He's the other English title winner at PSG and now will Real Madrid come calling for Paul Clement?
There is an Englishman in Paris sitting by his telephone awaiting news. And it is not David Beckham.
Beckham said his tearful farewells to Paris Saint-Germain at the weekend but for Paul Clement there is no such clarity. Not yet.
Clement is the 41-year-old former Sutton PE teacher who coached his way through the ranks at Chelsea to become Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant at first Stamford Bridge and now in Paris.
The two men have been at the Qatar-owned PSG for 18 months and have just overseen PSG’s first French league title for 19 years – only the third in the club’s history. They also took them to the last eight of this season’s Champions League, where they lost to Barcelona on the away goals rule having drawn twice.
But for all the money at PSG’s disposal, it may not have been smooth behind the scenes – Ancelotti
had to quell stories of turbulence and his possible dismissal in December – and now Real Madrid
would like him to replace Jose Mourinho as manager at the Bernabeu. Ancelotti has said he wants to
leave PSG. If he does, Clement will leave with him.
‘I suppose we’re in a bit of a waiting game,’ says Clement. ‘It’s out there, Carlo has asked to leave. The club have not accepted that request. I’m just waiting to hear.’
PSG have one last league game, at Lorient on Sunday, so there is plenty to occupy Ancelotti and Clement. But Madrid’s interest has made for a tense ending in Paris after what Clement had described as ‘a season of arrival’ when he sat upstairs at PSG’s unexpectedly modest training ground.
There the blue perimeter banners declare in French: ‘Revons Plus Grand’. And in English: ‘Dream Bigger’.
Thanks to Qatari zillions, PSG have been able to do just that, hiring someone of Ancelotti’s calibre in the first place. Beckham, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi are just three of the big-name
players brought by Qatar, who at the beginning sold Ancelotti and Clement ‘a long-term vision.’
That in turn creates issues, as Clement explains. PSG have had hiccups this season and lost the
French Cup quarter-final on penalties to little Evian.
‘It’s taken some time and that’s been reflected in some of our results,’ says Clement. ‘It’s not just about picking names and winning 5-0. Teams take time and coaches have to find blends.
‘Some of our most fluent football has been at times when we have had injuries to the “bigger” players. The biggest thing for a coach at this level is to get players to put aside their individual desires, egos, for the team. That’s by far the biggest challenge for a manager.’
Yet in broader, European terms, the club’s fast progression could be seen when Barcelona played in Paris last month: it was the first time the visitors had placed a competitive foot on the Parc des
Princes turf since 1995.
Clement had much more recent Barca experience, which is why he was signed, presumably. Ancelotti is not the only Chelsea manager Clement has impressed.
He was in the Stamford Bridge dugout with Guus Hiddink the famous night four years ago when Andres Iniesta scored that injury-time equaliser in the Champions League semi-final that sent Chelsea out.
‘It’s a game I’ll never, ever forget,’ says Clement. ‘That Iniesta goal – like a dagger to the heart.
‘It was an unbelievable blow, a horrible, horrible feeling. But it was also a fantastic football experience and it will stay in the memory for many, many years. At that level, you’re on a knife-edge.’
Clement’s rise to ‘that level”’ can seem fast, yet he earned his first coaching badge as a 20-year-old in 1992 – ‘an old-style FA preliminary award.’
The son of Dave, the former England and QPR full back who died tragically young in 1982 aged 34, Clement had realised well before then that he would not be replicating his father’s playing achievements.
Within seven years of that first coaching badge, Clement had his ‘B’ and ‘A’ qualifications – the latter coming on a course that included Brendan Rodgers and Andre Villas-Boas.
Clement had first appeared at Chelsea in the mid-1990s when his younger brother Neil, later of West Brom, was an apprentice there.
‘Around the time Neil signed I was introduced to some people at the club, Gwyn Williams, Graham Rix,’ Clement explains. ‘I started to work in the Centre of Excellence.
‘Football is in the blood, I was born into it. My father was Dave Clement, he played virtually his whole career at QPR. He was an England international.
