane, and even Zlatan, whose output remains impressive, has yet to properly shake off his heel-knack. As a result, we’re conceding goals which might have previously been prevented, and not creating taking as many chances as we used to.
All teams have a shelf-life, and I get the feeling we’re reaching the end for this PSG squad who have brought us so many happy memories. They’re getting old and worn out together, and it’s time for the big personalities who run the dressing room to go and for a new squad to be built with the younger players at the heart of it – Marquinhos and Digne at the back, Matuidi (I know he’s 27, but humour me) and Verratti in midfield, Lucas up front.
I’m not suggesting this should happen this January, and indeed the existing team could well go on to win a third successive Ligue 1 title. But a shake-up needs to happen, and it needs someone to make it happen, which is why I think a new sporting director could be key to PSG’s immediate future. Of late our transfer policy has been as illogical as a Jeremy Menez hair-cut (miss you Jezza), and though I never thought I’d regret the departure of Leonardo, he at least had a clear plan of what he wanted to do with the team.
The current squad is built in Leo’s image, and we need a similarly strong character to come in with a plan for P$G 3.0. Otherwise, this stagnation could continue for a while yet.