PARIS // Some of the habits Claude Makelele picked up during five years playing in England died harder than others. Following his free transfer from Chelsea to Paris Saint-Germain last summer, the former France midfielder, 35, started in each of his new club's first four games of the season - and picked up a yellow card in every one.
The tough-tackling nature of the Premier League was proving difficult to leave behind. Since then, however, the bookings rate has dropped - and Makelele has become an integral member of Paul Le Guen's new-look side. The veteran, making his first competitive return to England against Manchester City tonight, after saying au revoir to the world's richest league, is not guaranteed a first-team place because the PSG coach Le Guen rotates his squad in Europe - but if he plays the diminutive midfielder will be one of his side's best hopes of getting something out of the game. Makelele spoke like the club captain he is after PSG's 2-2 Uefa Cup draw at home to Spanish side Racing Santander last Thursday, and criticised his team for letting a two-goal lead slip.
"When you have an advantage like we did, you have to kill the game. We didn't and now we're struggling," he said. That stalemate left PSG bottom of Group A with one point from two games - which means they need something at City, who have six points so far. Makelele believes the capital club are still in the running. "We're not out of it. We have to maintain hope as long as there's a chance of qualifying for the last 32," he said.
"We'll go to Manchester City to get a result and then build on that against Twente [Dec 18]." Le Guen uses Makelele in what has come to be known as the "Makelele role" - having a position, that of defensive midfielder, named after him is probably the greatest tribute the player has received during a glittering career. Capped 71 times for France, he operates with that familiar calm efficiency in front of the defence, mopping up trouble in the minimalist style that has won him admirers all over the world during the past decade.
Yet there have been signs of him venturing further forward - against Le Havre a couple of weeks ago it was Makelele's 91st-minute ball that earned PSG a penalty to wrap up a 3-1 victory. That he provided an injury-time assist tells you everything about his fitness, desire and energy - and proves that the City midfielders face a tough evening if they come up against their legendary opponent tonight.