Such is the circus that surrounds some of the biggest footballers in the world, the capture of Lionel Messi might actually prove to be a bad thing for PSG.
Indeed, much as Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United has seemingly piled the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to actually win something, Mauricio Pochettino looks increasingly under the microscope. The Argentine, arguably, is the best manager Messi has been coached by since Luis Enrique. For Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, only Thomas Tuchel comes close.
Still, while the idea of Messi finally working with an elite coach again and making a serious play to add another Champions League title to his haul is certainly romantic, his compatriot just doesn’t seem to be the right fit at PSG.
This, after all, is a man who has built projects based on collective spirit. At Tottenham Hotspur, he moulded a team full of young players into world stars, improving each and every single individual who worked under him.
Now, he’s in a position where Messi refuses to shake his hand after taking him off early during a game in which he seemed to pick up an injury, a problem that caused him to miss the next match anyway.
Of course, it’s only natural a player of Messi’s stature would be frustrated at being substituted – you surely don’t hit the heights he has by reacting well to that sort of thing – but the early crack in the relationship is indicative of Pochettino’s standing in the French capital. For the first time in his managerial career, he’s uneasy underfoot.
Given the 49-year-old does not have a raft of trophy wins to fall back on too, it’s easy to imagine the tide turning against him. Not that sacking him would be advisavle, however.
The greatest success of PSG, considering the resource they enjoy under their Qatari ownership, was reaching the 2020 Champions League final under Tuchel, another man renowned for his ability to build teams.
Superstar names in Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc have failed to convert their domestic dominance into continental conquering and, at this stage, it’s unlikely they’d even be able to land the other leading managers in the game.
Antonio Conte (who has an awful record in the Champions League) aside, none of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, or Diego Simeone seem suited to their model. Whether Ancelotti or Tuchel would return is doubtful, though certainly not impossible. So, sacking Pochettino would leave PSG with an almighty hole to fill. Clearly, there’s no immediate suggestion of that but the early signs do not look promising.
Paris, too, is a hotbed for football. The top level of the game is littered with young talent forged in the French capital and, long-term, to ignore that while boasting the kind of manager who has proven he can get the best out of burgeoning players would be a crying shame.
Given the problems of the two leading Spanish clubs, as well as Juventus and Inter Milan, PSG have all the tools to create a dynasty at the top of the European game. In doing that, however, they must ignore bending to the will of superstars who will only play for the club for a few years.
The idea of PSG creating any kind of long-lasting success in the Champions League will anger those who believe they are nothing more than a ‘sportswashing’ exercise. Valid as that may be, the conditions look perfect for them at the moment but – in order to get there – something has to change. By signing Messi, the powers that be at PSG have indicated that nothing will.
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