Late Thursday morning at a snow-streaked Camp des Loges and, not for the first time in recent weeks, an Englishman takes centre stage. The dialect barked from the centre circle at Paris Saint-Germain's training ground is distinctly franglais as the ball is sprayed to the flanks to kick-start each drill, though the import pinging passes to multimillion-euro talents at the world's richest club is not David Beckham but, instead, a former PE teacher from Sutton.
Even now, Paul Clement has to pinch himself at his elevation. Thirteen years ago he was an aspiring coach working part-time in Chelsea's Football in the Community programme, an unknown with no reputation from a professional playing career upon which to fall back and all the swotting for Uefa badges crammed around his day job. Fast forward through a spell as head of education and welfare at Fulham's academy and a dizzying ascent through the ranks back at Chelsea and, this week, there he was sat alongside Carlo Ancelotti in the dugout at Parc des Princes as the French league leaders squeezed beyond Valencia into a first Champions League quarter-final since 1995.
Beckham was an unused substitute that night while the more established Englishman at PSG helped oversee progress. "It's been an incredible journey," says Clement. "It doesn't seem two minutes since I was that secondary school teacher. But, in some ways, it's not a total shock. This was something I'd aimed for, even if actually being here is a dream. Teaching gave me a foundation: organisation, planning, understanding different learning styles and needs, the importance of good communication. I've taken that into my coaching.
"The thing I found hardest was the transition from under-16s, then youth, reserve and finally first-team coach at Chelsea. To rise through those positions at the same club in about three years was challenging because you wonder if people still see you as the youth coach. I'd think: is this too much? Am I out of my depth? But that's just anxiety, human nature. You have to prove you've got the character and knowledge to stand on your own two feet at that level. I'd like to think that, after my years at Chelsea and now at PSG, I've done that. It's nice when you see you've convinced Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti you've got something about you."
The managerial instability at Chelsea offered Clement his opportunity, with Hiddink initially keeping him on as an assistant alongside Ray Wilkins during his interim stewardship in 2009. Ancelotti, hired that summer, appointed him as his No2 with the bond established between the pair over the Italian's two-year spell at Stamford Bridge. "Carlo gave me a chance and, being with him every day, I've learned so much," says the 41-year-old. When Ancelotti took up the reins at PSG in December 2011 he lured Clement from Blackburn, where he had briefly been working alongside Steve Kean, to begin a new life in Ligue 1.
The adventure across the Channel has not always been easy. Clement admits his French is a work in progress, a source of frustration given a recognition that communication is key to his role, and his two young children have rather put him to shame as they sponge up the local lingo. The whole family has taken time to acclimatise to new surroundings, but such adjustments accompany the nomadic life of a football coach. The hardest aspect of all has been coping with tragedy.
Clement was not the only member of Chelsea's backroom staff to rejoin Ancelotti in Paris. Accompanying him had been two compatriots, Jack Naylor and Nick Broad, with the latter charged with revamping the club's sports science department and overseeing everything from GPS tracking of players on the training ground to nutrition and diet. This club needed reinventing off the pitch as well as on it and Broad had made waves at Cobham as the head of sports science, an innovator at the cutting edge in his field. "We were colleagues at Chelsea but, since we'd come here, we'd become friends," says Clement. "We were going through the same sort of things and leant on each other."
One Thursday afternoon in January, the assistant manager, finishing up his work at Camp des Loges, took a call from Broad. "He'd gone into Paris to have a meeting and was on his way back to the training ground, but he'd broken down and was sitting in his car on the hard shoulder. He said he might need me to come and help him out, so I said I'd have a quick shower and call him back. When I did it just rang out. I thought he must have just managed to get home somehow, but his wife, who was back in England, hadn't heard from him either so, by about 10pm, I went out to look for him. It was Carlo who rang me and told me what had happened."
A people carrier had ploughed into the back of Broad's static Mini on the side of the A13. He had slipped into a coma by the time Clement and the manager arrived at the Henri Mondor hospital. "It wasn't good. Not good."
