I stride across the pitch, gazing awestruck around my incredible new home. Well, one of my new homes. Wembley will be fucking surreal once International duty starts up, but I don’t have time to think about that now. For now, my focus is this: The Parc des Princes, in all of it’s glory. Empty now of course, but soon… Very soon in fact, nearly 50,000 fans will fill this exquisite stadium, roaring my team on as we taste success after success. The turf is like carpet, the dugouts are pristine and the football… Oh, the football. The football will be remarkable. I start to actually salivate as my mind wanders to what my future holds in this big, beautiful oval.
“Are you drooling?” Comes a voice from behind me.
“A little bit, yeah.” I confess. “Can you blame me?”
“Not really. Amazing, isn’t it?”
“It is that.” I breathe. “Everything signed and sorted?”
“Yep.” Replies Bechkoura brightly. “I’m on board.”
“Excellent.” I turn to my assistant and smile. “Me and you, Bechkoura, we’re going to get these back on top of this bloody league. We’re going to knock Monaco off their perch and it is going to be magnificent.” He chuckles.
“It won’t be easy.” He replies. “3 years in a row Monaco have won Ligue 1 and that was when PSG had Guardiola. And I’m pretty sure the fact that he was Guardiola is the fact that he was kept on despite going 3 years without winning the league.”
“Yeah, well now they’ve got us.” I reply, an intoxicating insanity coursing through my veins as I continue to smile intently back at him. “We’ll take what the great King Pep hasn’t managed in the last 3 years and we’ll fucking smash it.”
“Sounds good.” He smiles. “What’s the first step?”
“Well,” I begin thoughtfully, “Let’s weigh up our position. It is the 8th of August. We don’t get a pre-season, we’re coming in too late for that. We have…” I check my watch. “2 days, 9 hours and 15 minutes until we play Monaco in the Trophée des Champions. Our best right back is suspended, our best left back is injured, the squad’s lacking fitness, we have a metric arse-load of attacking midfielders and Pep took the liberty of flogging the only defensively-minded ones, Amadou Diawara and Jorrit Hendrix, to Barcelona and Ajax before he fucked off to take the Spain job.” Bechkoura’s face drops markedly. “What do you think the first step should be?”
“Me neither.” I beam at his horrified face, before clapping my hands and rubbing them together with anticipation. “This is going to be fun.”
My god, there’s some work to be done here. First things first though, why PSG? Why stay in France and not move on to another league? Well to be honest… I tried to move to pastures new. Desperately. The thing is, only 7 months ago I turned down the opportunity to take over at Zenit St Petersburg because I thought that this Summer my stock would have risen enough to secure me a top club job. I banked on getting Auxerre into Europe and having a good Euros with France, but as I’ve had mixed results there, my profile hasn’t quite risen enough to get me into that very top tier. PSG are a massive club, obviously. They’re enormous. But they’ve very much been the second best side in France over the last few years with Monaco well and truly making the top spot their own. I did apply for the Monaco job and was turned down. I also went after Atlético Madrid and I was pretty confident at one point of being appointed as AC Milan manager. I’m not yet considered quite good or proven enough for those jobs, but with PSG’s stock on the decline, they’ve taken a chance on me. If I can get this titan of European football back to the top of Ligue 1 and maybe even a bag their first Champions League win, then the World’s my bloody oyster.
For now though, what else can we do but focus on the Monaco match? Transfers can wait, squad balance can wait, staff overhauls can wait and dreams of Champions League glory can absolutely wait. We need a plan. 2 days is nowhere near enough time to define our system and get up to speed with it, but we need to do something to get us off on the right foot. Monaco have a new manager too, so all bets are off here. We’re both starting from scratch. It’s just me with my new Paris Saint-Germain side against Luis Enrique and Monaco. Arsene Wenger’s retirement from management has started a bit of a chain reaction, with Diego Simeone leaving Bayern to take the City job, Massimilliano Allegri taking his place and vacating Monaco and Enrique coming in from Milan to fill the vacant position. Enrique’s got a 10 day head start on me though, so we need to play catchup.
