Christophe Galtier: Paris Saint-Germain’s Pragmatic Principal
A new era has dawned at Paris Saint-Germain. After a decade of Champions League heartbreak under five different managers, newly appointed head coach Christophe Galtier is hoping to be the man to bring continental success to the City of Love. The 55-year-old has become one of France’s most coveted coaches, yet the Parc des Princes’ hotseat is arguably the toughest task of his career.
A former defender, Galtier spent the majority of his playing days in his homeland, before ending his career with year-long stints in Italy and China. Upon his retirement, the Frenchman ventured into coaching and enjoyed roles as an assistant at Marseille, Aris and Bastia.
In 2004, Galtier became an assistant to Alain Perrin. The pair worked together at Al Ain, Sochaux, Lyon, Saint-Etienne and Portsmouth. However, their time on the south coast was rather short-lived. The Frenchmen lasted just seven-and-a-half months in the Fratton Park dugout, winning four of their 21 matches in charge, and leaving Pompey in the midst of a relegation dogfight at the time of their dismissal in November 2005.
The duo worked together until Perrin was sacked by Saint-Etienne in December 2009. With ASSE in danger of relegation, Perrin encouraged Galtier to take the reins at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard and make his first steps into management. The gamble ultimately paid off, as Galtier successfully guided the Greens to safety – finishing in 17th.
The Frenchman continued to thrive in the Rhone-Alpes, with ASSE finishing in the top half of Ligue 1 for the following seven consecutive campaigns. Galtier also led Saint-Etienne to their first trophy in 32 years as the Greens lifted the Coupe de la Ligue in 2012-2013. The achievement culminated in Galtier sharing France’s Manager of the Year award with then-PSG boss Carlo Ancelotti, who had led the Parisians to their first title since 1994.
Galtier had instilled a clear tactical identity at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard – utilising defensive solidity to achieve results. The football was not always pretty, but it was effective. The manager had also displayed a nous for nurturing talented players, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Dimitri Payet and Blaise Matuidi all flourished under the Frenchman.
He had transformed the Greens into European football regulars, although they remained a selling club due to their financial state of play. With that a key factor, Galtier ultimately decided to step down as Saint-Etienne manager at the end of the 2016-17 season, while he was the longest-serving manager in Ligue 1 at the time of his departure.
The Frenchman returned to management in December 2017, as he assumed control of Lille. Galtier had spent three seasons as a player at Les Dogues but found his former side in turmoil upon his return. Predecessor Marcelo Bielsa had left just 13 games into his reign after being suspended by the club. Lille were suffering from severe financial issues and were also third bottom in Ligue 1 heading into the winter break. That would typically be enough to put any coach off. But not Galtier.
After fruitful discussions with LOSC’S sporting director Luis Campos – a former scout under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid and the mastermind of Monaco’s Ligue 1 triumph in the previous campaign – Galtier was persuaded to take charge at the Stade Pierre Mauroy.
Campos would concentrate on recruitment, which would then allow Galtier to focus on coaching the side. Lille dramatically avoided relegation in 2017-18 by a single point, while their ascendence under Galtier in the following years was nothing short of remarkable.
In 2018-19, Lille finished second in Ligue 1 and qualified for the Champions League for the first time in seven years. Les Dogues also boasted the best defensive record in the French top-flight – conceding just 33 goals across the course of the campaign. Out of the ruins of near relegation, Galtier had built a well-oiled and consistent machine as LOSC did not lose consecutive league matches all season.
Lille occupied second spot for 29 of the 38 gameweeks and even thrashed champions PSG 5-1 at the Stade Pierre Mauroy. Galtier’s side were the most prolific points-wise in the second half of the season as they earned 41 points from a possible 57. The Frenchman’s superb exploits also saw him scoop the French Manager of the Year award for the second time in his career.
The success of Les Dogues was based on a solid defence and swift transitions from back-to-front. Nicolas Pepe spearheaded Galtier’s forward line, netting 22 goals in 37 Ligue 1 outings and finishing second in the scoring charts behind only Kylian Mbappe (32). The Ivorian international also made 11 assists in 2018-19, with only Nimes’ Teji Savanier recording more (14).
Pepe’s scintillating form earned him a £72million move to Arsenal, becoming the Gunners’ most expensive ever signing. The deal highlighted Campos and Galtier’s ability to identify and improve talent at the highest level.
