Ben Lyttleton: Guillaume Hoarau heroics for PSG put a rare smile on Paul Le Guen's face

The normally taciturn coach has plenty to be happy about as PSG hit form, thanks in large part to his late-flowering top scorer

It was a sight that stunned everyone who saw it, a bizarre vision never before seen in public. Television sets may have been adjusted, but it was no technical fault. It passed quickly but its meaning was unmistakable: Paris Saint-Germain's coach, Paul Le Guen, was smiling, even laughing, on the team bench as his side coasted to a 4–1 win over Nancy. Le Guen, for that brief moment, looked happy.

After the game normal service resumed and Le Guen, as buttoned-up a Breton as you could get, berated his team for giving the ball away too often and allowing the visitors too many scoring chances. "But I don't want to put a damper on things," he said, having done exactly that.

Le Guen has plenty to be happy about at the moment: PSG moved up to second place and, after Lyon were held to a 1–1 draw at home to Rennes, are back to four points behind the stuttering leaders; they are favourites to beat Sporting Braga to reach the Uefa Cup quarter-finals; the president with whom Le Guen had a clear personality clash, Charles Villeneuve, has left the club, while the coach's summer signings, Ludovic Giuly, Stéphane Sessegnon and Guillaume Hoarau, were all on the scoresheet on Sunday night.

All three have been superb this season but it is Hoarau, Ligue 1's top scorer with 15 goals, who has been the star of the show in recent weeks. He scored two in PSG's 2–0 Uefa Cup win over Wolfsburg (PSG had won the away leg 3–1), and another two against Nancy to escalate talk of a France call-up for the two World Cup qualifiers against Lithuania in the next month.

Hoarau is more than just a target man, as his goals breakdown shows: five with his head, four with his left foot and six with his right foot. He is also important in his own penalty area, as PSG's best header at defending set pieces. "He is progressing well and becoming a good symbol for this club," said Le Guen.

Hoarau turns 25 on Thursday, older than you might expect for someone in his first top-flight season. His long journey to this point began on the island of La Réunion, playing alongside Florent Sinama-Pongolle for Jeunesse Sportive Saint-Pierroise Under-11s. Sinama-Pongolle moved to Le Havre aged 13 (and then Liverpool at 19), while Hoarau was rejected at the same age.

His father Pierre, who made him do 150 ball-juggles (50 with each foot and another 50 with his head) whenever he caught him mucking around, set up a regime in which the 18-year-old Hoarau would train until 8pm, do two hours' weight training and only then do his homework. "Sometimes I was angry with him but I didn't dare tell him," Hoarau recently said. "I used to ask myself, 'Why is he always on at me, other dads aren't like that.' But now I understand."

Père Pierre was nicknamed Le Cheval Blanc because, according to a former team-mate, "he was a clumsy forward and he didn't want his son to suffer like he did from a lack of technique". By the time Hoarau junior was 19, he had scored 12 goals for JSSP in the island's top division, and spent his time off diving the local reefs and singing Bob Marley songs in a band. "Marley is my passion," he said. His favourite sweatshirt has "Redemption Song" emblazoned on its front and his ambition is to visit the Marley museum in Jamaica.

The hard work eventually paid off and Le Havre took on Hoarau after another trial in January 2004. "It was my last chance," he said. It took Hoarau another four years to break the ten-goal barrier in a season, and by then Le Guen had identified him as a possible successor to Pedro Pauleta. "When I signed, everyone said I was crazy but it is possible to have stability at Paris," he said. Hoarau was the subject of a €10m (£8.9m) bid from an English club in January, but he said: "There is a time for everything and [the time for] a transfer to England is not now."

The former PSG forward Dominique Rocheteau is relieved that Hoarau has not yet received a France call-up – "It's a bit early now, just remember what happened to Bafe Gomis," he said – though he could well be in Raymond Domenech's next squad.

He might even take the place of Jimmy Briand, who was the Rennes villain and hero in their 1–1 draw at Lyon. Briand missed several one-on-ones against Hugo Lloris, including one just before Kim Kallstrom put Lyon ahead, but he made amends with a lobbed equaliser in injury-time that left the leaders with only one home win (and that against Le Havre) in their last three months. "I think we still had the Barcelona [Champions League] game in our legs," said a furious Claude Puel afterwards.

Bordeaux and Marseille both closed the gap on Lyon with 1–0 wins over Lorient and Caen respectively. Bordeaux's Yoann Gourcuff played against the team coached by his father Christian, although the highlight was the pre-match TV interview in which Christian clearly didn't want to talk about his son. Question: "You have to admit that he's a good-looking boy, isn't he?" Answer: "I don't want to talk about it. He's a good player."

Brandao scored his first goal for L'OM, to increase the pressure on Caen's likeable manager, Franck Dumas, who said before the game that he would rather jump than be pushed out of his job. "I don't think a new guy can make that much difference to this group, and I don't want to see the last three and a half years of entertainment wasted." Caen last won on 22 November, 101 days ago, and while it's certainly entertaining listening to Dumas, his players may disagree when they hear his plans for the week. "I'm going to work with a group of 16 players who've got some bollocks," he said. "Some of the others might cry and scream, but I don't give a damn."

Only goal difference is keeping Caen out of the drop zone at the moment, but given Sochaux's recent upturn in results – their 1–0 win over Nice, courtesy of January signing Vaclav Sverkos's fourth goal in seven games, was their third win in five – that won't be for too long.

Elsewhere, the goals of Ireneusz Jelen, three in his last four, have helped Auxerre up the table, and he was on the scoresheet again in their 1-1 draw with Toulouse; Saint-Etienne missed the chance to escape the bottom three after a last-minute goal from Yoann Mollo, nicknamed the new Marc Overmars, helped Monaco to a 2–2 draw; and Jean-Claude Darcheville has become an unlikely hero at Valenciennes, scoring in their 2–0 win over Lille.

Next weekend Lyon warm up for their Champions League trip to Barcelona with a testing fixture against Puel's former side Lille at the Stade de France (they also face off in the Cup on Wednesday), while PSG look to close the gap with a game at Lorient. That will be Le Guen v Gourcuff, a battle between two men from Brittany who hate the spotlight. At least we can be sure the game will be more interesting than the press conferences after it.

Results, Week 26: Valenciennes 2–0 Lille, Sochaux 1–0 Nice, Nantes 1–1 Grenoble, Le Mans 2–0 Le Havre, Auxerre 1–1 Toulouse, PSG 4–1 Nancy, Caen 0–1 Marseille, Bordeaux 1–0 Lorient, Monaco 2–2 Saint-Etienne, Lyon 1–1 Rennes


Ben Lyttleton

The GuardianTramp

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