The Groundsman

May 2014

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IOG BEST PRACTICE 24 the Groundsman May 2014 Visit for more information and digital editions Acquiring British expertise "French stadia and pitches are traditionally owned by the local cities and the city 'horticultural teams' look after the pitches. Unfortunately, their level of sports turf management and maintenance is different to that in the UK; they generally cut the grass, occasionally feed it (often only four/five times a year) and white line. That's it." As a result, problems were arising with the pitches – and in PSG's case, both the stadium pitch and those at the training ground. Something had to change if the club's dream of Champion League success is to become a reality, Jonathan says. "Qatar Investment Authority took over the club as the majority shareholder in 2011, then acquired full ownership in 2012. There is a four-year plan to elevate PSG into the top echelons of European football; to establish its status such that the club will be mentioned in the same breath as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Real Madrid. The starting point has been to acquire the on-field talent to make this happen – in the current squad, players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and and Yohan Cabaye – and the new owners spent a record €364m (£299m) in the period 2011-14. It's a policy that has already seen us reach the quarter finals of the Champions League in season 2012-13 and again this year. "However, the owners clearly also recognised that the club's facilities, too, had to be enhanced in line with their European dream, and that includes the pitches." Jonathan's appointment in May last year started with "an out of the blue" 'phone call from Gerard Houiller, former manager at Aston Villa and PSG. Jonathan had struck up a good relationship with him when Gerard was at Aston Villa and contact has continued since. Gerard was out to dinner with PSG directors who mentioned they had read something about Aston Villa's head groundsman winning an IOG Award (Jonathan won the IOG Campey/Imants Award for Best Professional Football Groundsman of the Year in 2012). Gerard was asked if he had Jonathan's contact details. The call that was made that night effectively set in motion a series of events that would change the lives of Jonathan and his family – and effectively transform PSG's playing surfaces. "With Aston Villa's blessing, I initially went over to Paris to offer advice; I produced a report on the state of the stadium pitch and on the training ground's 2.5 pitches. Everything was wrong; the pitch construction, the machinery being used and the maintenance regime. It all had to change if the surfaces were to be improved." Having the report was one thing, but PSG needed the expertise to implement the recommendations. In short, the club soon made Jonathan "a mind-blowing" offer to move to Paris, relocating his wife and two young children (a twin boy and girl, aged seven) to a picturesque village ten minutes' drive from the training ground (at Saint-Germain-en-Laye – where Jonathan has four staff) and around 20 minutes from the stadium (where there are three additional groundstaff). Jonathan spends his time between the two locations. Settling in "It was a once-in-a-lifetime offer and an opportunity that just could not be resisted," says 36-year-old Jonathan. "But it was, of course, a wrench; I'd enjoyed 13 very happy years at Villa Park, building a high- quality groundstaff team which elevated Villa Park and the training pitches into among the best in the world. Of course, it also meant uprooting my family, and that was never going to be any easy decision. "Now, less than a year later, I consider it one of the best things I've ever done. Everything is working out great – especially the PSG people and the way they have looked after me and my family, as well as the players who have obviously recognised the improvement in pitch quality – for example, even megastars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic will come into my office for a chat." Help at hand Joining the club just six weeks before the start of the new season meant Jonathan didn't have much time to fully instigate his recommendations, based on turf care maintenance regimes he so successfully employed in the UK. "Because the training pitches are effectively used more than the stadium, the decision was made to renovate these and John Hewitt Sportsturf won the contract to install new Desso Grassmaster pitches at Saint- Germain-en-Laye," Jonathan continues. The Koro Field Top Maker in action on the PSG stadium pitch The Dakota Turf Tender topdressing at the stadium

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