Paris Saint-Germain focus

Croissants and raw minced beef

August 15, 2012
By Alexander Netherton

Paris Saint-Germain have begun this season as they finished the last: inexplicably muddled given the talent and time afforded to get their house in order. They have now adopted the necessary pose for the modern moneyed club with flags and goal music, the epitome of football's public enemy. PSG: nouveau nouveau riche. It was more evident where the fans were concerned than it was in the football as they offered up a confusing performance to draw 2-2 with Lorient at the Parc des Princes on Saturday night.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mathieu Bodmer, Jeremy Menez
GettyImagesParis Saint-Germain still have plenty of work to do

They started, as every petroteam must, with a smattering of new players on the pitch. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marco Verratti and Ezequiel Lavezzi all started, and all played as if they'd barely met any of their new colleagues in pre-season. Understandable to an extent but, for PSG, it was a depressing memory of the performances after the first transfer window under their new owners, bringing in Jeremy Menez, Javier Pastore and Diego Lugano, and their second, inexplicably buying Alex and Maxwell, two fundamentally bad defenders. PSG: deja deja vu.

This was overseen by Carlo Ancelotti, beginning what should - Leonardo permitting - be his first full season as PSG manager. The first half was a debacle. Maxwell scored an own goal in the first few minutes after Lorient waltzed into the penalty area. PSG then pressed ineffectively, using Zlatan Ibrahimovic as an ersatz Andy Carroll, rubbing him up the wrong way by asking him to chase one inaccurate long ball after another. Problems integrating several expensive new signings? So far so Chelsea. As the half ended 2-0, the uglier side of a new sense of entitlement was expressed. The fans booed their team off. At half-time. In the first game of the season. It's perfectly justified to boo a perceived moral slight from one of your players - see Manchester United fans booing Wayne Rooney - but to boo a team after less than an hour betrays an understanding of football that would shame even Gary Lineker.

Ancelotti had faffed his way to an effective front three after six months of toil last year in Nene, Pastore and Menez, but then started with just Menez. It was only when Nene was introduced in central midfield for Marco Verratti that the side started playing at a level that may be deemed vaguely commensurate with their abilities. It's too soon to judge the potential of the team, clearly, but it's fair to suggest that the manager remains ignorant of his best team. With neither of the Thiago twins - Silva and Motta - available, he doesn't have the luxury of finding a settled side for a couple of months at least.

With a few choice words from Ancelotti, the players started with not just a new intent but also gave the impression that they had at least remembered they were playing football. Ibrahimovic scored a little after an hour. This was, however, not a good moment for PSG. Granted, they had halved their lead and were playing with a verve that suggested that future opposition should likely have more to worry about over the course of an entire game, but it led to something horrific. Goal music. There is little that is not cloying about the rise of a club newly buff purely from financial doping, but it's not just the instant head start - it's the soulless branding. Goal music is bad enough, but before the game they provided jaunty little flags to every fan. Hang soul or atmosphere, let them wave flags. PSG used to have hooligans; now they have the Black Eyed Peas and cheap tat.

It's not all decline. PSG used to have a mardy Nicolas Anelka in attack but now they have the markedly superior mardy Ibrahimovic. He began the game isolated but transformed himself into a sonic Dimitar Berbatov in the second half. He controlled one hoofed ball that had been sailing 12 feet in the air with an outstretched toe to start one attack, and finally sealed the game not just by converting a penalty, but with a through-ball that compelled the defender to bundle Blaise Matuidi over to win it. An injury-time equaliser, a second goal from their new superstar, with time left to win the game, and what do the fans do? Leave early to get a jump on the traffic.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic PSG
GettyImagesZlatan Ibrahimovic: Left AC Milan to join PSG

Ibrahimovic's performance sums up what he may bring to the side. Not on his team-mates' wavelength in the first half, he only made a difference when he took it upon himself to control the game. If PSG are to not only win the league but make some impression in the Champions League this year, his contribution will have to be as driver rather than passenger. This is less to do with the team lacking goalscorers - Pastore, Nene, Menez and Lavezzi can all help here - but because the defence remains patchy.

Nicolas Douchez replaced Salvatore Sirigu, probably PSG's most consistent player last season, in yet another example of the inscrutable selections from Ancelotti. Possibly to be sold before the transfer window ends, Mamadou Sakho looked to be treading water instead of developing last year, and in the process lost the trust of his manager. Diego Lugano meanwhile looked like he was treading through concrete in his first year. Alex is just denser than concrete. Either side of them, Maxwell was sold by Barcelona even while Eric Abidal prepared for a liver transplant - the kind of endorsement best left to the second page of the CV - and Cristophe Jallet's massive bald head attracts even more attention to his inability to cross or pass.

PSG are the club that had to buy their own furniture. They did it in the '70s, and they're doing it again. PSG will still probably win the league. Last year's winners Montpellier are a marginally weaker side, and nobody else is particularly impressive. The rub is: if they win the league peppered with giddy little tunes and flags, and a carousel policy instead of a rotation one, that won't be particularly impressive either.