Inside Mauricio Pochettino’s PSG as new boss sets about building a champion

Melissa Reddy
·4-min read
PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino and Kylian Mbappe (PSG / Instagram)
PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino and Kylian Mbappe (PSG / Instagram)

Around half-an-hour away from the Parc des Princes, cocooned in a modest hotel for the capital, there is a reminder that even when the world changes in the most unprecedented ways, there are things that can feel familiar.

Mauricio Pochettino, his assistant Jesus Perez, first-team coach Miguel D'Agostino, goalkeeper guru Toni Jimenez and fitness coach Sebastiano are now tasked with turning Paris Saint-Germain into Champions League winners, but their day-to-day planning in such lodgings is a throwback to their early days at Southampton.

The stakes and the expectations have skyrocketed, but talking strategy over walks, while having dinner together and travelling to and from the stadium in unison is the same.

PSG are behemoths, a contrast to the technical team’s previous experience of flipping a finger to odds, limitations and psychological barriers at Espanyol, Southampton and Tottenham.

Yet, the start to the Pochettino era in Paris has not been without difficulty: seven players, including Neymar who was back in group training on Monday, have been unavailable due to injury or Covid in the two games played under the new manager in his first week.

Fitness levels in general are a cause for concern with the club barely having a pre-season following the Champions League final, tagging on to the lack of prime psychical conditioning after the global pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2019-20 Ligue 1 campaign.

Less than 24 hours after landing in France, Pochettino was overseeing his first training session with the opening task - a 1-1 draw at St Etienne - just three days later. That was sharply followed by a 3-0 victory at home to Brest, which sounds well more comfortable that it actually was.

Given the packed schedule, there has not been much time for Pochettino to transplant his tactical ideas on the pitches at Camp des Loges.

Much of this has been done via video presentations and meetings, while being careful not to overload players with information. Elevating the intensity, improving the transition game, diligence and discipline without the ball will all be paramount.

In his introductory address to the squad, Pochettino emphasised his enthusiasm in working with such a world-class group and help them shatter any ceilings individually and collectively.

Pochettino has a world class squad at his disposal in ParisREUTERS
Pochettino has a world class squad at his disposal in ParisREUTERS

The Argentine vowed his staff would give the players structure, organisation and support to enhance their talents and fulfil their ambitions, which would require their full commitment.

Streamlining communication across the club, especially around the medical and conditioning spheres, will be one of the quick fixes on the agenda.

There has not been any time for Pochettino to think about transfers and his priority is to better understand and maximise the players that are at his disposal, while trying to incorporate those who have been unavailable as quickly as possible.

Sporting director Leonardo and the recruitment team have been drafting plans for this window and PSG’s interest in Dele Alli was well established before the appointment of the former Spurs manager.

Whatever happens in the window, Pochettino has a squad flooded with pedigreed stars, which is a change from his norm of unearthing and developing them. Early indications are they are are onside with his blueprint and share the aim of winning the Champions League under his watch.

Pochettino’s opportunity to land the maiden piece of silverware of his managerial career arrives on Wednesday against Marseille in the French Cup, with fellow ex-Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas in the opposition dugout.

A victory would relegate the ‘hasn’t won a trophy’ talk, but would not make him any better at his job. After all, this is the man, who working with the lowest wage budget of the top six and with a net transfer spend of around £35m, took Tottenham to a Champions League final in five years.

PSG are not Spurs and winning is the bare minimum, a non-negotiable. A win on Wednesday would provide an immediate boost, but it does not alter the big picture: Pochettino was brought in to turn the club into European champions, to help them win hearts and be viewed as more than a luxury brand.

On Saturday night, 18 years after wearing the armband for the club and having overseen his first home as their manager, he took a picture with the banner designed by the fan group Collectif Ultras Paris.

"Welcome Captain!,” it read. Pochettino has always been more invested in the mood of a club and the state of it when he leaves and so will be working towards ensuring there is one thanking him in future too.

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