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Dec 7, 2012

Trading Places? The Ancelotti-Mourinho Gamble

Paris Saint-Germain approach Saturday's match with Evian against a backdrop of managerial uncertainty despite Tuesday's progression to the last-16 of the Champions League as Group A winners. Rumours continue to link coach Carlo Ancelotti with a job swap with Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho despite the Italian insisting that he has no plans to leave the Parc des Princes for now.

After a month of strife in November and recent power struggles with players that are not pulling their weight for the team, the Italian's position has come under intense scrutiny given their disappointing form in Ligue 1. Ancelotti hardly did himself any favours with his comments in the Italian press recently despite denying the rumours:

"I can see myself at Madrid one day, because they're a club with an incredible history," he said on Italian TV channel Sky Sport 24. "I've already been in contact with Madrid, just before I joined Chelsea. But now, I'm only thinking about Paris. To imagine an exchange between myself and Mourinho is a fantasy.

But he added: "If, one day, Mourinho takes over at PSG, it would be a positive thing. To have a coach of that significance would be a sign of progress for a young and ambitious club like ours."

Whilst Mourinho's position in Madrid becomes increasingly untenable given the media hype surrounding his future decision, Ancelotti's has become insecure of his own volition. Comments that PSG are a club 'in crisis' following the team's second home defeat of the season to Rennes prompted speculation that King Carlo was struggling to get to grips with some of the underperforming big stars in the dressing room.

As much was then confirmed a fortnight later with his comments regarding Javier Pastore and the Italian's 'disappointment' at his playmaker's poor form, the Argentine struggling to fit into this season's inconsistent lineups. But if this was designed to challenge his team to rise to the sky high expectations that surround them on the pitch, then what happened on Tuesday is an illustration of the task that faces Ancelotti in shedding the capital club's collective bad attitude.

Brazilian winger Nene was ordered to stop warming up midway through the second half of the Porto match on Tuesday with Ancelotti preferring to bide his time before making a late substitution. Nene took exception to this and vented his frustration by lashing out at the dugout and although he eventually made a late cameo appearance and almost won a penalty, his behaviour is in tune with Ancelotti's opinion that the team are too 'individual' with no team spirit.

The former Monaco man has every right to be frustrated; he has been PSG's star man for the past three seasons since arriving from les Monegasques but at 31 years of age finds himself on the wrong side of the club's youthful project. It is not the first time this has happened either as twice last season at Rennes and then Nancy Nene was left out of the starting XI for sporting reasons, but on Friday Ancelotti announced he had left the Brazilian out because of his bad attitude.

Speaking at the club's press conference before the Evian match he said: "He isn't in the squad because he didn't have the right attitude against Porto. When you're attitude is off, you don't play. If a player doesn't behave well, he can't help the team. To be a professional, you should be helping your teammates."

Strong words from Ancelotti who now appears to be on a mini crusade to rid the team of its more unruly elements, preferring to focus on building a squad capable of functioning as a unit on the pitch despite an uneven balance of star names and burgeoning domestic talent. However, his recent comments and frustrations with the team are the first signs of potential disharmony between the coach and his long-time friend Leonardo who is PSG's Sporting Director and directly responsible for the club's transfer policy that has so far cost over 200 million Euros. Is his tirade against the players a way of motivating them to do better by publicly airing his opinion of them? Or, is it a thinly veiled barb at the Brazilian for a transfer policy with no cohesion that is reflected by the team's lack of direction on the pitch?

One thing is for sure, should Mourinho and Ancelotti trade places then it would mark a massive turnaround in the Ancelotti-Leonardo relationship which was once touted as a cornerstone of PSG's future. Instead the Italian would appear to be a pre-cursor to a more dynamic, younger manager, there to simply put the building blocks for a future dominant team in place instead of being the man Qatar Sports Investment believe can lead the club to sustained success at the highest level.

Perhaps jumping the gun for now, but should PSG slump to defeat again on Saturday, or any other time before Christmas, the Italian will likely find himself out of a job without the luxury of having a role to trade with the Portuguese.