How Sunderland target Sessegnon fell out of love in Paris
Sat in the corner of a bar, watching the game, Ludovic Giuly stood up and started to undo his shirt one button at a time. It wasnÃ¢ÂÂt long before the above mentioned item of clothing was being swung over his head; the famous hips that had fooled one top-class defender after another in France, Spain and Italy were now writhing away in saucy abandon.
This wasn't a last tango in Paris, rather an impromptu striptease. Someone shouted Ã¢ÂÂallez.Ã¢ÂÂ No one shouted Ã¢ÂÂencore.Ã¢ÂÂ Everyone simply felt awkward. Giuly could certainly forget about finding any notes tucked into the waistband of his white boxers.
Admittedly, itÃ¢ÂÂs not uncommon for footballers to give away one of their shirts. This, however, was neither the time nor the place. Fans of Roma saw glimmers of Giuly the dancer during his one season in Serie A, namely a goal celebration called the Tecktonik, a kind of Sharpey shuffle on speed. Is it any wonder Luciano Spalletti decided to sell him?
Judging by this performance, the 34-year-old was now finished as a footballer. The days when Giuly inspired Monaco to the Champions League final and later won the competition with Barcelona seemed very much in the past. Throughout the previous season, the tricky winger had argued with Paris Saint-GermainÃ¢ÂÂs cantankerous coach Antoine KombouarÃÂ©. At a pre-season training camp in the United States, Giuly was even told he could leave. Bad times.
A place on the bench looked like the best he could hope for, but the colourful little character stayed on at the Parc des Princes regardless. The signing from Monaco of NenÃÂª, the naturally left-sided player that PSG had long been missing, meant that StÃÂ©phane Sessegnon could finally return to his preferred place on the right flank, the flank where Giuly played.
Now aged 26, the mercurial Benin international had played all last season out of position and his form had suffered accordingly. Though it was hard to shine in an unbalanced team that finished in 13th place amid great unrest both in and around the club, Sessegnon looked a shadow of the player who had joined PSG from Le Mans in a transfer worth Ã¢ÂÂ¬8.5m two and a half years ago. Ã¢ÂÂStÃÂ©phane wasnÃ¢ÂÂt good and he knows it,Ã¢ÂÂ KombouarÃÂ© said.
The explosive and instinctive football Sessegnon demonstrated during his first six months at the Parc, such as when he memorably dribbled into the corner flag during a League Cup quarter-final against Lens and bunny-hopped past three defenders, had drawn knee-jerk comparisons with another iconic PSG No 10 from Africa: the richly talented Nigerian Jay-Jay Okocha.
FranceÃ¢ÂÂs appetite had been whet. Back then Sessegnon deservedly featured in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season. Now he had to recapture that form Ã¢ÂÂ and the early indications were promising. Two step-overs done at pace during a friendly against Sporting Lisbon in July left Leandro Grimi with a severe case of twisted blood. The Argentine full-back fell so awkwardly it was initially feared that Sessegnon had somehow induced a leg break.
He would dazzle effervescently in PSGÃ¢ÂÂs Ligue 1 opener too, inspiring a tub-thumping 3-1 win at home to Saint-ÃÂtienne which sent the Parisians top of the table just weeks after the clubÃ¢ÂÂs 40th birthday. Sessegnon was a constant menace and could lay claim to having scored his sideÃ¢ÂÂs second goal, hitting a stunning scissor kick from the edge of the box which hit the post, bounced out, then struck the diving JÃÂ©rÃÂ©mie JanotÃ¢ÂÂs hand and went in.
Since then, however, it has been downhill for the player. Sessegnon suffered an injury while on international duty with Benin in September and lost his place to Giuly. Try as he may, there was no getting back in the starting XI as PSG went on an eight-match and then a 13-match unbeaten run. They climbed to second in Ligue 1 and were conceding fewer goals without him in the side. SessegnonÃ¢ÂÂs teammates were surprised. Ã¢ÂÂOften when a player is missing, another takes his place and you donÃ¢ÂÂt see the difference,Ã¢ÂÂ Christophe Jallet said.
By December, Sessegnon had started just four times. He had played a miserable 559 minutes and warming the bench was evidently becoming too much to bear for a player who had attracted significant interest from a string of Premier League clubs during the summer. So on the eve of PSGÃ¢ÂÂs trip to Nancy on December 22, Sessegnon and his agent Rudy Raba decided to meet KombouarÃÂ© to request a transfer. Interviewed in LÃ¢ÂÂÃÂquipe the following day, he recalled his extraordinary version of events.
Ã¢ÂÂI told him that I would like to leave. He responded that I would not be leaving, that I was important to his group. I stayed calm. I understood his position, but he didnÃ¢ÂÂt understand mine. He got angry, and it went beyond the simple scenario of a manager not wanting to let a player go. He hurt me through what he said and how he behaved.
"Basically, the coach insulted me. I donÃ¢ÂÂt think itÃ¢ÂÂs right for a coach to call one of his players a f**ker, a s**t player, as he did with me. That's what he said to me, IÃ¢ÂÂm not going to hide it. In these conditions it seems impossible to me to keep playing in Paris. ImpossibleÃ¢ÂÂ¦ ItÃ¢ÂÂs gone too far. I had so much respect for him. What he said to me profoundly hurt me.Ã¢ÂÂ
Much like Hatem Ben Arfa did at Marseille in the summer, Sessegnon effectively went on strike. He didnÃ¢ÂÂt report for training at Camp des Loges, nor did he join PSG in Marrakech for a winter break. It was a stand-off, and it would prove lengthy.