The No 1: Ancelotti raises his French championship trophy with his right-hand man Clement by his side
‘As I grew up I loved football but I was never going to be a top player. But I loved coaching and teaching and I went down that route. I did a Sports Science degree at St Mary’s college in Twickenham.
‘I was a PE teacher for five years at Glenthorne High in Sutton, while working at Chelsea and doing my coaching qualifications at the FA. I started with the 10 to 12-year-olds. By the fifth year I was working with Under 15s.
‘My strengths initially were communicating and organising, being able to relate to people. That comes from teaching.
‘Reading of the game, tactical stuff – that I’ve had to learn, study, work at.
‘In the early days there was the influence of my stepfather Mike Kelly, who was a goalkeeping coach at many clubs and worked with Roy Hodgson at Liverpool and Fulham. With him was Dave Sexton, who coached my Dad at QPR. That was early on.
‘Since then I’ve had many experiences and mentors. No more so than now.
‘Someone like Carlo or Guus Hiddink will see things quickly. That’s a great skill. It doesn’t take them 10 minutes. What cuts the very best managers from the rest is seeing things quickly.
‘I think it’s a mixture of intuitive understanding and, in Carlo’s case, of playing at a high level. Instinct is something, but it has to be applied with work ethic. It’s the combination. Carlo has a work ethic, no question. What an apprenticeship he has had, as a player and as a manager.’
Clement is having an apprenticeship too. He has seen not only the inside of clubs of the wealth of Chelsea and PSG, he also worked at Fulham and was at Blackburn Rovers with Steve Kean when the call from Ancelotti came.
‘If I’d known it was coming, I wouldn’t have gone to Blackburn. I was there only four months – I wouldn’t do that to them.’
Blackburn were still in the Premier League when Clement was there. But a man with managerial ambitions would happily work in the Championship.
‘Absolutely,’ he says, ‘who knows where? I’m getting more and more experience and if I get an opportunity at the top level, great. But most managers don’t start there and I can’t imagine there’d
be many better feelings than taking a team up from the Championship.’
For now though, Paul Clement has his thoughts on PSG’s last league game of the season – ‘it’s an
Astroturf pitch at Lorient’ – and if it is his and Ancelotti’s final game in charge, then his mind will soon turn to Real Madrid.
It’s a long way from Ewood Park, it’s a long way from teaching PE. But all experience counts.
Quietly, there is an English coach excelling abroad.
A WIN AND A MASSIVE LOSS FOR CLEMENT IN SEASON OF UPS AND DOWNS
Paul Clement’s time at PSG, while bringing a league title, will also be remembered for its loss. In
January a colleague, Nick Broad, who Clement knew from Chelsea, was killed in a car crash in Paris.
Broad was 38, a key figure in the club’s professional ambitions off the pitch as well as on it.
‘Nick was someone I worked with at Chelsea, we were colleagues there, but our friendship blossomed in Paris,’ Clement says.
‘We were going through the same things and we helped each other out. He blossomed here
professionally, a really talented individual. He pushed the club forward, his training methods,
diets, project after project to make those marginal gains.’
Broad was on the side of the road, having broken down and called Clement, when his car was hit. He fell into a coma and never regained consciousness.
‘I was really close with him that week, we’d travelled together to Sweden,’ adds Clement. ‘On the Thursday I spoke to him numerous times on the telephone. He’d been to a meeting and he called me on the way back. He’d had trouble with the car and he was on the side of the road.’
The weekend after the accident PSG had a game in Bordeaux. Despite Broad being in hospital, they were forced to play it by the French Federation. They won.
‘We wanted the Bordeaux game off. The accident was on the Thursday, the game was on the Sunday. We were back training after 10 hours in the hospital. Football doesn’t stop and you’re thinking, “Well, why doesn’t it stop?”
‘We asked the league but between them and TV they denied our request. We had to fly to Bordeaux and we didn’t want to fly to Bordeaux. We wanted to be in Paris. We were still clinging on to some hope.
‘The players dug in and incredibly got a positive result. It was dedicated to Nick but it was strange. We won the game but we were all a bit lost.’
Broad had step-children with his wife Paula.
‘It continues to be tough, but it’s worse for Paula. We try to support her as much as we can. Life
will never be the same.’