Just a year after being shown the door at Tottenham Hotspur, Mauricio Pochettino is back in the mix of things after Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain announced his appointment as the head coach of the club on Saturday.
Joining his former club where he had spent two-and-a-half seasons as a player between 2001 and 2003, the Argentine will doubtless be tasked with what his predecessor, Thomas Tuchel, failed to achieve — bring the elusive UEFA Champions League trophy to Parc des Princes for the first time in the club’s 50-year existence. Keeping that in mind, Pochettino immediately vowed “to win with style”.
“PSG are one of the biggest clubs in the world, so it’s not only important to win but to win with style,” the 48-year-old told the club’s website after filling in the void that Tuchel’s abrupt sacking on December 24 had left. “I return to the club with a lot of ambition and humility… and will do my utmost to give our team the combative and attacking playing identity that Parisian fans have always loved.”
So what is the exact position that Pochettino finds himself in?
Owing to a lacklustre start to the season, PSG are currently in an unprecedented third place in Ligue 1 with 35 points from 17 matches. The Parisians are still just a point off the top spot but it is their worst return at this stage since the 2013/14 season. Having lost four times in the league this season, they have already lost more matches than in the whole of the last campaign.
In Europe, Pochettino will have the task of plotting the downfall of Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League last-16 tie at Camp Nou on February 16, with the return leg on March 6. Considering his feat of leading Tottenham Hotspur to their first-ever appearance in the competition’s final, PSG can be said to be in trusted hands.
Before spending the last year avoiding managerial rumours, indulging in punditry, and holding Zoom conferences with Argentine coaches, Pochettino kept himself busy with the job of transforming Tottenham Hotspur into a force to be reckoned with. During his five-and-a-half-year stay in London, he led the club to two Premier League title races and turned it into a UEFA Champions League regular.
Prior to all the recognition, Pochettino’s tale of ascension began back in 2009 when he was appointed as the manager of La Liga side Espanyol, where he once used to play as a hard-tackling defender under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa.
Over the years, he has fine-tuned his Bielsa-inspired principles — using a diamond in the defensive third while having possession and instructing his front four to remain narrow during the off-the-ball pressing. He also effectively uses his fullbacks to switch play quite often to create more angles to progress the ball further up the pitch. With the plethora of talent available to him at PSG, he will most certainly make the most of it in his preferred 4-2-3-1 system.
Apart from having world-class forwards in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe and an efficient midfield operator in Marco Verratti, he will have under his wing several compatriots to count on such as Mauro Icardi, Angel Di Maria, and Leandro Paredes. Adding to that, the presence of ball-playing defenders like Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe will help Pochettino to stick to his usual buildup process.
With the transfer window open, he will also be keen to bring in new faces like Inter Milan playmaker Christian Eriksen or even Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli. Whether or not Pochettino will use his Argentine ties to bring in six-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi at the end of the ongoing season remains to be seen.
The son of a farmer from the rural village of Murphy, Pochettino is a stickler for detail, which coupled with his tactical acumen, devotion to an attractive style, man-management skills, and popularity amongst the Parisians from his playing days, makes him a potentially ideal fit as the new occupant of the PSG dugout.
Now, Pochettino is due to meet with his squad at PSG’s first post-Christmas training session on Sunday ahead of their trip to Saint-Etienne on Wednesday. Then, PSG host Brest next Saturday before the Trophee des Champions against Marseille on January 13. Can he settle in before the flurry of matches? Only time will tell.