Ã¢ÂÂI wonÃ¢ÂÂt talk about the absentees... who are still wrong,Ã¢ÂÂ KombouarÃÂ© sneered. He had earlier denied the allegations that lay at his door. Things were showing no sign of improving. Ã¢ÂÂI am a victim,Ã¢ÂÂ Sessegnon cried. Yes, a victim reportedly earning nearly Ã¢ÂÂ¬5,000 a day during the whole affair.
Ã¢ÂÂWe canÃ¢ÂÂt say that we havenÃ¢ÂÂt spoken about it between ourselves,Ã¢ÂÂ said PSG defender Sylvain Armand. Ã¢ÂÂWe have asked him to come back. HeÃ¢ÂÂs a lad who we all appreciate a lot in the group, who brings his joie de vivre, and we need him to play on all fronts.Ã¢ÂÂ Veteran goalkeeper GrÃÂ©gory Coupet agreed. Ã¢ÂÂWe are just sad not to see StÃÂ©phane. We have bombarded him with texts telling him to come back.Ã¢ÂÂ
In the meantime, Sunderland had tabled an offer said to be worth Ã¢ÂÂ¬5m while Everton apparently asked to have the player on loan. Both were branded Ã¢ÂÂridiculousÃ¢ÂÂ, partly because PSG stood to make a loss on their original investment. The club didnÃ¢ÂÂt want to sell. Colony Capital, PSGÃ¢ÂÂs majority shareholder, had claimed that there would be no departures and no arrivals. Club president Robin Leproux told reporters: Ã¢ÂÂStÃÂ©phane is part of the family. Giuly canÃ¢ÂÂt do 90 minutes like he did against Sochaux. We are not working on the hypothesis of his exit. He will be with us on January 31.Ã¢ÂÂ
It was time for rapprochement. PSGÃ¢ÂÂs general manager Philippe Boindrieux and their head of recruitment Alain Roche held clear-the-air talks, but to no avail. Then, without warning, a little before 10.45am last Thursday, Sessegnon returned to training. The strike had lasted a little less than a month.
Ã¢ÂÂI learned that he was here on my arrival this morning,Ã¢ÂÂ KombouarÃÂ© said. Ã¢ÂÂIt is very good news. But no one has won. He is here. He is happy to train. It works for me. StÃÂ©phane is back to work. When you have a written and ethical contract, you see it through right until the end.Ã¢ÂÂ
The suspicion, however, was that SessegnonÃ¢ÂÂs return had been strategic. LÃ¢ÂÂÃÂquipe wondered whether Sunderland could have suggested it in concert with his agent to appease PSG. What happened next only fueled the conspiracy theories.
Sessegnon was sent to the PitiÃÂ©-SalpÃÂªtriÃÂ©re hospital with club doctor ÃÂric Rolland for some tests. Ã¢ÂÂIt turns out he is suffering from a fever which needs at least three days' treatment and rest,Ã¢ÂÂ KombouarÃÂ© said. When asked to reveal the exact nature of the fever, he replied: Ã¢ÂÂItÃ¢ÂÂs confidential.Ã¢ÂÂ
SessegnonÃ¢ÂÂs entourage was surprised. The playerÃ¢ÂÂs team-mates had also noted how Ã¢ÂÂsharpÃ¢ÂÂ he was after a 30-day hiatus. After all, it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt as if Sessegnon was out of shape. He had been training regularly with the coach of Olympic hurdler Ladji DoucourÃÂ©. Needless to say, you didnÃ¢ÂÂt have to be Hamlet to see that something was still rotten in the city of Paris.
The plot twisted once more this week. Sessegnon was absent from training on Wednesday and then Thursday. Le Parisien were sure he was in the north-east of England negotiating a three-and-a-half-year deal with Sunderland. The Black CatsÃ¢ÂÂ made another offer yesterday, thought to be around Ã¢ÂÂ¬5.8m. It was rebuffed. But PSG are now resigned to losing Sessegnon and the club will apparently listen to offers. A deal is expected by the weekend.
Ã¢ÂÂI am very happy and looking forward to my Premier League career,Ã¢ÂÂ Sessegnon told Sky Sports. Ã¢ÂÂIt is a dream come true and I want to show my value to Sunderland.Ã¢ÂÂ Meanwhile, KombouarÃÂ© and Leproux have lost face in front of PSGÃ¢ÂÂs supporters and this morningÃ¢ÂÂs LÃ¢ÂÂÃÂquipe makes embarrassing reading for the pair. Ã¢ÂÂSessegnon wins his battle,Ã¢ÂÂ it claims. Who, though, will win the war?
PSGÃ¢ÂÂs title challenge could rest on what they do in the next five days. They have been linked with Saint-ÃÂtienne star Dimitri Payet, NancyÃ¢ÂÂs Marama Vahirua and AnderlechtÃ¢ÂÂs Jonathan Legear. Only one thing is certain, though, and thatÃ¢ÂÂs fireworks. The more likely outcome, however, especially for a club with just two top five finishes in the last decade, is implosion.