Pochettino faces moment of truth as PSG take on Saint-Etienne

·3-min read

And now down to the nitty-gritty of a football match. After the pomp and circumstance of the dream return of a former player, Mauricio Pochettino starts his life as head coach of Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday night at Saint-Etienne.

The 48-year-old, who turned out for PSG between 2001 and 2003, was formally unveiled to the media on Tuesday afternoon at a press conference where he asserted his desire for victory with style.

A billion euro squad of stars including the world’s most expensive player Neymar and the French wonder Kylian Mbappé should help him achieve that end.

The 222 million euros splashed out on Neymar and the 180 million on Mbappé have helped former coaches Unai Emery and Thomas Tuchel wrap up Ligue 1 titles without too much ado.

Though Neymar remains on the sidelines through injury along with eight other first team regulars, Mbappé was named in the squad for the clash at Saint-Etienne along with five teenagers including the 17-year-olds Xavi Simons and Edouard Michut.

Desire

The likes of Simons, Michut, Timothée Pembélé and Kays Ruiz may be names for the future, but the PSG moneymen want the Champions League trophy much sooner to paint their lily.

And with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi said to be keen to sniff fresh pastures, Pochettino showed excellent footwork to evade the traps despite more than a year out of the game since leaving Tottenham Hotspur in November 2019.

“I have just arrived here in Paris and I am trying to adapt to a new club,” he told journalists. “We have time to talk but any big player in the world is welcome at PSG.”

None stride the plains more mightily than Messi. But the Argentine could well be wooed to reunite with his old mentor Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Place

However, some of Pochettino’s own successes might be more plausible arrivals at the Parc des Princes.

Midfielder Dele Alli is visibly struggling with the Jose Mourinho regime that replaced Pochettino in north London and playmaker Christian Eriksen’s silky skills appear to have deserted him under Antonio Conte at Inter Milan.

Where would such additions fit in? Pochettino appeared to open the door to outcasts. “We have many games in the next weeks,” he said. “We have the players and the medical teams to help us play well and we will work in the best way to get players to perform.”

Tuchel departed on the back of a domestic treble of Ligue 1, Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue. The only negative was the loss in the Champions League final to a Bayern Munich side that had pulverized all before them as they swept to the Bundesliga and DFB Pokal.

Expectation

Pochettino took Spurs to the 2019 Champions League final where they lost to Liverpool at the Wanda Metropolitano. The supporters from north London almost had their moment in Madrid.

Another chance will come for them in April at Wembley in the Carabao Cup final against Manchester United or Manchester City.

However fans in Paris have high expectations. And it will be an altogether different type of kingdom for Pochettino.

“I know what PSG means and the pressure to win,” he admitted. “It will be a challenge to work with top stars and I’ll do my best to handle it.”

The eyes of the French football world will be focused on the Stade Geoffroy Guichard for any signs of weakness.