A seagull following French football's sardine trawler
Leonardo always maintained that he didn't see his future as a coach, but how about president of a major club? That could well be the urbane Brazilian’s destiny, but for now he'll have to make do with being chief executive at Paris St Germain. Not a bad turn of events for a man who had to put up with Silvio Berlusconi’s meddling and Rino Gattuso’s bitterness – followed by unrelenting scorn from half a city when he became coach of Inter in January.
There was always the feeling that Nerrazurri chief Massimo Moratti had acted to spite his old nemesis across town, and that the Brazilian was a willing participant in his own personal revenge on the arch-narcissist, but that there was no long-term gain for either Moratti or Leonardo.
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri felt that his predecessor was too much of a gentleman for the rough-and-ready world of team management and that his smooth demeanour and ready smile were better suited to the boardroom. And so it has proved in what could be the ultimate revenge on parochial Italy by overseeing a revolution in suave and cosmopolitan Paris; at a club which bears the crest of the Eiffel Tower and where Leonardo played for an all too brief year in 1996 before moving to Milan.
PSG player Leo scores against Liverpool
A few months ahead of his 42nd birthday, he is free of the tracksuit and no doubt more comfortable in a suit and tie as a young and dynamic CEO earning a reported €6m annual salary overseeing the investment in PSG from Qatar Investment Authority, who are as rich as their name is bland. Put this way, it's Qatar the state investing their money in whatever takes their fancy, from London Stock Exchange to Walt Disney – of late they've also been rumoured to be eyeing Manchester United.
As it stands, a 70 percent stake in PSG leaves Leonardo with untold riches at his disposal – there's a €150m transfer kitty to get him going. How must he feel at never having to listen to Berlusconi telling him which players to pick, or Moratti haughtily proclaiming that he has done a good job in winning the Italian Cup? Not to mention where his thoughts about Gattuso have been consigned to...
No doubt there will be no love letters to Milan from Paris, but there's no time to look back when you're reporting directly to Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Crown Prince of Qatar, who feels you have what it takes to become club president in place of Robin Leproux. (Apparently, Leonardo declined.)
Now facing pressure of a different kind in taking PSG into the upper echelons of European football, Leo has the power to hire and fire – so not only will Leproux be looking over his shoulder but current coach Antoine Kombouarè can start clearing his desk. Heading Leonardo’s wish-list is Carlo Ancelotti, who would be ideally suited to move from London SW3 to the boulevards of the French capital. If not, maybe Leo's Inter predecessor Rafa Benitez would jump at the chance to splash some cash, having been presented with an empty vault by Moratti.
With his contacts around Europe and throughout South America – where being a genuinely nice guy can open plenty of doors – it goes without saying that Leonardo is a major player in club football and PSG could be destination de rigueur for some of the game’s most sought-after talents.
Ricky Kakà, for one, needs a new challenge – and it was after all Leo who brought his old San Paolo team-mate to European prominence in the first place. Then to really scupper a Milan summer show-off signing, Paulo Henrique Ganso at just 21 has all the makings of a Leo protégé. Jeremy Mènez may also feel that the refinement of Paris is more to his liking than the mean streets of Roma, while Samuel Eto’o is looking for one more payday – not to mention to be finally allowed to play as the main striker instead of filling in from left-back to left-winger at Inter.
There's no doubt that Moratti was caught once again of being guilty of not gauging what is going on under his nose and having heard rumblings of discontent from Wesley Sneijder, Lucio and Eto’o he must now start the search for a third coach in a year to calm the waters. After Marcelo Bielsa declined the offer, it looks as if the Mourinho bottled-lightning effect isn't going to be caught again with Andrè Villas Boas either: the Porto coach has a €15m buy-out clause and doesn't seem desperate to swap the Portuguese champions for the Italian runners-up. [Ed: As we go to digital press, rumours are strengthening that Chelsea are to appoint AVB.]
NEWS Mon 20 Jun Inter: Villas-Boas too expensive
Roberto Mancini’s former assistant Sinisa Mihajlovic has also ruled himself out of a return, but with free agents Gian Piero Gasperini and Delio Rossi the only other feasible candidates – no one can genuinely believe that Fabio Capello will walk away from England or Guus Hiddink will turn down Chelsea – current Fiorentina coach Mihajlovic could yet be persuaded back to Milan, although Luciano Spalletti’s name has also been mentioned.
Meanwhile, Leonardo must be the happiest man in football, having turned his back on the city that no longer loves him for a new romance in the City of Love – a case of addio Milano, Paris, je t’aime. Some guys have all the luck.
Was this a one-time plunge into French football for Richard because of the overlap with Serie A? Or will he be replacing James as the regular correspondent?
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