After years of underachievement, Paris Saint-Germain are making their mark on French soccer once again, with their new Qatari owners livening up a quiet summer in Ligue 1.
Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) strode into Paris in the close season and bought a 70 percent controlling stake in PSG, with their president Nasser al-Khelaifi promising “to make PSG a great team and a strong brand on the international scene.”
QSI is controlled by Qatari Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, but he has placed al-Khelaifi in charge at the Parc des Princes, as president of the club’s supervisory board, and al-Khelaifi appears so far to have made all the right moves.
Brazilian former Inter coach Leonardo has been appointed sporting director, while former club president Robin Leproux has been removed from his position and Antoine Kombouare has been retained as coach.
These decisions should go down well with PSG supporters already excited by the new financial muscle being flexed by their club.
Leonardo spent the 1996-1997 season with PSG and he admitted to feeling proud on his return to the Parc, saying: “I’m really happy because I was chosen by people who really want to do something special.”
“I’m happy to be part of this project,” he said. “I had 14 very intense months here as a player and it was difficult to leave Paris. Today, being here makes me very happy.”
The fans are pleased to see him back and many will be pleased to see the back of Leproux.
If Leonardo wanted Leproux out for fear that the pair would step on each others’ toes in transfer dealings, PSG’s hardcore fans wanted rid of him because of the work he had done to repair the club’s off-field image in his nearly two years at the helm.
It was he who blocked the renewal of 13,000 season tickets in an effort to end a turf war between rival supporter groups that had reached a nadir with the murder of a fan before a game against Olympique de Marseille in February last year.
Crowds naturally declined as a result and the ultras who were targeted will be placated by Leproux’s departure.
The fans will also be pleased to see that Kombouare remains in charge, even if it remains to be seen how much patience QSI are prepared to show if the team starts slowly.
QSI may well have doubts about Kombouare’s international appeal, but he is a cult hero at PSG, having won a league title, two French Cups and a League Cup during a five-year stint as a player in the capital in the 1990s.
While PSG’s more recent history is one of underachievement, the signs are there that things are improving under Kombouare after he led the team to fourth place in Ligue 1 last season.
Leonardo’s appointment was not finalized until the middle of last month, but no time has been wasted in terms of squad rebuilding.
Stade Rennais goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez and Lorient striker Kevin Gameiro were recruited before Leonardo’s arrival, while the deals to sign Valenciennes defender Milan Bisevac, Blaise Matuidi from Saint-Etienne and Jeremy Menez from AS Roma had reportedly been instigated by Leproux before his departure.
Leonardo then moved swiftly to add Juventus midfielder Mohamed Sissoko and another goalkeeper, Salvatore Sirigu, from Palermo.
While publicly playing down his side’s prospects, Kombouare is reported to have told his players that the title is the objective and PSG must have a great chance, especially as more major signings are expected before the transfer window shuts.