After stumbling through the last month, Paris Saint-Germain's 2-1 defeat in Nice - the birthplace of Garibaldi - on Saturday may have signalled the beginning of the end for the Italian experiment at the Parc des Princes.
Supposedly all-powerful PSG coming undone against relatively limited opponents has become a familiar theme in recent weeks. Over the last month they have been beaten at home by Saint-Etienne and nine-man Rennes, while also being held to a draw in Montpellier.
That last result sparked, in coach Carlo Ancelotti's own words, a "crisis", before wins against Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League and at home to Troyes last weekend settled the mood around the club. But, since then, PSG have been knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue quarter-finals on penalties at Saint-Etienne, and now lost in Nice, with Valentin Eysseric scoring the south-coast club's winner after Zlatan Ibrahimovic had cancelled out Éric Bauthéac's opener in a frantic finale. Blaise Matuidi's stupid sending-off, for a second booking after pushing over Nice goalkeeper David Ospina in injury time, summed up a disastrous night.
In many matches this season, including some that PSG have won, the opposition has shown greater fighting spirit. That can be partly explained by their desire to show up well against the one true giant of the French game, but Ancelotti is also guilty of not creating a similar spirit in his squad of stars.
"This PSG will not be champions", ran the headline in L'Equipe on Sunday, with columnist Vincent Duluc adding that "PSG were better when they had fewer great players." The capital club are now fourth in Ligue 1, five points behind leaders Lyon after 15 games. They have taken just four points from their last five matches. At the same point last season, they were second, and were four points better off than they are now. And since then they have brought in the likes of Thiago Silva and Ibrahimovic, whose thumping free-kick in Nice left him with 13 goals from 12 Ligue 1 appearances.
"There is a problem," admitted Ancelotti on Saturday. "We lack continuity in our play, intensity but also responsibility. The coach must be responsible but so must the players. They are not always focused on the project of the club. There is a lack of solidarity on the pitch. The whole team annoys me just now."
Despite their domestic troubles, PSG are at least through to the last 16 of the Champions League, which reduces the possibility of a knee-jerk reaction from the club's Qatari owners at the moment. Compared to his predecessors, Ancelotti's record at the Parc des Princes remains favourable, with 18 wins and five defeats in 34 league games. However, his inability to introduce a recognisable style and any clear cohesion in his team has been striking. His decision to make just one change to his starting line-up on Saturday, just four days after that Cup tie in Saint-Etienne went all the way to 120 minutes and penalties and despite the multiple options open to him, was also striking.
Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), the club's owners, are said to have run out of patience with Ancelotti, and with sporting director Leonardo, who persuaded them to appoint the former AC Milan and Chelsea coach last winter. At the time, Arsène Wenger had been their first choice.
Going through a difficult time at Arsenal, Wenger would perhaps be open to the prospect of joining PSG in the near future. He has ties to Qatar as well, thanks to his work as a pundit for television channel Al-Jazeera. But Wenger is just one of the names on the managerial wishlist. L'Equipe claim that contact has been made with Pep Guardiola, and that the former Barcelona coach could be persuaded to move to France next summer, though not before. Reports in Le Parisien also now state that Jose Mourinho has been approached, backing-up claims that have come from the Madrid media in recent months.
If one of these names is persuaded to come on board, it is not likely to be until next season. But that doesn't mean that Ancelotti is certain to see out the campaign, with the Belgian Eric Gerets, formerly in charge at Marseille and currently coaching in Qatar, being touted as a potential stop-gap. Either way, time appears to be running out for the present incumbent of the Paris bench.
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by Andrew Scott
- Sports & Recreation
- Carlo Ancelotti