Mauricio Pochettino is back in management after Paris Saint-Germain sacked Thomas Tuchel, but it may not have been his first choice.
The sacking of Tuchel demonstrates the high standards expected at PSG. Perhaps the reward for the German’s achievement of a Champions League final was the sacking that came with greater ambitions. This side might be largely the same as the one that lost 1-0 to Bayern Munich in August, but the level of performance is nowhere near the same.
They qualified for the Champions League, but lost to a fairly poor Manchester United along the way, as well as RB Leipzig. They are one point off the top of Ligue 1, but they have the petrodollars of a nation state that should allow them to take first position on week one and remain there for the rest of the campaign. Anything less than domestic dominance is a failure, and anything less than brand-enhancing European performance will ultimately cost PSG managers their job, as it did Unai Emery and Laurent Blanc before Tuchel.
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Despite the wealth of the club, and the strong standing they are growing into after millions spent, the French side did not have too many options when it came to choosing their next man. In some ways, Pochettino has got the job by default.
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Didier Deschamps, Leonardo, Zinedine Zidane, Laurent Blanc and Arsene Wenger were reportedly in the frame but none of them convince as potential replacements. Deschamps is happy with the French national team, Leonardo is likely content with his role out of the limelight, Laurent Blanc has done little since his departure from the club, and Wenger’s age would render him little more than a stopgap.
For all the talent at the club, there are few top tier alternatives to Tuchel. Zidane is, for now, likely to see out the rest of the season with Real Madrid, with both parties minded to take stock in the summer when coronavirus blight on club finances likely to improve. Perhaps Zidane will choose to move on if he is not rewarded with Paul Pogba, or instead, a good player, to continue to improve a squad that this season relied upon returning loanees to bulk up numbers.
That left PSG with Pochettino as the only manager outside of Max Allegri who could point to European and top flight experience. Allegri, who did well domestically with Juventus, failed in Europe, and maybe that recalls their experience of Tuchel too closely. Given Allegri has been studying English at least since his departure from the Italian champions, perhaps he is happy to wait for an offer in the Premier League.
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Pochettino offers something Allegri doesn’t, which is to overachieve with a side. There are legitimate criticisms of his team selections in his last season at Spurs, but impressive league finishes and a decent Champions League campaign is worth credit. Given he was hamstrung at times by Daniel Levy’s parsimony, there is a chance he can produce even better sides with Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, and hefty financial clout in support.
While PSG had limited choice when it came to replacing Tuchel, there was not much else on for Pochettino.
It was clear that when United were considering replacing Louis van Gaal, that Pochettino was under consideration by some in the club - remember his conspicuous meeting with Alex Ferguson. In the past, he has had vague discussions with his requirements should he take over, first from Jose Mourinho and then when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been under pressure. With Pochettino keen to remain in England with his family, the Premier League was his preferred location. But a return to Spurs is off the cards for now, and Solskjaer is currently safe. Newcastle United’s proposed takeover by Saudi owners fell through.
2011 Alan Curbishley
Image credit: PA Photos
That left Real Madrid as a potential destination, but Zidane remains in place. In the last few months Pochettino has increased his presence in the media, no longer on gardening leave and able to take work without financial implications on his severance pay. The longer he stayed out of the game, the closer he is to Alan Curbishley, always linked but too long out of the game. He still had plenty of time to find a new job, but obsolescence comes quicker these days.
The job at PSG was therefore tempting. It is not in England, but the Eurostar feasibly allows him to commute for his family, and with the clouds of Brexit not exactly lifting, he may choose to return to a club from his playing days. He knows the city well, and in a few months' time with Britain’s reckless approach to the coronavirus, it may be an excellent time to quit England for the foreseeable future. Yes, there are problems at the club, and it is a politically demanding job, but for both Pochettino and PSG, they were running out of options.