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Page last updated at 06:37 GMT, Thursday, 8 May 2008 07:37 UK

PSG's fall from grace

PSG manager Paul Le Guen

By Alasdair Sandford

Paris St Germain's second string offered some respite from a season of torment, by securing a place in the French Cup final with a 1-0 victory over second division Amiens on Tuesday.

PSG have already qualified for next season's Uefa Cup after winning the League Cup. Yet, despite the cup success, the club is on the brink of disaster, locked in a battle to stay in Ligue 1.

Relegation would leave Paris as the only major European capital with no football club in the top flight of its national league.

The problems besetting PSG have become the ongoing saga of the domestic game in France.

Once a big European club, in recent years it has lurched from one crisis to another, and its problems on the field have been compounded by the violence and racism of some of its followers.

Once again they made a dubious name for themselves at Amiens as the game was held up for 10 minutes after tear gas drifted into the ground; police had used it outside the stadium to disperse ticket-less PSG supporters who tried to force their way in.

On the pitch the hero was 20-year-old Yannick Boli, nephew of the former Marseille and Rangers French international defender Basile Boli.

His individual goal prevented further embarrassment for PSG - and for the club's other Glasgow connection, the beleaguered coach Paul Le Guen.

PSG celebrate Boli's goal
Boli's goal sent PSG into the final

The former Rangers boss got it right this time. His decision to field a young side and to bring Boli off the bench paid off.

But in the league he has failed to get the best out of his more experienced players: club captain and Portuguese international Pauleta apart, they have regularly underperformed.

The team failed to win any of their first 10 home games, succumbing to repeated and sometimes comic defensive howlers, notably from goalkeeper Mickael Landreau. With just two matches remaining, PSG lie third from bottom and could go down for the first time in their history.

If, as expected, Paul Le Guen leaves at the end of the season he will not be the first coach with a previously good reputation to have failed at PSG.

His problems in Paris - and those during his eight-month spell at Rangers - contrast with the success at Lyon where, under his guidance, the club won three successive league titles and twice reached the Champions League quarter-finals.

Before a recent home game, some PSG fans said they thought Le Guen's style was more suited to Lyon's stable and serene atmosphere than it was to the Paris pressure cooker, where he did "more harm than good".

Others blame the club for lacking a long-term strategy and for a poor recruitment policy, arguing Le Guen's purchases last summer are simply not up to the job.

"They had a link with Claude Makelele from Chelsea, but Le Guen didn't want him", says Jerome Touboul from the sports newspaper L'Equipe. "He preferred to buy players from clubs like Rennes in France; they are not good enough mentally to support the pressure in Paris this season."

But PSG's problems pre-date the arrival of the current coach, the sixth to take the reins this decade.

It's not like in London, where you have seven or eight good clubs, in Paris you have only one

L'Equipe's Jerome Touboul

Since 1998 the club has also been through as many chairmen, following the recent departure of Alain Cayzac.

Star players such as Ronaldinho failed to make an impact and the millions invested by Canal Plus, before the TV company pulled out two years ago, did not halt the decline.

Meanwhile, unwelcome elements among PSG's support have been doing their best to stamp their own identity on the club. In recent years, some among the traditional white following have battled for supremacy - sometimes physically - with increasing numbers of new supporters from Paris' racially diverse suburbs.

During this year's League Cup Final at the Stade de France, PSG followers unveiled a large banner insulting people from the north of France - home to the team's opponents Lens - as "paedophiles" and "inbreeders".

Afterwards the supporters group the Boulogne Boys was outlawed and the club banned from next year's tournament.

A police investigation found at least part of the banner had been put together inside the Parc des Princes. The authorities stand accused of having been too tolerant for too long towards PSG's hooligans, even though they number only a few hundred.

"Football is not considered important enough to mobilise the police, French justice, Paris St Germain, the Football League, the Ministry of Sport," says sports psychologist Patrick Mignon, who in the past has mediated between PSG and its fans.

The decision not to dock league points for the banner episode has angered other clubs and supporters across France. Some have even suggested there is a conspiracy to keep PSG in the top flight.

Relegation would certainly be an embarrassment for the French capital, and for Paris city council, which subsidises the club to the tune of 1.8m a year.

"It's not like in London, where you have seven or eight good clubs, in Paris you have only one," added Touboul. "For the French league it wouldn't be a good thing; the Parc des Princes is considered to be the most beautiful stadium in France, so the symbol of PSG in Ligue 2 would be very strong."

PSG itself is now in a desperate fight to avoid becoming consigned to French football history.

see also
Le Guen returns to coach at PSG
15 Jan 07 |  Europe
Le Guen and Rangers part company
04 Jan 07 |  Rangers

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