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AP Interview: Carlo Ancelotti thinking big at PSG
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By JEROME PUGMIRE
PARIS (AP) Carlo Ancelotti thinks his first season in charge of Paris Saint-Germain will not be considered a failure if the cash-rich club does not win the French title, because his priority is building for a big future.
PSG has not won the title since 1994 and trails Montpellier by five points ahead of its match away to Lille on Sunday night. Both teams will then have four matches left.
Given that PSG was three points clear of Montpellier when Ancelotti took charge after Christmas, and considering his successful coaching experience with AC Milan and Chelsea, securing the title appeared a formality.
But Ancelotti views this as a transition season as he tries to shape PSG into a European force over the next few years.
Wearing a baggy red and blue club tracksuit and looking preoccupied as he reclined on a chair at the Camp des Loges training ground, Ancelotti said on Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press: "To win the league this year is our aim, because the team was at the top of the table for a long time. But nothing changes for the future if we arrive in second position."
That declaration seems surprising since Ancelotti was fired by Chelsea for finishing second last season, and given that he claims the pressure at PSG is "absolutely the same" as during his two seasons at Stamford Bridge.
"When I signed a contract for Chelsea it was very clear. If I (couldn't) win I had to leave Chelsea. It was not a surprise," he said without any trace of anger in his soft voice.
Ancelotti guided Chelsea to success in the English Premier League and FA Cup in his first season, and fans expected another double at PSG when he replaced Antoine Kombouare in late December.
Kombouare was sacked by the club's Qatari owners, QSI, despite being in top spot and involved in the French Cup.
During Ancelotti's 18 games, PSG has slipped two points back and went out of the French Cup in the quarterfinals. Sloppy late goals have handed Montpellier the initiative in the league and let defending champion Lille back in contention. PSG travels to play Lille on Sunday.
"This year wasn't easy because the club changed a lot of things, changed a lot of players," he said.
"To be competitive in Europe won't be easy but our aim is this. To win in Europe is not easy. This year the favorite teams Barcelona and Real Madrid will watch the final on television."
PSG's European heyday was in the early 1990s, when it reached the Champions League semifinal in 1995, losing to Milan, and winning the now defunct Cup Winners Cup the following year. PSG has not qualified for the Champions League since the 2004-05 season.
Ancelotti is one of only six men who have won the Champions League as a player and a coach, each time with Milan.
The rampant Milan team of the late 1980s and early 90s was laden with talent like Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Ancelotti himself. They formed the team's inner core and their winning mentality shone through.
That is what Ancelotti hopes to reproduce at PSG, whose owners have made 500 million ($660 million) available for the next five years.
"We have to build a group with strong motivation," he said, adding that some of PSG's players still lack the right mentality.
In recent weeks, the excuses have been trotted out as PSG dropped points. A recurring one is that the pressure to win at PSG is so intense that the players are impeded by a fear of failure.
With an air of exasperation, Ancelotti said, "I don't think the players at PSG feel more pressure than other teams. (It's) the same for the Montpellier players."
He is already looking to the summer, and who he can bring in.
He wanted to sign Chelsea winger Florent Malouda, but that won't happen.
"We were interested in January, but I think in June we will have a different solution."
Pressed on which players he wants to sign, a smile lit up Ancelotti's otherwise stern face. But there was little chance of him revealing any names, as the 52-year-old Italian's unflinching blue eyes stared into the distance.
"We have to improve all sectors of the squad; defenders, midfield and strikers. I think our objective is to buy three or four players, but with the right characteristics for this team. With personality, with quality, with character."
Having missed out on AC Milan's Alexandre Pato and Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, Ancelotti needs a big-name striker.
Asked if he was interested in Liverpool's Luis Suarez, Ancelotti gave some ground by saying "Suarez is a good striker, yes."
Huge funds will lure some stars to the Parc des Princes, but Ancelotti has not lost sight of the need to nurture young players - with Montpellier's incredible rise showing what harnessing local talent can do. Montpellier has spent around 100 million ($130 million) less than PSG, and relied on talents such as midfielder Younes Belhanda, winger Karim Ait-Fana and defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa.
"A lot of French players (grow up) around Paris, so this is a good land for the players," Ancelotti said.
PSG has missed out on a host of talent from Paris and its suburbs, such as former France striker Thierry Henry, Newcastle United's winger Hatem Ben Arfa and Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, to name a few.
They looked elsewhere as PSG's door was firmly shut.
"I think for the future the aim of this club is to grow young players," Ancelotti said, full of enthusiasm at the idea of building a flourishing youth academy. "This will be the next job."
Ancelotti is not limiting his future to PSG.
He replied with a quick "yes" when asked if he would like to coach Italy one day. He played in two World Cups.
"It's a different job to train the national team," he said. "(It) could be another experience."
Updated April 27, 2012