Makelele comes full circle as sleeping PSG wake to save their season

RESULTS Fri Apr 30 Auxerre 0-0 Marseille Sun May 2 Lille 3-1 Nancy, Bordeaux 1-0 Toulouse, Valenciennes 0-0 Lorient, Rennes 1-2 Sochaux, Saint-Étienne 1-4 Lens, Boulogne 3-3 Nice, Montpellier 0-1 Lyon

In the build up to Saturday’s French Cup final, Paris Saint-Germain’s precocious centre-forward Mevlüt Erding was asked what it would mean for the club to pick up a piece of silverware at the end of one of the most tempestuous seasons in recent memory.

“It would not make us forget the results in the league, or the problems with the supporters,” he said, trying to raise a smile.

“At the same time, though, the regularity with which PSG reach the cup final proves that we are still a big club. Only we are asleep in the league. However, this cup can wake us up.”

If, as Erding insists, PSG have been asleep in Ligue 1 this season, they have certainly tossed and turned with all the restlessness of a club in grave crisis.

Equipped with an ambitious budget worth €80m, the fourth biggest in France behind Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, Antoine Kombouaré’s side were expected to challenge for the title this season.

They spent €15.5m on new players, adding the likes of Erding, Christophe Jallet and Grégory Coupet to a team that already included proven winners such as Claude Makélélé and Ludovic Giuly.  

However, with just three games remaining this season, PSG find themselves down in 11th place, three points behind Valenciennes, the club Kombouaré left last summer. In fact, until Saturday, it looked as if Kombouaré’s first season in charge would be remembered for a fight he picked with Lorient boss Christian Gourcuff last September.

“Gourcuff needs to put down his cigar,” Kombouaré raged. “This type of guy deserves a smack in the face.”

And it wasn’t as if PSG’s problems were solely confined to the pitch either. Their fans were at war with each other, and clashes between them exacted a fatal cost on February 28 as one supporter later died from injuries sustained during a fight before PSG’s match against Marseille at the Parc de Princes.

Last week, the commission for the prevention of football violence “dissolved” five groups of PSG fans in a bid to eradicate football hooliganism. Robin Leproux, the club’s president, clearly welcomed the move. On Thursday, he admitted: “There are economic partners in Paris who don’t want to join us because PSG are not a respectable club with which to be associated.”

That may also be because prosecutors last month recommended a €150,000 fine be levied against PSG in a trial over payments to attract players.

It is alleged that agents, sponsors and officials from PSG, partly hid payments for 20 transfers between 1998 and 2005, including those for Gabi Heinze in 2001 and Nicolas Anelka in 2000, evading tax and social security authorities in the process.

Prosecutors also recommended that a €120,000 fine be levied against PSG’s sponsors Nike who are accused of hiding payments through sponsorship contracts with players such as Ronaldinho.

To make matters just that little bit more interesting, a book called Négriers du foot is due out later this month, which will allege that PSG’s 23-year-old Armenia international goalkeeper Apoula Edel is actually 28 and also known as Ambroise Beyaména back home in Cameroon.

So to say it has been something of a difficult year for PSG would be an understatement. The French Cup final represented an opportunity for salvation. After all, it has been the setting for some of PSG’s finest hours.

Since 1982 they have made the final 10 times, winning it on eight occasions. The French Cup was also the first title Kombouaré won as a player in 1993 when he scored PSG’s opener in a 3-0 victory over Nantes, the club with whom he started his career.

Playing for Nantes that day alongside Christian Karembeu, Patrice Loko and Nicolas Ouédec was a 20-year-old Makélélé. Until Saturday, it was one of the few winners’ medals missing from his almost peerless collection. 

Standing in the way of PSG and Makélélé was none other than Guy Lacombe, the mustachioed Monaco coach, who discovered the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira, Johan Micoud and Sébastien Frey while in charge of Cannes in the early ‘90s.

As PSG well know, Lacombe is something of a knock out specialist, having led four different teams to domestic finals in his 20-year coaching career. Incidentally, one of those teams was PSG with whom he won the French Cup in 2006.

Eric Blahic, his former assistant at Guingamp, defines him as a ‘one shot’ coach, someone who knows how to get a result when everything rides on just one game.

So this year’s final had a rare balance to it even if PSG’s route to the Stade de France read like a who’s who of French amateur football with Aubervilliers, Evian, Vesoul and Quevilly all dispatched relatively comfortably.

The only Ligue 1 opponent Kombouaré’s side met before the final was Auxerre in the last eight, prompting one journalist from L’Équipe to quip: “Their run offers believers reason to think that God is not always hostile to PSG.”

Ultimately, as one can imagine given the season they’ve had, PSG wanted it more. Monaco were too generous with the space they afforded their opponents in the early stages, giving Erding and his partner Guillaume Hoarau several chances to pepper Stéphane Ruffier’s goal.

In many ways the final epitomised PSG’s season: they played well but ended up suffering. Erding had a cast iron penalty claim waved away after 54 minutes and the match went to extra time.

As the game grew older, Monaco looked more and more likely to snatch the victory. Lacombe’s talented young side appeared to be buoyed by the knowledge that they had already knocked out Lyon and Bordeaux earlier in the competition. Nenê, their Brazilian attacking midfielder and top goal scorer, slowly but surely began to exert more influence on the game.

But then in the 107th minute Ruffier, who had been brilliant all night despite not being 100 per cent fit, made a tired error. He parried the ball when Jallet rifled a fierce shot across his box, but couldn’t keep it down. The ball flew up in the air and hung in the middle of Monaco’s six-yard box where Hoarau was waiting unmarked to nod in PSG’s winner.

When the final whistle blew, Makélélé jumped up and down before doing a marathon of a victory lap, leaving PSG’s fans with the impression that winning this cup meant as much if not more to the retiring 37-year-old than the Champions League, European Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup all rolled into one.

Soon after collecting the cup from French president Nicolas Sarkozy, PSG’s most famous and perhaps smallest fan, Kombouaré said: “When you’re having a bad season, you need to redeem yourself somehow. At the end of the day, we will now be able to look back at this season and say it was a success.”

Sunday’s headlines stopped short of completely agreeing with the man known to PSG fans as ‘Golden Helmet’ for reasons that become clear in this fantastic video.

L’Équipe summed up what everyone else was thinking, though. Simple in its composition, their front-page read: “Paris save their season.”

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