Recent displays by Paul Le Guen's PSG have offered cause for optimism and have seen them climb out of the Ligue 1 relegation zone, but with just six games left the Parisians are still not sure of retaining their place in the top flight .
As what has been, in every respect, a disastrous season for PSG reaches its climax, the run-in is set to test the spirit and nerves of players and supporters alike. And standing on the front line will be their Portuguese captain Pedro Miguel Pauleta, who has never been one to shirk responsibility.
Pauleta is a veritable goal machine: 10 goals in 28 outings this season, the all-time leading scorer of the Portuguese national team (47 goals in 88 appearances), he has also scored more Ligue 1 goals than any other player currently playing in the French top flight. In this exclusive interview with FIFA.com, he looks back on what has been a nightmare campaign for his club, offering a frank assessment of what has gone wrong, and expressing his hopes for better days ahead.
FIFA.com: Pedro, while Paris Saint-Germain are not yet
safe, you are presumably breathing a little more easily after the
last three games.
Pauleta: It's true that the two wins against Lens and Le Mans (both by a scoreline of 2-1) did us a lot of good. The team regained the initiative and has been looking very solid again. We've now got six games left, the situation remains delicately poised, but we know what we can do, and with the confidence that we've taken from those games, fighting off relegation doesn't seem quite so hard as it did. However, until we are mathematically safe, we need to stay on our guard. This league is extremely tight - it's a bit crazy, with teams changing position all the time. It's down to us to show that Paris Saint-Germain deserves its place in Ligue 1, and we want to make sure of it before the final day of the season.
Is being involved in a relegation battle harder for a big
club like PSG than for one that doesn't have an international
Undoubtedly! Playing in Paris is, as a matter of course, more difficult than playing elsewhere. Here, you have to cope with enormous pressure, and there are often tensions surrounding the club. Not a day goes by without some issue or other surfacing. So, when, on top of that, you're faced with a battle for survival, it makes life very tricky for the players.
Has this been the worst season in your career?
There's no other way to describe it. I really hope that it all ends well, and as soon as possible. At the start of the season we found ourselves with a new owner and a new president. Then one of our players left in difficult circumstances (1), we had a change of coach, and new players arrived during the transfer window. And then there were the problems with the fans. I have had less eventful seasons! But when you come to play in Paris, you need to be prepared for everything, you need to be tougher mentally than when you play elsewhere.
Let's talk about the tensions that have been present
between the team and the supporters (2). Despite your position as
captain, you have opted to stay silent during this affair. It is an
attitude that surprised many. What was behind your
Firstly, I'd like to point out that I've never gone out of my way to talk about myself to the media. For the most part, I try to keep my distance, or at least to be very careful about what I say. The place where I express myself the best is on the pitch. The situation you are referring to was extremely delicate. When someone dies, whoever they are, my first thoughts are for their family. I therefore spoke out to offer my support. But beyond that, I believe that all further discussion of the matter was for the police, the state security organs, those who witnessed the incident and those who were involved - nobody else. I'm a football player, it's not my place to offer comment on events like these. And insofar as the enquiry is still underway, the exact circumstances of what happened are not yet known. As I didn't see anything, I was certainly not going to take a position on what happened.
On the other hand, as soon as the team started to drop down
the table, you started to fight back.
It was during that period that I started to feel that we, the players, were going to struggle. The alarm bells should have been ringing before the Christmas break. And when we suffered a string of defeats starting in January, I sensed strongly that something was going badly wrong. Don't forget that just two weeks ago we were bottom of the table.
How do you explain the team's dramatic slide down the
To be honest, it's something I've really struggled to understand. We have a team of quality players, the atmosphere within the group is excellent. But I think at times we have lacked character. We should have done more to punish opponents in some games, and certain players took a long time to realise how serious our situation was. Going back to what we were speaking about earlier, it's harder to cope with a relegation dogfight when you play for Paris St-Germain. But I'm also convinced that this season will do a lot of good for certain PSG players. You grow up a lot faster when you're faced with difficulty. It serves as a reminder that in football you don't get anywhere by talking big, it is what you do on the pitch that counts.
Since Paul Le Guen's arrival, you are no longer
guaranteed a place in the starting 11. How have you coped with
I'm going to be turning 34 soon. I'm proud that I'm regarded as a professional, on and off the pitch. I'll carry on conducting myself that way until the end of my career. I'm not going to change just because I'm now playing less often. The coach must make his own choices, and I will respect them. That's not to say that I'm happy with the situation. Of course, I'd like to play every match - I'm a natural competitor. But I am happy in the knowledge that I give my best every time I go onto the pitch.
