PSG: Why Pochettino and why now?

After a 4-0 win against Strasbourg, PSG surprisingly made the decision to sack head coach Thomas Tuchel. The man who has won the club a domestic double and lost marginally in the Champions League final the previous season a sluggish start to this season’s league campaign marked the end of the German’s reign. It is well known how desperate PSG’s owners are to win the Champions League and therefore the notable progress of reaching the final led many to believe Tuchel would be given more time. However, player power is paramount at PSG and it appears that he may have lost the backing of some of the club’s star names. Mauricio Pochettino looks set to be the man to replace Tuchel following a year away from the game. This begs the question why Pochettino and why now? The French club could have waited to see the outcome of this season but decided to act swiftly. This post explores the reasons why that may be and why this is a move that could make sense for both PSG and Pochettino.

Why for PSG:

A pattern has emerged at PSG. A manager comes in and wins the league at a canter. The French Cup usually follows and the club then proceed to fall short in the Champions League. This becomes not enough to satisfy the board and a new manager is appointed. The club needs a new direction. It looks from the outside as though the club stagnated under Tuchel and the players perhaps grew tired of his methods. With Pochettino in charge there will definitely be a fresh energy brought to the club with a new style of play implemented. His style is fast-paced and high energy and if the players buy into it then it could be a sight to behold. If Pochettino can get Neymar, Mbappe et al on board with the work rate required to implement his philosophy the tools are there for a period of real success.

Pochettino’s level of success will depend heavily on Neymar and Mbappe

This sounds simple in theory, but the reality could be all too different. As a number of managers have discovered to their dismay, the players are king at the Parisian club. Player power is paramount and its frequently reported that the likes of Neymar, Mbappe and Di Maria run the dressing room. Tuchel’s title was first team coach, not manager, and this perhaps says a lot about the balance of power at the club. The board are reluctant to place too much power in the coach’s hands while they constantly seek to keep a harmonious dressing room. It is hard to envisage Pochettino getting more power than his predecessors, although he may have negotiated a level of control into his contract discussions. However, this is a role in which Pochettino has worked before with great success. His title at Tottenham was first team coach and he held the same title at Southampton before that.

While Pochettino was successful in this position, his relationship with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy became strained at time due to his perceived lack of power. This was very much apparent when the chairman went over a year without buying a player for Pochettino’s side despite his protestations. However, it is difficult to see a lack of signings being problematic for Pochettino in his new surroundings, although keeping players may be just as important. Neymar is constantly linked with a move to Barcelona, although it doesn’t sound as though the Catalan club could fund a move for the Brazilian in the near future. Mbappe is similarly constantly linked with a move elsewhere but again it would be incredibly difficult for any club to find the money to sign him.

Own reason that PSG are likely to have earmarked Pochettino is his Champions League final run with Tottenham. Ultimately it ended in defeat, as PSG’s final appearance did last season, however Pochettino’s lack of spending and the way he got his side to the final impressed football fans across the world. With money to play with and his methods implemented PSG and Pochettino could be a very fruitful partnership. However, Pochettino should be under no illusions that winning the Champions League is the obsession in Paris and failure to do so is likely to ultimately result in Poch seeking a new job.

One of the frustrations fans of PSG have had in recent years is the exodus of young talent from the club who have gone on to impress elsewhere. Rather than clear a pathway to the first team the board have more often than not opted to sign experienced players rather than mould and develop their own young prospects. One of Pochettino’s greatest strength as a coach is his ability to develop and improve players, particularly ones he can nurture from a young age. The likes of Deli Alli, Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son are all prime example of this. The list of young stars who have left the club shows that, had they the patience to develop their potential, they would have an even greater embarrassment of quality all over the pitch. Whether Pochettino will be granted enough power to change PSG’s recent approach to young talent is unclear but this may be one of the reasons he was so keenly courted by the club. The following list shows just how much talent the French Champions have let leave in recent years, with it hard to argue that a number of the individuals wouldn’t improve the current side. The club that they left for is also listed with Lille the main benefactors.

Tanguy Kouassi – Bayern Munich

Adil Aouchiche – St Etienne

Timothy Weah – Lille

Kingsley Coman – Juventus

Matteo Guendouzi – Arsenal

Claudio Gomes – Man City

Yacine Adli – Bordeaux

Boubakary Soumare – Lille

Moussa Diaby – Bayer Leverkusen

Jonathan Ikone – Lille

Christopher Nkunku – RB Leipzig

Odsonne Edouard – Celtic

Moussa Dembele – Fulham

Axel Zagadou – Borussia Dortmund

Mike Maignan – Lille

Coman scored the winner in the Champions League final against his former club.

