After a 14-month break, Mauricio Pochettino is back in management after taking the reins at Paris Saint-Germain.
Pochettino replaces the outgoing Thomas Tuchel who, despite winning four major domestic honours and reaching last season’s Champions League final, was dismissed just before Christmas in the wake of some pretty candid remarks about his position at the club.
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With PSG locked in a Ligue 1 title battle with Lille and Lyon, and having drawn Barcelona in the Champions League round-of-16, not to mention a number of questions to answer when it comes to the club’s playing squad, Pochettino has quite a hefty in-tray at the Parc des Princes.
Pochettino has already overseen two matches in charge of the reigning Ligue 1 champions — a 1-1 draw against Saint-Etienne and a 3-0 win over Brest. Although his side showed some signs of promise versus Saint-Etienne it left Pochettino, and likely PSG fans, walking away displeased.
“I am disappointed,” he said after the match. “We are PSG, and we wanted to win this game. I think there are a lot of aspects that we can improve, we have plenty of concepts that we want to implement, but we need some time. It is only the beginning.”
There’s a lot to unpack with this managerial move, so let’s get into some of the potential winners and losers of Pochettino’s PSG appointment.
Winner: PSG’s full-backs
PSG’s quality at full-back is a cause of great debate among supporters, even more so since the departure of Thomas Meunier to Borussia Dortmund last summer. Layvin Kurzawa or Mitchel Bakker? Colin Dagba or Alessandro Florenzi? Who is actually going to stay fit for long enough to hold down their place?
Well, fans can now at least take solace in the fact that they’ve appointed one of the most acclaimed managers around when it comes to improving full-backs.
During his time at Southampton, Pochettino oversaw the development of Luke Shaw and Nathanial Clyne, with the pair going on to become full England internationals and fetch the club over £40m in transfer fees. When he took over at Spurs in 2014, he inherited Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, who had managed just 114 Premier League appearances combined for the Lilywhites prior to his arrival. Pochettino quickly helped the pair become mainstays in the England national team while elevating them among the Premier League’s best full-backs. Manchester City even saw fit to spend £50m on Walker in 2017.
Such is Pochettino’s record in this position, he is even referred to as the “full-back whisperer”.
Pochettino allowed his full-backs freedom to push high up the pitch against Saint-Etienne last week, while 43% of their attacks came down the left flank and 29% down the right, compared to 28% through the middle. Signs are that he intends to use these areas of the pitch frequently to build attacks.
Dagba and Bakker are still only 22 and 20 years of age, respectively, with plenty of time to improve and develop. Who better to learn from than the “full-back whisperer” himself?
Loser: Man City
Inevitably, Pochettino’s arrival has seen PSG linked with another of his compatriots, Lionel Messi, as noted by Spanish football expert Guillem Balague.
While not being drawn on the matter specifically, the new manager did admit that any “big player” would be “welcome” at PSG.
“There are a lot of rumours in big clubs like PSG. It’s time to leave the rumours for later,” he said. “But any big player in the world is always welcome in Paris Saint-Germain.” Pochettino has hinted in the past that Messi almost joined Espanyol, and that he could have been his manager there.
Even with the attacking riches at PSG’s disposal, there’s no doubt they’d jump at the chance to add Messi to their immense portfolio. The acclaim and endorsements would be too good to turn down, not to mention the sheer mountain of goals and titles he would bring with him.
PSG’s standing coupled with Pochettino’s nationality and links to both Catalan and Argentine football make the Parisians a genuine contender for Messi’s signature, and that could potentially spell doom for any move from Manchester City for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
There was a time when Pochettino claimed it was “impossible” for him to manage Barcelona, thanks to his Espanyol background. The Argentine backtracked on those comments last year, however, saying it was an “exaggeration”.
“I made a mistake in the way I put it across that it would be impossible in the future to manage Barcelona,” he said. “I was a little bit exaggerating to not leave any hint of doubts.”
Although that isn’t exactly conclusive evidence that Pochettino would jump at the chance to take his place in the Camp Nou dugout, it did leave the door open. What’s more, Balague even reports that Barca made an unofficial approach for Pochettino but that former Espanyol centre-back needed more time to consider his options.
He tweeted: “Barcelona had been looking for a new manager for months. Eric Abidal (Barca’s sporting director) was very impressed with Pochettino and was backed/admired by not only Ramon Planes (Eric’s right-hand man) and president, as he knows Poch well, but other top directors too.
“FCB wanted to take the decision this week and Pochettino needed more time to think about it. It is a hard decision to take, being [an] Espanyol fan and needing to know the project in detail.
“He wanted to talk to his people. It was all too rushed.”
Barcelona are now stuttering under Ronald Koeman and if nothing else, Pochettino joining PSG means that’s one less top-class manager available should they need someone to turn to in their hunt to restore dominance over Spanish and European football. Speaking of which, there’s the small matter of their Champions League round-of-16 clash with PSG to come in February. Pochettino will certainly have a point to prove there.
Loser: PSG’s title rivals
As mentioned, PSG trail Lyon by a single point in the Ligue 1 title race, with Lille also alongside Pochettino’s men on 39 points from 19 games. In short, the Parisians are not crushing the French top flight like they usually do and face a serious battle to maintain their dominance.
However, from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s early days at Manchester United to Roy Hodgson winning an uphill battle at Crystal Palace following Frank de Boer’s departure, not to mention the multiple escape acts performed by Sam Allardyce, there have been plenty of recent instances of ‘new manager bounces’.
While seeing this sort of effect at the top of the table is admittedly much rarer, few managers with Pochettino’s pedigree ever get offered a job as tantalizing as PSG mid-season. Should the 48-year-old get it right quickly in Paris (which most back him to do), those around PSG in the table might be powerless to stop them winning yet another Ligue 1 title.
Winner: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Most managers will entirely dismiss paper talk, claiming not to take notice of it at all, but if Solskjaer has spent any time on social media or looking at the back pages since he took up the Manchester United job, he’s likely sick of seeing the name “Pochettino”.
Time and again, fans have called for the Red Devils to swap Solskjaer for Pochettino, even as recently as December after United crashed out of the Champions League. Well, since then, Man Utd have risen to joint-top in the Premier League and reached the EFL Cup final, so perhaps the former “baby-faced assassin” isn’t doing such a bad job after all.
At the very least, with Pochettino now behind his desk in Paris, talk of the Argentine replacing Solskjaer at Old Trafford will quell for the foreseeable future.