Fabrizio Ravanelli was already despised by supporters of Paris Saint-Germain long before the new Ajaccio coach came to the French capital on Sunday and saw his side produce a remarkable rear-guard performance to hold the champions at the Parc des Princes.
In the days leading up to the match, video footage of one of the most infamous moments in recent French football history was played and replayed on television. The moment that made the rivalry between PSG and Marseille a little bit more toxic than it already was.
On November 8, 1997, PSG were top of the table, three points clear of OM, when the clubs met at the Parc. Heading towards the midway point in the second half, the scores were tied at 1-1, Xavier Gravelaine's opener for the visitors having been cancelled out by Jérôme Leroy.
Then, Ravanelli fell dramatically to the ground with defender Eric Rabesandratana in close proximity to win Marseille a penalty. To the French, it remains the definition of the word ‘dive’. Up stepped a certain Laurent Blanc - yes, that one - to hammer the ball into the net and give OM the points.
A week later, Paris were knocked off top spot, and they would never return, Lens winning the title that season. Ravanelli would return with Marseille in each of the next two seasons, scoring in a 2-0 win in the capital in October 1999, before departing for Lazio. Then, this summer, he came back to France after being handed his first crack at top-level management by Ajaccio, and the prospect of the Silver Fox encountering PSG once more was a mouth-watering one.
"Being 100 per cent serious, I can tell you that there really was a penalty," the now-44-year-old Ravanelli said in an interview with Le Parisien last week, despite the rather damning video evidence of the incident. "I have no desire to listen to his lies again,” replied Rabesandratana. “The images speak for themselves. I still remember his wink to the referee at the end of the match. It is grotesque.”
Of greater importance to the fledgling coach - who until recently was in charge of the 13 and 14-year-olds at Juventus - was his new team's meeting with the champions and overwhelming title favourites, a week on from their 1-0 loss to Saint-Etienne on the opening day.
Ravanelli was welcomed back to the Parc by a loud chorus of boos from the home fans, who would have been looking forward to getting one over on the Italian and on Ajaccio, who twice held Carlo Ancelotti’s eventual champions to goalless draws last season. Indeed, Ajaccio were the only side against whom PSG failed to score in their run to the title.
No fear about such a statistic being repeated this time, though, not with Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic together in the home line-up. Except that Ajaccio drew first blood with just nine minutes played courtesy of an exquisite first-time strike by Benoît Pedretti, the former Marseille midfielder who was a surprise summer signing from Lille.
That was to be Ajaccio's only shot of the entire game, while PSG mustered a stunning total of 39. But Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa made 12 saves altogether, and Thiago Silva hit the bar twice in the second half. In the end, the hosts needed Cavani to rescue them a point on his home debut. It was a superb goal, the Uruguayan collecting a pass from substitute Hervin Ongenda, turning and slamming the ball past Ochoa, who this time was helpless. But of course that is what 64 million euros should buy you, especially against Ajaccio, whose entire budget is 20 million euros.
While Blanc spoke of his “disappointment” and “frustration” after a difficult first home game in charge of PSG, his one-time Marseille team-mate Ravanelli admitted that his men were more than a little fortunate. “We were heroic, but we must be honest and acknowledge that Paris were superior,” he said.
Early results will concern Blanc, but PSG fans are used to this. Held at Montpellier last weekend, that is now three seasons running in which they have failed to win either of their opening two games. Last year, they drew their first three matches on the bounce but were champions by a comfortable margin in the end.
With promoted duo Nantes and Guingamp to come next, that first win is surely not far away, but Blanc's side need it, especially with their likeliest challengers this season - Monaco, Marseille and Lyon - all having taken maximum points so far.