The way I see it, we just need to get through this match so that we can start working on our style in training. Today is the only training session we have with the squad before Monaco so as I say, let’s just get through it. 4-2-3-1 is what I’m used to. 4-2-3-1 is what my players are used to. In lieu of a solid plan, we will play a very standard 4-2-3-1 and I’ll have the chance to assess the players as we go. This is my preliminary XI for Saturday:
Goalkeeper & Vice-Captain – No 13 – Gianluigi Donnarumma
Just so that we’re all on the same page here, as unbalanced as Pep’s left this squad and as long as it’s been since we’ve won the Ligue 1 title, PSG have got some world class quality. What better name could there be to go down first on the team sheet than 25 year old Italy international Gianluigi Donnarumma? Well, probably Monaco’s Sergio Rico, who keeps beating Gianluigi to Ligue 1’s Star Goalkeeper award, but let’s not think about that. He was Star Goalkeeper in 2019 and 2020, he was in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season in 2019, 2020 and 2021. He is an absolute giant of a goalkeeper and has unrivalled aerial ability, as well as lightning fast reflexes, good hands and good speed when rushing out to meet an attacker. He oozes class and it’s about time he stopped picking up silver medals.
Right Full Back – No 15 – Renan Henrique de Jesus
As I mentioned before, the player that I consider our “best” right back from my impressions so far is suspended so his introduction will have to wait. Brazil U20 International Renan was signed last Summer from Clube Atlético Mineiro for £19.5M and performed well in the 12 Ligue 1 appearances he made, setting up 5 goals. Although he’s inexperienced, I like Renan. He’s an excellent athlete; Quick, strong and difficult to push off the ball, a natural born leader and incredibly switched on mentally for a 21 year old. The technical side of his game needs some work and we’ll keep on top of that, but he could grow into a world class defender.
Right Sided Centre Back – No 5 – Ricardo Ibarra
I’ve obviously met Ibarra a few times before in Ligue 1, but I remember when I first saw him. I’d just steered Auxerre clear of relegation from Ligue 2, was preparing for my first full season in charge and I’d arranged that our final preseason friendly would be against Ricardo’s then club Tottenham Hotspur. My God, he terrified me. I sent an 18 year old Nathan Andre to play up front alone against the Mexican International and he was never ever going to come out on top of that battle. Now 24 and starting his second season in Paris following his £59M transfer, Ibarra is 6’3″, as solid as a brick wall and as fast as a train. His mind is just as quick, his positioning is exemplary and defensively at least, his technical expertise are mouth-watering. He’s not a “modern” centre back that can carry the ball, but as an old fashioned centre back whose job is to kick the shit out of anyone that can carry the ball, he’s one of the best in the World. Ordinarily I’ll want him to play on the left side as is his preference, but more on this in a second.
Left Sided Centre Back – No 4 – Boris Triponez
I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot here, but let me explain my problem with Boris: Boris is a fine defender and in many ways is like a budget Ricardo Ibarra. He’s a Swiss International, 6’0″, strong, fast and unshakeable, quick witted, hard working and very good both positionally and technically for a centre back. My problem is that we have just signed him. Right before I arrived. For £41M from Benfica. Where he wasn’t consistently in the first team. Look, I know money is pretty much irrelevant at the top level of football nowadays and at Auxerre I would’ve given both of my arms to bring Boris in, but this is where my assessment of “A budget Ricardo Ibarra” comes back to bite him on the arse a bit. We’re Paris Saint-Germain. The bar has risen to nearly as high as it will go. The standard we’re looking for here is world class. Could we not have done better for £41M? Or better yet, could we not at least have bloody waited until I was in charge so that I could have a look at him? I might have been able to find someone even better for a better price. But now I’ve got Boris on a 5 year deal and I’m not sure how I feel about him as a defender. He will get a chance to impress me, as evidenced by the fact that he’ll start in the Trophée des Champions, but he will need to impress me. He’s playing on the left side of the centre as he’s more one-footed than Ibarra.
Left Full Back – No 21 – Dobrin Lazarov
As with Renan at right back, Dobby isn’t my first choice for the left back position. Our more senior left back is injured and has missed half of preseason, but he’ll be back soon so you’ll meet him then. Also as with Renan at right back, my first impression of Dobby is: He’s good. Pretty good. Signed from Ludogorets in January, he’s 21 years old, so plenty of time to develop, strong and quick as all the rest, a Bulgarian International already and a good decision maker and potential future leader. Again, his technical side needs strengthening, but that’ll come with time and training. He’s a good prospect and I’m happy with him.
Ball Winning Midfielder & Captain – No 3 – Marquinhos
Yeah… This is where I put some of that classic Franjo “stank” on the ball, isn’t it. Listen, I know. I’m playing a centre back that I’m unsure about at centre back and I have one of the best centre backs of his generation playing in midfield, where he is most likely going to be thoroughly, thoroughly uncomfortable. I know. The thing is, I want to have a midfielder capable of winning the ball in my team and I’m not comfortable with slapping millions of pounds on the table for one on my first day in the job. That’s just not how I’ve ever approached joining a new club. For my money, Marquinhos, a Brazil international, a strong, energetic, hard working and defensively outstanding footballer who is comfortable on the ball has all the tools he needs to play in a supporting ball winning role in midfield. I want to at least try him there before I splash the cash on a ready made replacement for Diawara, who I’m growing increasingly annoyed that I never got the chance to work with. If it goes tits up, he’ll be dropping back alongside Ibarra in future.
