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May 30, 2013

Leonardo banned 9 months for ref push

PARIS -- Paris Saint-Germain's sporting director Leonardo was suspended for nine months by the French league on Thursday for barging a referee just outside the tunnel following a home match - a punishment the club will appeal.

Leonardo was already provisionally suspended by the LFP for appearing to deliberately shoulder-barge Alexandre Castro after the French champions' 1-1 home draw against Valenciennes on May 5.

The LFP league's disciplinary committee met again on Thursday before the committee's president Pascal Garibian delivered the verdict.

"The committee's task was to decide whether the shoulder barge was intentional. The committee retained this notion," Garibian said. "The committee judges acts, players, and people independently of a club's notoriety."

In a separate statement, the LFP said that Leonardo's ban covers "the bench, the referee's dressing room and all official functions" adding that the club itself has also been given a suspended three-point penalty for next season.

"Paris Saint-Germain considers this decision to be unjustified and extremely harsh," PSG said in a statement. "As a result, and in solidarity with (Leonardo), Paris Saint-Germain will appeal this decision."

Any appeal must go before the French Football Federation's court of appeal.

In his defense, Leonardo claims that another match official behind him accidentally pushed him into Castro, although television footage appeared to show Leonardo barging into Castro of his own free will. He also was seen to try and follow Castro before being blocked by security officials and then led away by PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

"I'm happy to have been heard," Leonardo said after the hearing but before the verdict was delivered. "We had things to say to each other. That's why I'm happy that I could explain myself, to give my version of what happened. I think it's important."

Leonardo has been heavily critical of French referees this season, launching one angry rant live on television after a 1-1 draw away to Montpellier in November, when PSG center back Mamadou Sakho had been given a red card in the 10th minute.

In the Valenciennes game, Castro sent off PSG center half Thiago Silva late in the first half for putting his hands on the chest of the referee as he contested a decision.

The decision could directly impact Leonardo's future and that of the club, with great uncertainty surrounding coach Carlo Ancelotti.

Ancelotti wants to leave and has said Real Madrid is a possible destination. If the Italian did leave, Leonardo could have been a possible stopgap replacement for a season in a caretaker position until a long-term successor is found. But the nine-month suspension means he will not be available until February 2014.

Leonardo played for PSG for one season in the 1996-97 and won the World Cup with Brazil in 1994. After his playing career, Leonardo had spells as coach of AC Milan and Inter Milan, where he was also sporting director, before returning to PSG to take up his current post in July 2011.

Ancelotti recently met with Al-Khelaifi and Leonardo to discuss his future.

Al-Khelaifi wants Ancelotti to stay and see out the last year of his contract. An agreement has yet to be reached, but with Leonardo banned, Al Khelaifi may now block any potential move or demand compensation from Ancelotti or his next employer.

Real Madrid reportedly does not want to pay compensation to cover the last year of Ancelotti's contract - and has been linked with a possible move for outgoing Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes -- who guided Bayern to the Champions League and Bundesliga titles this season.

A little more than two weeks ago, Al-Khelaifi rebuffed Real Madrid's technical director Jose Angel Sanchez when he inquired about Ancelotti and said he was optimistic the Italian will still be in charge next season.

Ancelotti has just guided PSG to its first league title since 1994, with PSG finishing 10 points ahead of second-place Marseille.

But the team fell short in the domestic Cup competitions, going out on penalties to Saint-Etienne in the League Cup quarterfinals and in another shootout loss to Evian in the French Cup quarters.

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