x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Olympique effort to match Paris Saint-Germain

Qatari investment has seen capital side attract quality players to Ligue 1, in Serie A Alessandro Del Piero is set to make his 700th appearance and in the Primera Liga it is derby day in Madrid.

Javier Pastore, the Argentinian forward, chose to join PSG from Palermo in a €45 million deal, a move that surprised many.
Javier Pastore, the Argentinian forward, chose to join PSG from Palermo in a €45 million deal, a move that surprised many.

It is eight months since the last Olympique Marseille versus Paris Saint-Germain collision in Ligue 1. Viewed from Provence and from the French capital, that seems an eternity ago, because so much has changed in the balance of power in French football.

Back in March, OM were defending the domestic title and were favourites for a second successive one. Meanwhile, within PSG, only a few of the executives knew quite how advanced were talks for a takeover of their club by a Qatari sovereign fund.

The spiciest clash in French football generated plenty of noise and local hype, but once Marseille had won 2-1 at the Stade Velodrome, the winners' attentions quickly turned elsewhere. Their bid to win Ligue 1 would be thwarted not by their traditional rivals, but by Lille.

If the meeting of the biggest clubs from France's two largest cities has attracted over the past 40 years a fame and ferocity that makes it the game television schedulers look for first when the fixture list is published, in the past 15 years, it has scarcely been the most relevant match for the destination of the league crown.

OM's 2010 title was their first since 1992; PSG have not won the league since 1994.

Barring an improbable surge and a distinct shift in morale, Marseille will not be winning it this season.

If PSG do not, their new owners will ask: "Why not?" The transfer spending by PSG in the first summer window since the Qatari takeover totalled just under €90 million (Dh445.5m), a record outlay by any French club.

Top of Ligue 1, where PSG sit this morning, seems obligatory, and the main requirement of Antoine Kombouare, the head coach, sometimes appears simply to focus his team on the immediate, match-by-match challenges, rather than let them be distracted by the glittering longer-term future promised by the new wealth and ambition in the boardroom.

The player creating most buzz ahead of tomorrow night's showdown is not Javier Pastore, the €45m Argentine signed from Palermo in Italy and delighting supporters with the sophistication of his touch, but David Beckham, a declared priority target for PSG in January.

That says a lot not just about the enduring resonance of Beckham's name - and his admirable capacity to maintain fitness and his special technical fortes in his late 30s - but of how Ligue 1 thinks of itself.

It has become so accustomed to the finest French footballers departing to Spain, England, Italy or Germany to pursue their careers, and the assumption that talented Africans and South Americans, who make Ligue 1 their first port of call in Europe, will do the same, that the idea of young prospects such as Pastore choosing Paris still provokes a baffled, "pinch me, am I dreaming?" reaction.

PSG are patently impatient to have Beckham appear at a news conference, in their colours, and announce he believes their club can one day establish a presence in the Champions League like those of his previous employers, Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan.

The offer being prepared for the former England captain, whose contract with LA Galaxy of the MLS terminates next month, is worth over €10m for an 18 months in which Beckham, who turns 38 in May 2013, would be unlikely to start more than half the games.

In Marseille, they watch these Parisian pageants with envy for the resources available to their rivals and anxiety that a Pastore-inspired juggernaut might run them over at the Velodrome. OM, defeated in midweek by Olympiakos in the Champions League, are struggling, the latest symptom a heated row between Didier Deschamps, the coach, and Andre-Pierre Gignac, the striker. Gignac will probably now leave in January, while Deschamps is on thin ice, too.

Italy - Serie A

Alessandro Del Piero, Italy’s most illustrious substitute, could make his 700th professional club appearance tonight when joint leaders Lazio and Juventus clash at the Olympic Stadium. Both teams have 22 points although Juventus, who defend Serie A’s

only unbeaten record, have played 10 games to Lazio’s 11.
Del Piero has played only a bit part for Juventus this season, the 36 year old often making late cameo appearances as Antonio Conte, the coach, rebuilds the side following two successive seventh-place finishes. The former Italy forward, who played 103 times for his country, made his first 14 club appearances with Padova in 1992 but the rest have been with Juve

Germany - Bundesliga

Borussia Dortmund, the defending champions, go into today’s home derby against Schalke with a string of injuries that could hamper their bid to catch Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga leaders.

Dortmund, who cut the gap to two points with a 1-0 victory at Bayern last weekend, will be without Sven Bender after the holding midfielder broke his jaw in the 2-1 defeat by Arsenal in the Champions League on Wednesday.

Mario Goetze, their playmaker, could also miss the meeting after picking up a knock against Arsenal.

“Dortmund will be without Bender until January,” the club said after the 22 year old underwent a three-hour operation in London. “Goetze’s derby participation is also in doubt [but] the medical staff are hoping he can be fit for Saturday.”

The champions are already without Neven Subotic as the central defender is recovering from a broken cheekbone.

Spain - Primera Liga

Atletico Madrid are ready to throw off the gloves and get ugly if that is what it takes to grind out a result against city rivals Real for the first time in more than a decade, according to Gregorio Manzano, their coach.

Claudio Ranieri was the last man in charge at the Spanish capital’s second club to savour victory over Real, back in 1999.
Although their chances of an upset at the Bernabeu tonight appear remote, with Real on a run of 12 successive wins in all competitions, Manzano was in combative mood in an interview with in As sports.

“Playing attractive, open and joyous football does not help you in the slightest if in the end you don’t achieve your objective, which is to win,” Manzano said.

“We have to play a closed, ugly, harsh game, not devoid of quality but not being little sisters of pity, either.”

Holland - Eredivisie

Frank de Boer, the Ajax coach, has rallied behind a beleaguered Johan Cruyff ahead of this weekend’s trip to NEC Nijmegen. Cruyff has this week come under fire for allegedly directing a racist remark towards Edgar Davids, his fellow supervisory board member.

The former Holland playmaker, who has denied any wrongdoing, is also at the centre of a split in the supervisory board over the appointment of Louis van Gaal as the general director. On top of that, members of the Ajax board – a separate committee to the supervisory board – confirmed last weekend they had relinquished their posts immediately.

De Boer is hoping Cruyff, 64, retains a role at Ajax. He said: “I use the Ajax philosophy of powerful playmaking, quick pressure, dominant football. That’s the philosophy of Johan Cruyff. Johan and I ... are on the same wavelength on many things. Club icons – at any club – need to be preserved.”

Scotland - SPL

Hibernian have appointed Pat Fenlon as their manager on a two-and-a-half year deal.

The Edinburgh club confirmed the 42 year old has signed a contract to move from the Irish side, Bohemians.

Fenlon succeeds Colin Calderwood, who was dismissed on November 6 following 12 wins in 49 matches in his 12 months in charge.

Dublin-based Bohemians announced on Wednesday that Hibs had been given permission to speak to Fenlon and the Irishman has now been placed in charge ahead of today’s Scottish Premier League clash at St Johnstone, becoming the capital club’s fifth manager in four years.

Fenlon has spent his entire career in Ireland, and in nine seasons as a manager he has won five League of Ireland championships and three cups with two different clubs, Shelbourne and Bohemians.
He said on Hibs’ official website: “I’m really excited by the prospect of managing Hibernian, a club with a rich history and proud traditions.”

Hibs are ninth in the SPL, two points off the foot of the table, but have one home league win since February – the September defeat of St Johnstone.