Mauricio Pochettino & PSG: Where did it all go wrong?

Mauricio Pochettino took charge of PSG on January 2nd, 2021 – his first job since leaving Tottenham earlier in the campaign.

As Pochettino took over midway through a campaign, there was some leeway given to the Argentine, who failed to secure the Ligue 1 crown but did make it to the semi-finals of the Champions League – beating Bayern Munich, the 2020 winners, in the quarter-finals along the way.

PSG then had what many regarded at the time as a dream summer transfer window. Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Nuno Mendes and Georginio Wijnaldum all arrived in the same window.

All, apart from Nuno Mendes, have competed at and been successful at the very top of the game. So, with an army of superstar names and what looked to be the best front-three in world football at his disposal, 2021/22 was very much expected to PSG and Pochettino’s season.

However, in the eyes of many, the current campaign has been something of a failure for PSG, and Mauricio Pochettino’s future in Paris is up in the air.

So, where did it all go wrong for Pochettino in the French capital?

Over paid & underprepared

Well, the issues Pochettino has had to overcome since making the move to France started as soon as he joined the club.

The Athletic report that after arriving at the start of last year, Pochettino and his staff had found their first six months at the club to be immensely challenging.

It is added that Pochettino and co. sought to improve the very basics and the minimum standard of preparedness, fitness and training standards among a group of players many in France have long claimed to be ‘over-indulged in Paris’.

This showcases that, just because a club has plenty of money to through around, it does not mean they are using it well.

Manchester City are a great example of this. When they were first taken over by Sheikh Mansour and co., there was little infrastructure in place capable of capitalising on the funds now available to the Sky Blues.

However, after several years of hard work, City were able to put together one of the most well-run clubs in the Premier League with quality training facilities and a clear goal that was being worked towards by all areas of the club.

PSG, on the other hand, give off the vibe of a club that throws everything at the wall and hopes something sticks.

This was further evidenced in recent months when PSG’s ultras criticised the management of the club and a perceived prioritisation of commercial performance over on-field success

Messi, Neymar & Mbappe

Another issue facing Pochettino at PSG is the group of players he has to work with.

Granted, on paper, having Messi, Neymar and Mbappe in one side is the stuff most fans dream of. But in reality, the trio simply do not work well together.

To compete at the very top of the footballing world right now requires a side to have eleven players working as a cohesive unit, both attacking and defending as a team. However, none of Messi, Neymar or Mbappe perform the defending side of the game very well at all.

And whilst some fans will, and have, used this as a tool to criticise said players, they are not the ones at fault. None of the above trio have ever been known for their defensive prowess, so why should they be expected to start performing in this area now?

On the other hand, though, given the staggering figures PSG have paid out in wages and transfer fees to these players, Pochettino no doubt feels an obligation to use them as much as possible, no matter how much it hinders his side in the big games.

Poor recruitment

Outside of his star-studded attack, Pochettino has had to work with a pretty unbalanced squad.

Once again, whilst 2021’s summer window looked impressive on paper, the signing of Sergio Ramos has been something of a disaster. The Spaniard has made just nine Ligue 1 appearances and not a single one in the Champions League.

Elsewhere, Achraf Hakimi, though a sought-after option in the summer, has only ever proven himself in a back-five for Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan. Yet, despite rarely operating with a back-five, PSG opted to spend big on the Moroccan who is clearly not as effective in his current role.

Further forward, meanwhile, PSG’s recruitment in midfield has been uninspiring for many years now.

Rather than focusing on players who fit a manager’s system, the French outfit seem inclined to either snap up whichever free agent is available at the time or whoever has just had a half-decent campaign.

Ander Herrera, Georginio Wijnaldum, Idrissa Gueye and Danilo Pereira have all arrived at the Parc des Princes in the last several years and Pochettino has been expected to try and put together a cohesive midfield with this quartet and more. None though - barring Wijnaldum who excelled in a very specific role in a very specific system - have ever looked world-class.

We spoke earlier about PSG throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks, and that does seem to be their approach to recruitment, especially in midfield.

Little fish, big pond

Part of the reason for this poor recruitment could well be that Pochettino does not feel he has enough control at the club.

Like other PSG coaches before him, Pochettino has not always relished answering to sporting director Leonardo, who some believe to be overly close to the dressing room.

At Tottenham, the South American became the top dog and commanded respect from all his players.

At PSG, though, Pochettino is a small fish in an ocean of sharks. Whether that be the superstar egos he must manage on a daily basis or those above him, it is clear Pochettino has struggled with the psychological transition of going from coaching Spurs to one of the biggest clubs in the world.

The former Southampton man would not be the first person to struggle with these issues, though.

Shortly after leaving PSG for Chelsea, Thomas Tuchel spoke about how much more calmly he is able to work at his current club: “They are two completely different clubs with regards to style and organisation.

“At PSG, I felt I was the Minister for Sport. I had to also manage family members and friends of the stars. At Chelsea, I work much more calmly.”

Too much focus on Champions League

“We shouldn’t throw everything in the bin. We shouldn't start from scratch after every loss. The objective is to win the Champions League, and until half-time we were fine,” said Leonardo after PSG’s Round of 16 exit at the hands of Real Madrid earlier this year.

The reality of the situation, though, is that is exactly what the French powerhouse does.

Their owners have become so obsessed with winning the competition that every season they do not now feels like a failure.

This has created a toxic atmosphere amongst the fans and the hierarchy who, despite Leonardo’s comments, will no doubt part with Pochettino in the near future.

They did something similar with Thomas Tuchel who was sacked six months after winning Ligue 1 and reaching the Champions League final with PSG. The German then took charge of Chelsea and won the competition less than six months later with a different side.

Barring in mind, though, this comes from a team who have never won the Champions League/European Cup and, up until 2012/13, were not even in the competition on a regular basis.

Yes, PSG now have a lot of money. But, much like Manchester United right now, just because you through a lot of money at players, it does not mean they will bring you success if there is no clear club-wide plan in place.

And, until this issue is resolved, Pochettino and most managers who follow in his footsteps are likely to meet the same disappointing end in Paris.

Josh Barker

Josh Barker

Middlesbrough fan from the North East of England. @JoshBarker979 on Twitter.

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