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Dec 7, 2006

Down and out in Paris

A starter for ten, who said this? 'It's very, very hard. The supporters didn't deserve that. The truth is that the players simply aren't good enough to play for Paris.'

Give yourself ten points and a pat on the back if you picked Paris Saint Germain captain Pauleta.

The habitually monastically silent ex-Portugal striker got personal, laying into his team-mates on national TV in the wake of their 4-2 UEFA Cup defeat at home to Hapoel Tel Aviv two weeks ago, the nadir of a season which had already sank lower than Barry White's sensual warblings.

It was ironic that after their team had had the good taste to provide their Jewish visitors with an early Hanukkah present, that a notoriously right-wing section of their fans should see one of their number killed by a policeman's bullet after he and some hundred others yelled racist and anti-Semitic abuse as they attempted to exact revenge on the head of a Tel Aviv supporter.

PSG is a club wracked by sickness.

But while the ills on the terraces may be cured by the Draconian crackdown ordered by French Interior Minister and presidential-wannabe Nicolas Sarkozy, the malaise on the pitch seems destined to be soothed by a metaphorical shedding of blood with coach Guy Lacombe being lined up as the sacrificial lamb.

The French capital's only club - an incredible statistic if you compare that to London - is currently floating in the mid-table limbo of 14th, some eleven places lower than when Lacombe came to the club after Laurent Fournier, a loyal servant as player and coach, had been shown a big door at the Parc des Princes marked 'Sortie' last season.

Paul Le Guen, part of the PSG side that won the 1996 Cup Winners' Cup, was touted to make a prodigal return to the club, only for Lacombe to finally get the job.

It appeared a strange decision, but with Lacombe having achieved relative success at modest Sochaux with two League Cup finals - one victorious - and boasting the phrase, 'I'm the man who gave Zidane, Vieira and Drogba their Ligue 1 debuts' on his CV, while he might not have been a sure-fire safe bet, it appeared worthwhile giving him a punt in his first job at a 'big' club.

PSG president Alain Cayzac, though, like a disgruntled lottery loser, is on the verge of scrumpling up his ticket given the number which Lacombe's team come up with the most at weekends is zero.

In 34 league games under Lacombe's guidance, PSG have won only eight, losing 12 - with this season's record of four wins and six reverses in fifteen games spurring Cayzac to issue the coach with a two-game ultimatum.

The first of those was against Hapoel Tel Aviv, but just as the knives were being sharpened, Cayzac - who has repeatedly and publicly backed his first-team coach - saw enough fight in a 1-1 draw at Nantes three days later to once again grant a stay of execution.

That was extended to three matches with last Thursday's goalless draw at Mlada Boleslav, and the decision to postpone last weekend's game against Toulouse means he may even last to see his side torn apart at Lyon on Sunday, but Lacombe is a lame duck.

The fact Cayzac, who only moved into the top job last summer after a lifetime in the backrooms of the Parc des Princes, regarded the point earned at second-off-bottom Nantes as a step forward shows just how low expectations have slipped since the start of the season.

There is little doubt that, in August, the PSG squad looked the one most likely if not to end Lyon's domination at least give the five-time champions a run for their money.

But the stars in the squad have singularly failed to shine, more often than not falling foul of the disciplinarian Lacombe, whose methods would make a Dickensian orphanage master blush with pride.

Mario Yepes, once touted as the answer to Manchester United's central defensive problems, has been given time to hone not only his French but also his French polishing skills on the bench; 2004 Champions League finalist Jerome Rothen's cultured left foot has split its third season in Paris between reading Voltaire on the treatment table and quoting Moliere to opponents of PSG's second-string.

Since being shipped in from Nantes last summer, France number two Mickael Landreau has been below-par so many times this season it is a surprise he is not challenging Tiger Woods.Ivory Coast's Bonaventure Kalou has proved consistently inconsistent.

Meanwhile French World Cup squad makeweight Vikash Dhorasoo, who scored the matchwinner as PSG got their mitts on the French Cup last season, made history in October by becoming the first player to get himself sacked by a French club after calling Lacombe 'a liar' in the press.

The exception to the rule is Pauleta, who with six of his team's 16 strikes this season, has consistently proved he can still poach goals with the ease your average grandmother does eggs.

Yet the former Portugal striker's contribution is not likely to be enough to keep Lacombe in a job.

Admittedly, Paris St Germain have been undone by that most unpredictable of the fates - referees.

Lacombe has been rattling on - with some justification - about this since Yepes fell victim to French whistle-blowers' new-found zeal for clamping down on shirt pulling in the fourth game of the season - the Colombian giving away two penalties against Sochaux for having a little tug of replica kit.

The PSG coach recently came out with, 'Come on, I'm not paranoid' before going on to meticulously list the nine occasions where his side have arguably been cost points with the haunted look of a man who has endured a few sleepless nights poring fanatically over videotape.

He has even gone as far as to produce a DVD of the relevant moments and presented it to Cayzac, but for all the truth in his arguments the greater truth is that Lacombe's Paris Saint Germain have simply not won enough football matches, with some performances barely worthy of a top-flight side.

Lacombe revealed last week that Cayzac had assured him rumours that living PSG legend Rai, who captained a side containing Youri Djorkaeff to the Cup Winners' Cup in 1996, would not be taking his job...well, not until after Sunday at least.

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