Why for Pochettino?

So, the appointment could well make a lot of sense for PSG, but why has Pochettino taken this job after waiting so patiently for the right project?

The one argument that is always used against the Argentinian is that he has never won a career trophy. The fact that he has managed Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham, none of who have won anything of note in their recent history, conveniently forgotten. However, by going to PSG there is no doubt that this argument can be put to bed, although the fact that PSG expect to win their domestic league every season may mean that this still doesn’t satisfy the critics. For Pochettino himself though, this is a chance to get some silverware under his belt and have a real crack at the Champions League, something he managed to punch above his weight and do at Tottenham. He didn’t win trophies at Tottenham but he was a victim of his own success. He made top four finishes a regular thing at Tottenham and impressed in the Champions League. However, things went stale towards the end and the players seemed exhausted by his methods which demand 100% commitment. His lack of trophies was held against him but the reality is he turned Tottenham into a real force and left the club in a far better position than he found it in when he joined.

As alluded to previously, Pochettino has coached and developed a number of talents. He won’t have managed any natural talents of the likes of Neymar and Mbappe, however. Super stars of the game to which the most outrageous of things come too easy. This will excite Pochettino, as it would any manager, and will be a huge factor to him taking the job.

Another huge factor will be the benefit of something Pochettino hasn’t had so far in his career. The benefit of vast sums of money to spend, although Financial Fair Play will restrict this partly. Neither Espanyol nor Southampton were able to provide Pochettino with much money to play with and, while Tottenham are by no means a poor club, Daniel Levy is not known for departing with his money easily. PSG on the other hand are all too happy to spend big on players who can take them to the next level and already boast the two most expensive signings of all time in Neymar and Mbappe. Rumours are already circulating that Pochettino could be set to look to players he has worked with previously and Hugo Llorus and Christian Eriksen have already been mentioned, as well as Dele Alli who was already linked with the club prior to Pochettino’s appointment. The opportunity to have a greater say on transfers will also have been a factor in his decision and it will be interesting to see if the players signed are those Pochettino would want or follow the trend of previous board signings.

Pochettino and Alli could soon be reunited in Paris

A factor that cannot be overlooked is the fact that Pochettino played for the club for two seasons in the early 2000’s. He has spoke fondly of his time in Paris and has said in the past how much he would love to one day coach his former side. This dream has become reality and the hard work starts now to put the wheels in motion for a shot at Champions League success.

The risk

While this appointment has all the makings of a fairytale partnership, there are variables that could mean this ends in disaster. If the stars of the club such as Neymar and Mbappe don’t buy into Pochettino’s methods then things could turn sour. These players have a huge influence over the PSG dressing room and generally if they are happy the club is a better place. Due to the nature of these players there may have to be some compromise on both sides. Neymar in particular may have to sacrifice himself slightly to do a bit more out of possession but Pochettino may have to compromise by allowing Neymar and possibly Mbappe greater freedom in his tactics.

For Pochettino himself he could fall victim to the pressure of expectation, as so many have before him. Domestic trophies are the bare minimum for PSG and they are expected to win them in style. However, the Champions League trophy remains elusive and, in truth, last season was the only time they have come close to glory in recent years. Anything less than Champions League glory will be viewed as a failure by the fans and board alike, if not this season then in the very near future.

While it would be naive to assume Pochettino has committed to the club to only enhance his reputation in terms of trophies won it may be that unless he has success in Europe then he won’t leave the job with his stock any greater than when he joined. The state of league competition in France’s top flight is poor and no one in the league can match PSG’s financial might. The poor domestic league impacts the club’s chances in Europe year on year. They simply do not have enough sides of the quality of their Champions League in their own league. When it comes to big Champions League nights it can be difficult to flick the switch to play at their highest level. To add to this, with the ease at which they tend to win domestically motivation can be an issue.

Domestic trophies are the bare minimum. Desperate for Champions League win and anything less than that is seen as a failure.

Can Pochettino motivate these players to work harder and run more when they know they are likely to win the league regardless? This job could prove highly successful for Pochettino and PSG and fans will be very excited to see what he can do with the array of talent at the club. However, make no mistake about it, if the club aren’t winning the league at a canter and challenging at the very latter stages of the Champions League this job could prove to be a poisoned chalice for Pochettino, as it has been for Tuchel and a number of his predecessors.

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