Not good news for Antoine Kombouare. Whispers are growing ever louder than, however much Carlo Ancelotti loves English football, he is being lined up to take over during the winter break as coach of newly-enriched Paris Saint-Germain.
Logic works. Sports director of PSG is Leonardo, who was a player for a season under Ancelotti at Milan in 2002-03 and then worked there behind the scenes before succeeding him as coach in 2009. They are old friends with a high regard for each other’s footballing insight.
Also, of course, PSG have plenty of money. The new Qatari owners spent £76m last summer, more than any other European club apart from Manchester City.
The attraction for any coach is obvious. Building a team to win with limitless financial resources. Also, to be honest, the task is less difficult in a French context which is extremely modest, in financial terms, compared with the Premier League.
Paris is one of the world’s greatest cities but has always punched far below its weight in football terms. PSG are not only not one of Europe’s greatest clubs they are not even one of France’s greatest clubs. The likes of Marseille, Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux even second division Reims boast far finer histories.
PSG were founded only in 1970 and their sporting c.v. includes a ‘mere’ two league titles plus 11 French and league cups and one European trophy in the now-long-defunct Cup-winners Cup.
So, what made the difference? Money – and not merely money but Gulf Arab money. “Petro-dollars” the French media called the flood of cash but even that was misplaced: Qatar’s wealth depends not so much on oil as on natural gas. This is the apparently endless flow of natural resource which is fuelling not merely PSG but a re-balancing of the international political and financial equation.
Qatar finance has been a significant factor in assisting the Arab Spring freedom fighters to overthrow the Libyan regime; in supporting a string of complex medical research projects; and in a sporting revolution.
Three or four years ago the outside world believed that the great financial revolution was coming out of Dubai. But Dubai is over-dependent then on failing stocks of oil – unlike oil-rich Abu Dhabi and unlike gas-fuelled Qatar.
The Qatari royal family and their advisers, in pursuit of international visibility, worked out that the most high-profile short cut of all was sport. Hence Qatar has created lucrative domestic tournaments to showcase the talents of the world’s finest golfers, tennis players and motor racing drivers . . . and, in 2022, it will be the turn of the world’s finest footballers.
In the meantime, buying into the European club market via PSG was a comparative cut-price option. The Qataris paid £90m to buy out a 70pc controlling stake from a US private equity firm, Colony Capital. Even a modest English Premier League club would have cost significantly more and been saddled with far greater debts.
Ironically it was Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas whose political and business influence had enforced a change in the law which permitted foreign investment in the French game.
Aulas’s aim was to attract greater financial power to support his own plans for a grand new stadium in Lyon. Ironically, he opened the gates to let in potential owners – such as the Qataris – with the sort of financial power which will relegate the likes of his own club to the sidelines.
PSG’s summer spending was six times more than French champions Lille and one third of it went on Argentinian playmaker Javier Pastore from Palermo. There is more money where that came from, too. This is one reason Leonardo is hoping he may be able to persuade David Beckham to move to PSG in January.
By which time – and it would be no surprise – PSG may also have a new coach.
By Keir Radnedge