Almost two months on from Mauricio Pochettino’s appointment as PSG manager, the Argentinian still seems unsure of his best team. A 2-0 loss to Monaco has most recently summarised Les Parisiens’ inconsistency, and blown the Ligue 1 title race wide open. Despite these struggles, hope still remains that their new manager can be the cultural fit PSG need to reach the next level.
Pochettino certainly did not hit the ground running in Paris, despite winning the Trophée des Champions against rivals Marseille 11 days into his tenure. A 1-1 draw away to Saint-Étienne welcomed him to the club, followed by some stuttering performances made worse by the absence of the suspended Neymar, Marquinhos and Keylor Navas through injury, and Verratti and Diallo with COVID-19. Pochettino’s tactics were described as awkward and his side error-prone going into the Barcelona game on February 16th.
It is difficult, however, to overstate the enormity of that 4-1 victory at the Camp Nou. Mbappé’s dismantling of Ronald Koeman’s listless bunch sent the internet into over-drive – a story, some argue, of the footballing baton being seized from Lionel Messi’s wearied grasp. Poor as Barcelona were, the excitement that Mbappé and PSG provided seemed seminal.
Few neutrals tend to route for a club whose rise to the top has coincided with a rapid influx of new investment and the splashing of cash. Yet as Mbappé sped away from a despairing Gerard Piqué it was difficult not to celebrate the Frenchman’s devastating pace and finishing. The inherent likeability of this victory was down to PSG’s antics on the pitch, and perhaps the lack of Neymar’s habitual histrionics, but also evident during this game was a cultural refreshment that had been missing before Pochettino’s arrival.
Under Tuchel, much was made of the players’ alleged unhappiness, of tension spreading up and down the club. Here, rumours of Mbappé’s transfer to Real Madrid seemed distant, and PSG resembled a far more harmonious outfit at face value. Such could help them go one better this year and win the elusive Champions League.
Despite sitting four points off Lille in top spot in France, Europe is clearly, and certainly should be, PSG’s top priority. If they can replicate performances such as the one in the first leg against Barcelona they will sit amongst the favourites.
This is where Pochettino could prove such an important recruitment. What he made clear throughout his time at Tottenham, perhaps made even more obvious after he left, was his ability to man-manage and form close personal relationships with players.
This was missing with Tuchel, and toxicity defined PSG as a result. What Pochettino can do in Paris is something that has seemed impossible throughout their new era – bring the club together. In doing so he can give his top players the free platform they need to perform, increasing their chances to thrive and win big games. Should they do so in Europe, these top players may yet stay, and an opportunity to build a dynasty presents itself.
Over-reliance on the likes of Mbappé and Neymar remains a concern. In their aforementioned loss to Monaco, Neymar was again out injured, allowing Mbappé to be targeted. His threat was neutralised, and with it were PSG. Under Pochettino they remain below par domestically and have now lost 6 games in a campaign for the first time since 2011-12.
But this dependence was a problem long before his arrival. The Argentinian seems to have the best shot at solving this problem, particularly looking forward to the potential signings of Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen or Harry Kane in the summer.
It seems a throw-away comment, but Pochettino is likeable. This is the piece that Paris Saint Germain have been missing for nearly a decade, in both their external image and within the fabric of the club. He has the ability to dispel rumours of rifts and controversies regarding player relations.
In doing so, and by prioritising the Champions League, Pochettino has the opportunity to build something special at PSG. If he can start to achieve what the club’s Qatari owners have been envisaging since 2011, Mbappé and Neymar will certainly think twice about defecting to the declining Spanish giants.
Image: timlontano via Unsplash