Ligue 1Soccer

Messi and Paris Saint-Germain Dream Team will be true test of Pochettino’s mettle

August 11, 2021January 3rd, 2022

With a star-studded squad at his disposal, it’s time for Mauricio Pochettino to deliver, writes Graham Ruthven.

Towards the end of his time at Tottenham Hotspur, Mauricio Pochettino’s frustration became palpable. While the Argentine carried the North London club to a second place finish in the Premier League and a Champions League final, he felt unsupported in his efforts to take any further steps forward. This frustration spiraled until Pochettino left Spurs in November 2019.

He can’t have any qualms about the backing Paris Saint-Germain have shown him since his appointment earlier this year. Not only have Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi, Sergio Ramos and Georginio Wijnaldum arrived at the Parc des Princes to strengthen Pochettino’s squad this summer, Lionel Messi has now arrived.

A personal phone call from Pochettino was reportedly key in persuading Messi to join PSG after his dramatic departure from Barcelona last week. Of course, the two men share a nationality and common footballing lineage through their background with Newell’s Old Boys. Pochettino and Messi should work well together.

However, Messi’s arrival in the French capital coupled with the impressive transfer business PSG have done in other areas will heighten the pressure on Pochettino to deliver. Anything less than domestic and continental success will be seen as failure for the 49-year-old whose own reputation is now very much on the line.

While Pochettino achieved great success at Tottenham Hotspur, turning the club into a bona-fide member of the English and European football elite, he faced criticism for not winning anything tangible during his time there. Spurs put themselves into a position to lift silverware, but were never able to get over the line under Pochettino.

Even after just six months in the job, Pochettino has a target on his back as PSG boss after allowing Lille to snatch the Ligue 1 title last season. PSG were no better in the second half of the season under Pochettino than they were in the first half under Thomas Tuchel. This season, with Pochettino now in charge of the strongest squad in world football, there must be significant improvement.

Pochettino must devise a system that allows Kylian Mbappe, Neymar Jr and Messi to shine on the same pitch, while not making PSG too top-heavy. He must find the right balance through the midfield and into the defence to provide a platform for the most devastating attacking line European football has ever seen.

Domestic dominance won’t be enough. PSG see winning the Ligue 1 title as a given (which is why last season’s second place finish was viewed as such an abomination). This is a club that is almost solely defined every season by their success or failure in the Champions League – given that PSG have yet to win the competition, they have only ever charted failure.

That might seem a somewhat simplistic way to look at things, but this is how PSG’s Qatari owners assess their managers. Tuchel, for instance, was sacked just a matter of months after leading the club to their first ever Champions League final. Pochettino will be judged just as harshly, perhaps even more so given the talent at his disposal.

Long considered one of the best managers of his generation, this season represents a watershed for Pochettino. His moment of reckoning is here. Anything less than tangible success in the form of silverware will be widely viewed as failure – he won’t get away with second place if Mbappe, Messi and Neymar Jr are leading the line.

After years of being a nearly man at Tottenham, Pochettino presumably joined PSG to win. Therefore, he has no grounds for complaint over the pressure that will now be applied. With the phone call made to Messi last week, Pochettino effectively accepted the demands that will now be made of him. Teams this good aren’t allowed to lose.

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