The coaching staff departed the hospital at 5am having spent the night at Broad's side before relaying the painful news to the first-team squad a few hours later. PSG were due to travel to Bordeaux that weekend, a fixture the French League refused to postpone. " We were in pieces and yet, and this is weird, it showed football simply doesn't stop. Nick was in a coma and we were there, training, for a game we didn't want to play. We didn't want to fly to Bordeaux. We wanted to be at the hospital with Nick and his wife." Broad never regained consciousness. He was 38.
Ancelotti and Clement were in tears on the bench ahead of kick-off at Stade Chaban-Delmas, a match a team in shock remarkably won. Around 40 members of PSG's staff travelled to London for Broad's funeral, joining former colleagues from Chelsea at Stamford Bridge for the wake. "Nick was such a fantastic guy, an amazing talent, someone who was doing things unique in football. I look at coaching differently now to before I'd met him. I'm blessed to have met him and worked with him. The sense since, with everything we're trying to win at PSG, is: 'Do this for Nick, do this for Nick.'"
There is still work to be done to secure a first domestic league title since 1994. PSG are a club transformed by Qatari funding, the influx of talent – Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore cost in excess of £250m – unprecedented in French football. Yet last season's title challenge was lost to Montpellier, and Lyon are doggedly pursuing Ancelotti's team this time around. The lead at the top is two points, even if logic suggests the quality in the PSG squad will tell before the campaign is out. "The team's unrecognisable now from when we arrived," says the assistant manager. "It's taken a while for the dressing room dynamic to settle, but this club has the structure to do something special. I truly believe PSG will win the Champions League. With a decent draw and a bit of luck, it might even be this year. That dream's alive. But the absolute priority is the title. The owners made that clear after what happened last year.
"The investment has been incredible. At first, when you hear the names linked, you sit there wondering: 'Cor, him? Really?' But after a while you almost get blase at having Lucas or Zlatan around the place. There was one training session with Zlatan ... it was last November, a few days after he'd scored four against England. There was so much hype around him and he'd come back on the crest of a wave. We were playing five versus five on a small pitch, with a 2m x 1m goal, and he went and scored an overhead like he'd done in Stockholm. Everyone just stood there, mouths gawping.
"He's an incredible athlete. [Didier] Drogba was immense, physically, and could do frightening things with his body and power on the pitch. But Zlatan's at another level."
Then there is Beckham. From the outside the 37-year-old's arrival appeared a luxury aimed at raising the club's profile, potentially with an ambassadorial brief with Qatar 2022, rather than a free transfer signing who might influence a three-pronged pursuit of silverware. "Anyone who thinks he's just here for shirt sales isn't all there," says Clement. "Watch him in a game and see his competitiveness, winning tackles, getting stuck in. He's not flying up and down the right, whipping crosses in on the run, but he's at an age where he understands what he can contribute, like Ryan Giggs at Manchester United. I'd never met him before but, because his life has been lived so publicly, it was almost as if I knew him when he signed. But what a professional. What a gentleman."
The assistant spent time with the midfielder working specifically on his fitness at the LTA national training centre in Roehampton last month. "I saw an almost child-like enthusiasm for football in him. Genuine excitement. That's been really refreshing. We get on well already. He'll double check with me on travel arrangements, or what he needs to wear, because all the instructions are written in French down at the training ground. It's nice to have some banter, too, with someone in your own language now and again."
Qualification for next season's Champions League will trigger a one-year option in the coaching staff's contracts and if the review process reveals all parties are satisfied Clement's Parisian sojourn will be extended. Yet, at some stage, his own career will bring him home in search of a managerial placement. "If I didn't get that opportunity at some stage I'd be really disappointed, but there's no rush," he adds. "I've gained a lot of experience in football, at lots of different levels, but I'm still a young coach learning from one of the best managers in the world. Any No1 job I take would be a step down from PSG, but that would be good for me. A first chance is usually like that. But, for now, working at this level is an absolute privilege."
Clement, the PE teacher turned Champions League coach, feels as if he belongs.