The following campaign was curtailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while Lille finished in fourth and earned a place in the Europa League. Yet it is Lille’s 2020-21 season which has persuaded PSG to make Galtier the replacement for Mauricio Pochettino this term. LOSC produced the ultimate shock – winning the Ligue 1 title on the final day of the season by a single point. Les Dogues were impenetrable throughout the campaign as they conceded the fewest goals (23) in the French top-flight.
Galtier’s men lost just three league games all season, while their points tally of 83 was the highest in the club’s history. The manager’s superb balancing of an exhausting Europa League schedule alongside the challenges of Ligue 1 will hold him in superb stead at the Parc des Princes. The Parisians’ owners’ desires to win their first Champions League trophy is no secret and will undoubtedly be at the top of Galtier’s to-do list.
Galtier revolutionised his style at the Stade Pierre Mauroy. His Saint-Etienne side were often the underdogs and dominated by the opposition. And whilst his Lille team were built on the same foundations of a rock-solid defence, they were also expansive, ruthless, and intense.
His preferred system was a modern twist on the 4-4-2, which thrived through counter-attacks. Galtier’s side would often invite and soak up pressure before countering at break-neck speed. LOSC were mightily impressive going forward, but it is Galtier’s capability of building a resolute defence which has served him so well in his managerial career. And that was no different at Lille.
LOSC made the fewest errors that lead to goals (one), while they also faced the second-fewest shots (337) in Ligue 1 across 2020-21. Mike Maignan developed into one of the best goalkeepers on the continent. His tally of 21 clean sheets was the second highest by a goalkeeper over a Ligue 1 season, with only Jean-Luc Ettori having more (22) in 1989-90 with Monaco. Maignan also had the second-highest differential between goals conceded and expected goals on target conceded in the French top-flight that season, with nearly eight goals prevented (7.9) – a record that only Keylor Navas (8.1) bettered.
Former Southampton defender Jose Fonte was a stalwart in the heart of defence at the tender age of 37. Fonte’s centre-back partner Sven Botman was a driving force in Lille’s surges up field as he ranked inside the top 10 for progressive passes in Ligue 1, with a commendable tally of 173. Those trademark line-breaking passes are now coming to a St. James’ Park near you this season.
Galtier quit as Lille manager just two days after guiding them to the title, deciding his journey at the Stade Pierre Mauroy had come to a natural end. The manager made a move to the French Riviera and took charge of OGC Nice at the beginning of last season. His philosophy of a steady defence carried over to Nice, as they conceded the joint-fewest goals (36) in Ligue 1 last season.
Despite glimpses of brilliance, which saw Les Aiglons reach the Coupe de France final, Galtier struggled to make an impact in the Allianz Riviera dugout. Nice went on to finish fifth in Ligue 1 last term, although they did finish 11 points ahead of Lille. Galtier has since departed Nice this summer – paving the way for the biggest job of his career.
The manager was earmarked by PSG’s new football advisor and Galtier’s former colleague Campos to take the reins at PSG. The Frenchman has signed a two-year contract at the Parc des Princes and the Parisians have opted for a factory reset. Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi has publicly spoken about the fact that Galtier’s appointment is the end of ‘the flashy-bling-bling’ era in Paris. But will the manager be able to translate his tactical identity onto a side flooded with high-profile players?
There was expectation heading into the upcoming campaign that Galtier would once again turn to his tried-and-tested 4-4-2 formation. In turn, that prompted question marks over the future of forward Neymar in the French capital. It is highly unlikely that the 30-year-old would be able to fit within the constraints of the system. However, all the signs in pre-season have shown that PSG look likely to set out with a 3-4-1-2 under Galtier.
The Parisians’ hierarchy will hope that Galtier will shore up the defence at the Parc des Princes. PSG conceded 323 shots from open play in Ligue 1 last term – more than any other side in the top seven of the division – while their open play xG against total of 35.0 was higher than 10th-placed side Lille (31.4) and only a shade better than Galtier’s Nice (35.6). A back-three would offer Galtier’s charges more defensive stability, while also getting the best out of high-flying wing-back duo Achraf Hakimi and Nuno Mendes.
Galtier’s move to Paris Saint-Germain has raised many eyebrows. His reputation has stuttered after a difficult season at Nice, while the French media have also been quick to point out his Marseille origins. The manager is going to bring a very different style to what PSG fans have become accustomed to. While it may not be ‘bling-bling’, it may just be the solution in lifting the Parisian’s elusive European silverware.
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