The mounting pressure on Paris Saint-Germain coach Unai Emery might prompt a wry smile from Guingamp manager Antoine Kombouare.
Five years ago, Kombouare was sacked as PSG coach halfway through the season despite being three points clear at the top of the French league.
PSG is currently in third place, and Emery desperately needs a good result at Guingamp on Saturday.
He’s faced heavy criticism following consecutive home draws against Nice and Bulgarian side Ludogorets _ with PSG trailing in both games and a resounding 3-0 loss away to Montpellier. Those matches exposed defensive frailties.
Although the 3-1 home win over Lille in the League Cup on Wednesday sent PSG through to the quarterfinals, and took some heat off Emery, another Ligue 1 defeat will crank the pressure right back up.
Last season, PSG coasted to the league title by a record 31 points while Guingamp avoided relegation by just five.
Kombouare took charge in the summer, and Guingamp is thriving in sixth place, and is also through to the last eight of the League Cup.
As a robust defender, Kombouare was a hugely popular PSG player from 1990-95, once soaring to head in a late goal that knocked Real Madrid out of the Champions League.
He became PSG manager in 2009, when it was struggling for form and battling with persistent hooliganism. That was two years before the club was transformed at every level thanks to huge funding from Qatari investor QSI.
Kombouare was still in charge when QSI took over in June 2011, and by that December PSG went into the winter break with a three-point cushion over Montpellier. His reward was getting sacked, abruptly making way for Carlo Ancelotti, the star Italian coach the owners wanted to increase the club’s image abroad.
The move backfired spectacularly, and PSG finished the season in second place, three points behind Montpellier in one of the biggest upsets in French league history.
Kombouare has said very little about it.
PSG replaced another successful coach this summer, firing Laurent Blanc even though he had just secured a second straight domestic treble.
He made way for Emery, whose standing grew after guiding Sevilla to the last three Europa League titles. But PSG has lost three times in the league so far, one more than all of last season.
Given the huge gulf between the two sides, PSG would normally be expected to convincingly beat Guingamp, from a small town in Brittany with, unusually, more fans than inhabitants. The club’s estimated budget of 22 million euros ($24.7 million) is about 20 times smaller than PSG’s.
PSG’s president is Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who is reportedly close to Tamim ben Hamad Al Thani, the emir of Qatar. Under QSI’s leadership, PSG has invested several hundred million euros on transfers, including the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Edinson Cavani, and Angel Di Maria.
Although former Chelsea stars Didier Drogba and Florent Malouda played for Guingamp in the early 2000s it was early on in their careers. Guingamp’s most well-known current player in France at least is veteran forward Jimmy Briand, who made the last of his five appearances for France eight years ago.
Guingamp first rose into Ligue 1 in 1995 the same year Kombouare helped PSG reach the semifinals of the Champions League and the club’s all-time leading scorer is Brittany-born Stephane Guivarc’h. He netted 78, half the amount Ibrahimovic scored for PSG in four seasons.
Club president Bertrand Desplat, meanwhile, took charge of Guingamp at the same time as Qatar Sports Investment bought PSG.
Formerly a director with an American multinational consumer goods company, Desplat moved to the Brittany region in 2002 as a director for a seafood products company. A year later he stepped into football as a member of Guingamp’s administrative council.
Since gaining promotion back to Ligue 1 in 2013, Guingamp has won the French Cup, reached the last 16 of the Europa League, and finished 10th in Ligue 1.
Dizzying success for a town of merely 7,000 inhabitants. Given its tiny size, fans from neighboring towns and villages help fill the stadium.
Whereas PSG is largely unpopular outside of Paris, Guingamp is widely admired by neutrals and locals alike.
En Avant Guingamp (Go Forward Guingamp), as the team is officially known, has a community feel with investment from more than 100 local businesses. Their support provided nearly 10 million euros ($11.2 million dollars) for the redevelopment of the 17,000-seat Stade de Roudourou and a new training center for the youth academy.
So Kombouare doesn’t have a foreign investor looking over his shoulder.