|France Ligue 1|
Kombouare replaced as coach with PSG top of league
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By JEROME PUGMIRE
PARIS (AP) Paying the price for not being a glamorous enough name, Antoine Kombouare was replaced as Paris Saint-Germain coach to herald a major break from the French club's traditions.
A club stalwart largely unknown outside of France, Kombouare was a highly respected former PSG player, a fans' favorite, someone who knew the club inside out and had a bond with it that ran deep.
Just as important, he had helped to lift PSG out of the doldrums and within sight of a first French title since 1994. It sits top of the league at the winter break.
That wasn't enough for the club's ambitious new owners from Qatar, however.
Kombouare left as coach of PSG on Friday, hours before Carlo Ancelotti - one of the most highly-rated managers in European football after successful spells at Juventus, AC Milan and Chelsea - was unveiled as his replacement and entrusted with taking the club into another dimension.
Loyalty and ties to PSG's past were not enough for a new-look club with lofty ambitions.
"Antoine Kombouare expressed his gratitude to PSG for the faith it showed in him over the years," PSG said in a statement. "He remains the club's biggest fan and has no doubt it will continue to have success in the years to come."
PSG's sporting director would comment further on why Kombouare was replaced.
"It's not the day to be talking about (it) ... we'll talk about it calmly later," Leonardo replied bluntly. "It's important to thank Antoine Kombouare, we tried to do things in the most exemplary and amicable fashion."
Kombouare had helped bring stability to an oft-troubled club once riddled with problems of football violence and a long-standing racist element among some fans that nearly brought the club to its knees. Two PSG fans died in separate incidents of hooliganism outside the Parc des Princes stadium in November, 2006 and early last year.
"I find it scandalous to sack Kombouare, a coach who was liked so much by the players," former France forward Christophe Dugarry said recently on Infosport television.
Not only that, Kombouare was bringing long-overdue success to PSG.
After replacing Paul Le Guen in 2009 and leading PSG to the French Cup the following year, Kombouare guided the club to the top of the French standings.
Former France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet, who played the previous two seasons under Kombouare's stewardship, was not surprised by the news.
"It was rather predictable, given all the talk about Ancelotti, and the meetings Leonardo had with him," Coupet said on RMC radio station. "The winter break was the ideal moment (to announce) it, although it's all happened pretty quickly."
The shakeup seems unlikely to end there. After Ancelotti's arrival, former England captain David Beckham could follow when the transfer window opens on Sunday.
Although QSI has already spent 82 million ($116 million) on players this season, Ancelotti should have plenty more funds available if he wants them.
As well as QSI's need for a renowned manager to help broaden its global appeal, PSG's elimination from the Europa League and League Cup did not sit well with the owners, who took over the club in July, and that may ultimately have cost Kombouare his job.
QSI stipulated at the start of the season that the team should set its sights on winning three trophies.
"This was always going to happen, ever since the Qatari owners took charge of the club," former PSG president Charles Villeneuve said. "The only thing is they should probably have done it at the start of the season."
Ancelotti can still repeat his feat at Chelsea by winning the domestic double in his first season, although Kombouare will get some of the credit if PSG does win the league for the first time in 17 years.
A stalwart defender for PSG during the club's heyday from 1990-95, Kombouare was part of the PSG team which reached the Champions League semifinals in 1995.
A tough-tackling defender with a fiery temperament, PSG's fans adored him and nicknamed him "Golden Helmet" because of his ability to score headed goals from corners.
In the return leg of the UEFA Cup quarterfinal against Real Madrid in 1993, Kombouare charged up the field deep into injury time to score the goal that knocked Real Madrid out and put PSG into the semifinals.
However, given the huge spending spree at the start of this season - including a French record 42 million ($60 million) on the 22-year-old Argentina midfielder Javier Pastore - fans expected to watch entertaining football every week.
This has not been the case, with Kombouare's team often eking out wins rather than tearing teams apart.
A poor run of form in November sealed Kombouare's fate as PSG lost 1-0 at home to Nancy, then 3-0 away to bitter rival Marseille and 2-0 at Salzburg in the Europa League.
By the time PSG turned things around, Ancelotti was in the frame and it was too late for Kombouare.
Updated December 30, 2011