PSG hires Leonardo as new sporting director

AP, Wednesday 13 Jul 2011

Former Inter Milan coach Leonardo was hired Wednesday as sporting director at Paris Saint-Germain in a bid to spur the French club’s ambitions and attract star players


The high-profile move was officially announced after a meeting of the supervisory board and could mean a turnaround in fortunes for PSG.

The French club now benefits from the charisma of Leonardo and from the strong financial backing of Qatar Sports Investments, which recently acquired a 70 percent stake in PSG.

“For us, he is the best to be in this position,” QSI president Nasser Al-Khelaifi said about hiring Leonardo. “He’s the one who is going to develop hopefully the club.”

PSG also dismissed president Robin Leproux to give Leonardo a free hand in the club’s sporting policy. Benoit Rousseau will take over as interim president.

“He did a great job for the club,” Al-Khelaifi said about Leproux. “But now (…) we’re looking for something different.”

PSG will rely on Leonardo’s knowledge of European football and on his connections in Brazil to land talented players and improve the quality of the squad.

The 41-year-old Brazilian does not find himself in uncharted territory. Leonardo speaks French and played for PSG as an attacking midfielder during the 1996-97 season before moving to AC Milan.

“It’s a very powerful memory in me,” Leonardo said about his time in Paris. “I’ve always thought that one day I could come back.”

Leonardo said PSG even contacted him in 2004 and 2006 for a position at the club.

“Fourteen years after departing, to be here today and to walk into the stadium really makes me happy,” Leonardo said. “I’m here because of the personal tie I have with PSG. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible to leave Inter Milan.”

Leonardo led Inter to the Italian Cup title last season and to a runner-up finish in Serie A after taking over for the fired Rafa Benitez.

“It wasn’t easy for me to leave Italy,” Leonardo said. “It was not just about leaving a club, it was also about leaving a city. I had my life in Milan. That’s why it was not easy to go. Even me, I didn’t expect it.”

Al-Khelaifi, the new Qatari boss at PSG, made clear after acquiring the club that the goal for the upcoming season was to get a Champions League berth.

PSG finished in fourth place last season in the French league, missing out on a playoff spot for the lucrative European competition.

The goal is “to play the Champions League and be competitive in France and Europe,” Leonardo said. “But for that, I need some time.”

“It’s a long-term project,” he added. “I must study and gradually build the project.”

The French club is expected to be more active on the transfer market following Leonardo’s appointment.

Before the Qatari takeover, PSG signed goalkeeper Nicolas Douchez from Rennes and striker Kevin Gameiro from Lorient. But it will need additional reinforcement as goalkeeper Gregory Coupet and defensive midfielder Claude Makelele have retired this summer while winger Ludovic Giuly’s contract has not been renewed.

Lille midfielder Eden Hazard has been linked with a move to PSG, but the French champion is reluctant to sell the 20-year-old Belgian to a domestic rival.

Hazard was instrumental in Lille winning both the French Cup and the French league title last season and was voted player of the year by his fellow league professionals.

Al-Khelaifi also said after the takeover that one priority would be to search for the next super stars.

“We want to invest in the top talents of the future,” he said.

PSG will look to unearth the untapped potential in Paris, which is the largest city in France and whose population in the metropolitan area exceeds 10 million people.

“Paris is the only European capital that does not have a competitive team in Europe,” Leonardo said. “The potential in this city is so strong.”

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