Deep Lying Playmaker – No 17 – Rúben Neves
A European champion is in our midst and it’s Portugal’s Rúben “Rolls Royce” Neves. He’ll play alongside Marquinhos in midfield for this game and will be pivotal to the team against Monaco and throughout my tenure, as he is calm and comfortable on the ball, a good set piece taker and he has one of the finest ranges of passing in the league. He’ll be collecting the ball from our defenders and starting our attacks for this match, tying the whole team together. I’m also partial to having a hard working leader about the place and Rúben is exactly that. He was another player to come in last Summer as a part of Pep’s shopping spree and we actually did really good business to get him, paying Liverpool £46M for his services after they’d paid £42M just 2 seasons before. He was excellent for the reds, he was excellent for Pep and he’s going to be excellent for me. I can feel it.
Right Winger – No 6 – Kingsley Coman
Well this is awkward, isn’t it. We already know all about Kingsley. I’d say he was a good player for me during my stint as France manager. Not one of the best, but good. He hit the post far more than I would’ve liked and maybe that, combined with the fact that I feel his head was turned by this very club before our Semi-Final of Euro 24, has coloured my opinion of him. Nevertheless, this Season is a fresh start for everyone. Kingsley’s a new £48.5M recruit, re-signing with his boyhood club from Mourinho’s United and I’m a new… Recruit from Auxerre. Let’s shake hands and put your failure behind us, mate. I would have actually quite liked the opportunity to link Coman with Anthony Martial, as they’ve played together for France and Manchester United. Anthony is on our books, has had a few awful years of injury and poor form and I’d like to give him the chance for a new start, but unfortunately he was loaned to Juventus yesterday. I can’t even blame Pep for that one as he was already gone.
Advanced Playmaker – No 7 – Silvio Cvitanovic
Germany captain Silvio’s name probably rings a bell from the Euros, where he performed pretty well. I may have already mentioned this but just to emphasise the point, we have a few options in attacking midfield. A £76M January signing from Köln, Silvio gets the nod for this one simply because I think he’s the future of PSG. Physically and mentally quick, skilful, hard working, he has a belting long shot and free kick in his locker, is a fantastic passer and dribbler and has excellent technique. What more is there to say? He’s the future of PSG.
Also, a long throw in taker is always an interesting option.
Left Winger – No 11 – Orlando
I’m a big fan of Orlando. He was signed 3 years ago when PSG paid Santos (The Brazilian one, not my one) £18.5M for his services but he’s played just 39 times for us in those 3 years. I may end up using him as an off-the-bench option like I did initially with Zoun at Auxerre because I love unleashing a lightning fast winger against tired defenders, but he gets the nod today because I want him to show me that he deserves a starting berth. He’s absolutely rapid across the ground, a good decision maker, determined as all hell and he’s dangerous in the final third. We’re going to get on splendidly, me and Orlando.
Complete Forward – No 9 – Álvaro Morata
Finally, Álvaro Morata is very much the obvious choice up front. The former Real Madrid man who cost PSG £99M 4 and a half years ago had a disappointing Euros with Spain this Summer and I’m sure he’ll have some choice words for me at some point about that, but he’s solid. Good finisher, good in the air, good with the ball at his feet, good from distance, good mentally and good physically. He’s good. He’s very good. He is 31 and that sticks out to me despite his excellent attributes, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for someone to be his understudy, whether it’s from our squad or elsewhere. For now though, Álvaro’s in.
So for now, that’s all I’m going to do. That’s all I really have time to do, aside from get a couple of staff members in. You already know one of them actually. Remember Jérôme Mombris, the veteran left back I had at Auxerre? He’s come and joined back up with me from Valenciennes as a defensive coach. He looks really good.
Oh and of course several high profile names have had their say about my appointment as Paris Saint-Germain boss, my favourite of which is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The man who got the bloody Lyon job off the back of a very average 358 days in Ligue 2 managing a very average Valenciennes side says that he “did a double take” when he heard I was appointed.
Naturally I responded.
Naturally Zlatan had no response.
Well, there’ll be time later to settle that particular debate. As it happens, our first Ligue 1 match is away at Zlatan’s Lyon, so we’ll see then whether or not my appointment is “A bit of a strange one”, won’t we. First we’ve got the small matter of the Trophée des Champions to attend to.