The wisdom of a Leonardo return
According to reports Wednesday, Paris Saint-Germain’s former sporting director Leonardo has hinted at a sensational return to his former role this summer. After one season out of action because of a suspension for pushing a referee at the end of last campaign -- increased from an initial nine months to 14 after an unsuccessful appeal -- the Brazilian transfer guru has refused to rule out a comeback with the French champions.
Nothing would be able to happen until at least the end of May, as the 44-year-old is still currently suspended, but once the ban is lifted a return to the Parc des Princes is a possibility with his former role still vacant.
However, since Leonardo left Paris, the team has developed impressively and is a different beast to the one that the former Milan and Inter coach bemoaned as “not made for Ligue 1.”
Under Laurent Blanc’s guidance this season, PSG have set an all-time record Ligue 1 points total of 86 and also bettered their own previous record for victories in a single Championnat campaign. This has all been achieved with the team almost entirely constructed by Leonardo and one that the Brazilian’s close friend Carlo Ancelotti was unable to get the best out of before leaving for Real Madrid.
Since Leonardo left, the team has started to fulfill its immense potential. So why would PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi and owners Qatar Sports Investments be so keen to reunite with the South American all of a sudden?
The likely answer to that is that Les Parisiens need an expert in the transfer market to help them navigate the tricky waters of UEFA’s impending financial fair play sanctions this summer. Although the side from the French capital are still waiting to discover the official extent of their fate, the punishments that they are likely to face include fines, UEFA Champions League squad limitations and -- more importantly to PSG -- a limit on the number of players that they can bring in this summer.
Leonardo is the best qualified candidate for this role -- although the likes of former AC Milan and Italy star Paolo Maldini and Brazilian legend Ronaldo have been touted as possible replacements -- and, crucially, he is currently unattached and appears ready to return to work. Although he has made no secret of his desire to coach once again in the future, he also seems willing to return to his former role.
This solution will particularly appeal to PSG if they are planning to move for a big-name target this summer.
Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Juventus’ Paul Pogba, Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann and FC Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala have all been mooted as possible targets, but -- assuming that reported FFP sanctions go ahead -- PSG will be limited to one summer purchase at a maximum price of 60 million euros. It is imperative that they act wisely in this transfer window if they are to continue their rapid ascent to the summit of European football. Director general Jean-Claude Blanc and Leonardo’s former assistant sporting director Olivier Letang might not be considered influential enough to secure the double Ligue 1 champions’ primary transfer target this summer.
Would Leonardo be welcomed back at PSG, though?
If he was able to succeed in luring a Pogba or Hazard to Paris this summer, then the capital club’s hierarchy will almost certainly greet him with open arms upon his return -- the Brazilian supposedly remains in regular contact with Al-Khelaifi -- and there is the possibility that the South American has been influencing goings-on from afar since his departure. That might not be the case with the rest of the club, though, as it appeared he had outstayed his welcome nearly a year ago.
Firstly, Leonardo selected and bought almost all of the current PSG squad and he is not likely to be objective when making the tough choices between who stays and who goes. That is particularly true with the likes of Javier Pastore -- a player whom the Brazilian staked his reputation on, but has failed to live up to expectations -- but also possibly with the players who were brought in after he left the club. Secondly, there were suggestions that Leonardo did not agree with the appointment of Laurent Blanc as coach last summer. With greater influence and respect at PSG after an impressive debut season, will Blanc be comfortable with someone coming in above him? Leonardo previously enjoyed almost limitless power as sporting director and even succeeded in testing the patience of previously close friend Ancelotti when they worked together. Could Blanc tolerate such behaviour and be able to work with someone who was reportedly in opposition to his appointment?
Finally, there is the question of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is now the undisputed king of Paris. Memories of last season’s title win -- the capital club’s first in 19 years -- were tainted somewhat by the ugly scenes between Ibrahimovic and Leonardo after the success was sealed with a 1-0 win at Olympique Lyonnais. How will Ibrahimovic react to the news of a potential return?
In truth, Leonardo’s work at PSG appears to already have been done. A potential return is a risky one for fear of disrupting the balance the club are enjoying at present. As former PSG and France international star Youri Djorkaeff suggested earlier this week, Leonardo’s mission has already been accomplished because the French champions now possess one of the best-equipped squads in European football, and one that is capable of succeeding in the ultra-competitive Champions League.
“Today, PSG as they are can win the Champions League,” the 46-year-old told French publication Metronews. “Personally, I would not recruit anyone else, except for maybe a Messi or a Cristiano Ronaldo. Otherwise, I do not see many players better than those who are already in Paris.”
Djorkaeff has a point and if PSG are to bring back Leonardo, it is surely only to secure one of their top transfer targets through his negotiating skills and excellent contacts. However, the capital club’s hierarchy should consider the impact that his return will have -- particularly on Blanc -- and the extra problems they could pile on top of FFP with this move.
Homecomings in football are rarely as successful as first spells and considering that Leonardo’s previous stay ended in acrimonious circumstances, QSI could put PSG’s future progress in jeopardy for the sake of being able to add another star to the French giants’ current galaxy of talent.