Zoumana Camara well deserving of touching PSG farewell
A third consecutive Ligue 1 title was not all that Paris Saint-Germain were celebrating after their 3-2 win over Stade de Reims at Parc des Princes last Saturday. The French champions took the chance to pay tribute to one of their longest-serving current players before he moves into a richly deserved backroom staff role at the end of the season.
Zoumana Camara -- a PSG player since 2007 -- will finally hang up his boots after Saturday's Coupe de France final against AJ Auxerre. However, with the one-time France international unlikely to play a role at Stade de France, les Parisiens opted to give him a classy send-off in their final home league game of the campaign instead.
The 36-year-old from the Parisian commune of Colombes in the north-western suburbs was handed the captain's armband by coach Laurent Blanc for the Reims clash and he remained on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes, barely putting a foot wrong. The most touching gesture would come from actual team captain and central defensive partner Thiago Silva though, with the Brazil international insisting that his teammate lift the Hexagoal trophy in front of the PSG fans on his farewell appearance.
Camara is the eldest of statesmen in the current PSG squad and one of a diminishing few whose commitment to the capital club's cause extends past the last five years. After helping secure the third Ligue 1 and third Coupe de la Ligue titles of his career, "Papus" -- as he is affectionately known -- will aim to go out on a high this weekend with his second Coupe de France triumph, all of which have been won with les Rouge et Bleus.
Camara's everyday role will not actually change that much; the central defender has not been a main protagonist since the debut season under Qatar Sports Investments' (QSI) ownership in 2011-12. However, the veteran of eight seasons plays an extremely underrated role at Parc des Princes, and similar to former assistant manager Claude Makelele, the PSG No. 6 provides an important bridge between the players, coach Blanc and his staff. Les Parisiens are wise to want to carry this on by offering him and immediate position at the club.
Since returning to Paris in 2007 -- Camara actually started his career with Racing Club de France Football Colombes 92 before AS Saint-Etienne spotted him -- Papus has become a fan favourite. A firm fixture in the starting XI for his first five seasons, he has been recognised as vital in maintaining some semblance of balance in an increasingly cosmopolitan dressing room and it has been said that Camara is one of the few characters at the club to have earned the genuine respect of star man Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Perhaps Camara will be best remembered for a moment that came before the arrival of QSI and the Swede in Paris though. Under Antoine Kombouare, PSG were chasing a top-three finish for the first time in seven seasons in the 2010-11 campaign with the arrival of the Qataris fast approaching at the end of that term. The capital club managed to qualify for the UEFA Europa League, finishing fourth and just two points ahead of FC Sochaux-Montbeliard. A solitary Camara goal earned Kombouare's men three points in a 1-0 win over third place Olympique Lyonnais towards the end of the term and that victory turned out to be crucial.
Camara's exemplary attitude, leadership, jovial and big-hearted nature, as well as his continued commitment to the club through good times and bad, endeared him to the PSG faithful. He has tasted the high moments that have come under QSI's leaderships, as well as a handful of great moments before the takeover, but he also came close to tasting heartbreaking relegation in his debut season with the club.
Camara's enjoyment of the French capital outfit's recent success is testament to his staying power when things were not going so well. While others moved on, he stayed -- along with the likes of Sylvain Armand -- all while desiring to help PSG to ultimate victory in Ligue 1. He managed that three times and ends his playing career with a well-decorated trophy cabinet.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.