“We have an idea, a footballing philosophy and a structure that will lead us to victory,” new Paris Saint-Germain boss Mauricio Pochettino seemed adamant following his side’s 1-1 draw against St. Etienne in his first game in charge.
The oil-rich PSG model has been designed to succeed at the European level, and anything other than that has not been acceptable, either to the fans or to the owner. Pochettino’s predecessor Thomas Tuchel has learnt this the hard way.
Tuchel was axed months after leading the French champions to the UEFA Champions League final against Bayern Munich, and regardless of the run, a reported tussle coupled with a subsequent gap between them and leaders Lyon in the 2020-21 Ligue 1 season culminated in his sacking.
PSG are an absolute example of modern day football. They hold little patience, and rightly so. The board has injected a bucket load of money in the squad, and all they want in return is instant success. And this is where things get tricky for Pochettino.
A jump from Tottenham to a club like PSG might seem like a massive coup on papers, but there are several issues that the former Tottenham boss needs to address. Here we look at a few of them:
Handling the transfers well
With the likes of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen now available in the market, media speculations were quick to address a potential reunion of the trio (Pochettino and the players) in Paris. It is to be noted, however, that PSG already have enough players in the attacking third and the aforementioned duo will be surplus to their requirements, at least in the winter transfer window.
The issue with Tuchel during his final months wasn’t limited to the field. He was quite vocal about how the club was allowing important members to leave on free transfers. "We lose too many players on free transfers. It is too, too much. We cannot ask this squad the same thing as we did last season," the German said back in October.
The hierarchy (sporting director Leonardo) simply responded by saying, “I didn't like his comments, the club didn't like them either."
Tuchel had all the rights to speak out after the likes of Thiago Silva (Chelsea), Edinson Cavani (Manchester United), Thomas Meunier (Borussia Dortmund) and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting (Bayern Munich) all moved out on free transfers. And barring the latter, all three have established themselves as an important part of their respective teams.
Thing to note here for Pochetiino, at least in the formative years, is that he needs to work his philosophy as per the members of the board to shape the structure.
Sorting out the contractual situation
The aforementioned obstacle leads up to another problem for Pochettino with several PSG players in the final few years of their contract. The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar see their contract expiring in June 2022 as per Transfermarkt, and there are several others who need addressing as well.
The Argentine manager has never, in his career, worked with as glittering a lineup as PSG, and thus sorting out a decent playing XI might take time. That, however, is the only entity he doesn’t have.
Winger Angel Di Maria has entered the final six months of his tenure at PSG, and to rub salt on his already deepened wounds, Tuchel decided to bench him against Lorient while saying, “I feel like Angel has lost some things that were easy for him before.”
Pochettino has been at the end of a mass exodus at Tottenham, but PSG represents a different challenge altogether. At 32, Di Maria sure has a year or two left in his tank, but that is upto Pochettino to decide where he burns his fuel. The good thing amidst all this is the fact that Juan Bernat is reportedly closing in on agreeing a new deal. Julian Draxler, on the other hand, is expected to let go in the summer of 2021.
Bring in the Champions League
Winning the Ligue 1 title has been nothing but a cakewalk for PSG. The team has, after all, won seven of the last eight domestic titles. It is the UEFA Champions League silverware that has been the only jewel left to be achieved in the wealthy PSG trunk. Since the 2012-13 season for Europe’s grand competition, PSG have bowed out from the quarter-finals a whopping four times. They made it to the final last year and three years before that, they were eliminated from the round of 16 itself.
That’s an extremely subpar record for a team that boasts of players of the highest quality. When you look at it, that has been a constant problem for PSG, as more stars mean there is no balance in the playing XI. While their attacking duo remains constant (when fit), a rotation every now and then disturbs the structure.
Pochettino not only has to work on bringing in the balance, but he will also have to get his hands on the coveted European title before the clock starts ticking. PSG are to face their old foes Barcelona in the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League, in February, and a win over the Catalans would represent as a major headway in the new Pochettino era.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Philippe Desmazes