An ambitious architect awaits results in Paris Saint GermainParis Saint-Germain have undergone quite the transformation since Nasser Al-Khelaifi took over the club last year. One of the more important moves that PSG have made, however, has not been the purchase of Javier Pastore last summer or even Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva this year. In fact, it is the man who brokered all these deals and who has hit the ground running in his aim of making PSG an important and relevant club on the European scene. Two weeks ago, PSG returned to the Champions League for the first time in nine years, and a triumphant return it was as they emerged 4-1 winners against Dynamo Kyiv at the Stade des Princes. What was most pertinent about this game is that Ibrahimovic scored first, Thiago Silva opened his PSG account for the club on his debut, and Alex as well as Pastore completed the rout. In effect, these were all Leonardo’s signings, and they all vindicated his work on that night. Indeed, this was an important statement as there has been a lot of pressure on the club and Leonardo from the French press. In fact, PSG’s stuttering start this year, where they failed to win their opening three games, had drawn much criticism towards Carlo Ancelotti and the team Leonardo had built. The French press is a particular one, in that it is not particularly clement towards foreign managers. Ancelotti was heavily criticized for choosing Pastore over club favorite Nene when the Argentine was struggling on the pitch. They also had issues with Ancelotti’s statement [before the start of the season] that his central defense would be composed of Alex and Thiago Silva, thus marginalizing the club’s young captain Mamadou Sakho. The manager’s lack of faith in Kevin Gameiro, often preferring to play without a striker even in the absence of Ibrahimovic, has also been a point of contention. Of course, Leonardo’s inclination to plunder Serie A instead of investing in Ligue 1 is another issue the press has with the current PSG hierarchy. Especially when we consider the €44m spent on Pastore, the €43m spent on Lucas, and the €14m spent on the 19-year-old who had never played a top-flight game, Marco Verratti. Of course, it is all a bit unfair when we consider that PSG inquired on the likes of Marvin Martin (Sochaux) and Younes Belhanda (Montpellier), but both were priced at €25m, sums the club refused to pay, as well as Eden Hazard who decided to head to Chelsea instead. Some of Leonardo’s statements have not endeared him much to the press and his peers either, having often criticized the “Ligue 1 mentality” of players and clubs in comparison to the “culture of winning” he is trying to breed at PSG. He compounded it when he stated that, when talking about the size of the squad and downplaying potential dressing room issues – especially concerning the Nene case, “here in France, you are not used to big squads and competition for places.” The fact is, there is a bit of bad blood from certain corners towards Leonardo and the way he works. The mid-season sacking of Antoine Kambouaré, despite having been top of the league, and Ancelotti failing to subsequently win Ligue 1 only further outraged French football to the point where Leonardo and Ancelotti’s competences were put into question. Already at the end of last year, the UNFP trophy ceremony for best coach of the year saw the aforementioned Kambouaré as one of the nominees. Surely a passive-aggressive, albeit poorly disguised swipe at Ancelotti and the way the PSG hierarchy operates. In effect, there seems to be a cloud of anticipation and all the knives already seem to be out for Leonardo, just waiting for PSG to fail. In fact, PSG’s failure will very much be seen as Ancelotti and Leonardo’s. Therefore, given the background and pressure Leonardo has been under, this first emphatic win for PSG in the Champions League has been very important. When we look at the goal-scorers, and even the great performances of Verratti this season, this has all been a great vindication for Leonardo thus far. There exists an immense pressure on the Brazilian, partly from within as his employers will be expecting results and also from the outside in that Leonardo’s choices (i.e. his signings) will have to give him reason over his still incredulous peers. Tonight, PSG’s Champions League campaign continues and this time they’re playing a Portuguese champions FC Porto at the Estádio do Dragão.
This article is by Ogo Sylla, journalist for the Senegal Football Federation and writes at Forza Italian Football. You can follow him on Twitter @RossonerOgo_3. Comments below please.