What have been the main changes since Paul Le Guen replaced
Guy Lacombe as coach?
That's difficult to say as each of them has their own qualities. On the other hand, it's certainly true that Guy Lacombe had some personal issues with certain individuals in the squad. So there's a different atmosphere now. But I would never try to use those difficult moments as an excuse. The only ones who are responsible for the situation that the club is now in are us, the players. We mustn't forget that last year under Guy Lacombe, PSG won the French Cup. Having said that, now that there are no longer any individual conflicts polluting the atmosphere in the squad, it's fair to say we're all feeling much stronger.
Last summer you were in talks with Olympique Lyonnais. Has
there been any point this season when you regretted your decision
to stay at PSG?
When I take a decision, I stick by it. It would be quite easy for me to say to myself now that I should have left. But it was also important for my family to stay in Paris. What is important is today and tomorrow, not yesterday. I am committed to this club, and I've always said I wanted to finish my career here. I've got one year left on my contract and I'm planning on seeing it through to the end.
How do you look back on the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany,
which was your final international tournament for
That will always be an unforgettable chapter in my career. As well as Germany 2006, I had Korea/Japan 2002 and two European Championships (2000 and 2004). I enjoyed ten superb years with the Selecção das Quinas and made many friends among the staff and other players. I took the decision to retire from international football last summer, and though I'm still in contact with the national team, and I'm always very happy when I see them doing well, that part of my career is now behind me.
You often speak to Luiz Felipe Scolari on the phone. Has
he, at any point since your international retirement, tried to
persuade you to reverse your decision?
It's true that there is a great friendship between the two of us. When PSG went to Lisbon to play Benfica (in the round of 16 of the UEFA Cup), he even came to visit me at our hotel. But he knows that I've made my decision, one that I took after a great deal of soul-searching. We spoke about it, and he completely understood my reasons. I will always be there for him, and I phone him before every Selecçao match, but that is where it ends. I will not be going back.
Talking of your return to Portugal to play Benfica, I
suppose you would have preferred to be going back home at a point
when things were going better with PSG. Did you manage to take
anything positive from the occasion?
It was very frustrating for me. I would have liked it to be a celebration, to have been able to let my spirit run free. But there are some things you don't get to decide yourself. All the same, it is a great memory - playing in that wonderful stadium in Lisbon. And I managed to score in both games, so I can't complain. For me, having never played in the Portuguese top flight, scoring against such a great club was truly something quite special.
How good are the Portuguese national team at the moment, in
Our performance at the last World Cup (finishing fourth) confirmed that Portugal are among the top five national teams in the world. Since then, there has been a generation change, but Scolari has been integrating a few youngsters gradually, so the transition has been a smooth one. Today's team boasts players with real character and impressive talent. Players such as Simao, Ricardo Quaresma or Cristiano Ronaldo are capable of deciding games at any moment. And then of course there is Nani , who, for me, is an extraordinary talent.
On the other hand, Portugal still seem to be lacking a
It's true that the players I've just mentioned are more wingers or creators than what you would call real 'foxes in the box'. But then they've also got Nuno Gomes, Helder Postiga or Hugo Almeida, who has been having a good season at Werder Bremen - in my view none of them look out of place along side the top forwards in Europe.
Finally, Pedro, there has been a lot of talk about your
future. You seem to have been linked to just about every other club
apart from PSG for next season. Can you tell us anything
Throughout my life I've been the one to decide which club I play for. I'm not about to change that at 34, when I'm one season away from retirement I still have a year left on my contract here in Paris, and I want to finish my career in June 2008, wearing the colours of PSG. I can't be any clearer than that! I've already spoken with the President about taking on another role at the club after I stop playing. I can't say any more about that at the moment, but it's something we are both thinking about. For now, I'm still playing, I want to save PSG from relegation, I want to enjoy a great final season, and then we'll see what happens after that.
(1) Vikash Dhorasoo was released from his contract after being
charged with misconduct in October 2006.
(2) On 23 November 2006, following PSG's 4-2 defeat to Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the UEFA Cup, a supporter of the Parisian club was killed outside the stadium, after being shot by a policeman trying to protect a visiting supporter. One of the stands at the Parc des Princes stadium was then closed for a number of weeks. Following the ban of almost 200 supporters, the Boulogne R1 stand finally reopened its doors on 27 January 2007.