Pochettino could bring identity to PSG's directionless project
PARIS -- "Ideas cannot be bought; Paris Saint-Germain are missing a lot of things."
For a man who has been out of professional football since 2005, two-time Champions League-winning former coach turned Mediaset pundit Arrigo Sacchi was spot on when delivering his damning verdict after the French capital outfit's 2-1 loss at home to Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday.
PSG's 5-2 aggregate defeat to the two-time defending continental champions at Parc des Princes ended their title aspirations early, like last season in Barcelona, but this time it arguably hurt more because it exposed the fact that the French giants learned nothing from their Catalan nightmare 12 months ago.
Sacchi is right: the Ligue 1 leaders are lacking ideas, leadership and any sort of positive direction, so they find themselves scratching their heads once again as they ponder how to get closer to the Champions League glory owners Oryx Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) crave.
Between 2013-16, PSG were solid quarterfinalists -- not a bad start when you consider that their 2012-13 foray into Europe was their first at the top table for nearly 10 years -- but since their elimination to the pre-Pep Guardiola-era Manchester City, Les Parisiens have been taking steps backwards on the pitch, despite creating the illusion that they are moving forward off it.
Two years on from their costly €22 million divorce from former coach Laurent Blanc, PSG will be looking for a new man to lead their lavishly assembled but underachieving squad. Current tactician Unai Emery is a dead man walking, and he sounds as much after watching his team capitulate to his compatriots in the Champions League in both of his two campaigns at the helm.
With Sacchi's words in mind, PSG need new inspiration. Between now and the start of next term's Champions League campaign, there are significant challenges for the capital club to overcome. UEFA's financial fair play (FFP) demands are likely to force the Championnat behemoth to part with some high-earning players (not such a bad thing), while they must maintain quality and fend off interest in star man Neymar -- once he has recovered from surgery after an ill-timed fractured metatarsal in his right foot.
It is a very valid point, and one that must be taken into account when making changes to the project this summer. There is no doubt that now is the right time to change coach, but it is also the right time to look at other areas of the hierarchy too.
With that in mind, the man PSG should trust to take over from Unai Emery as coach is Tottenham Hotspur's Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentinian is a rising star in the world of coaches, and along with Chelsea's Antonio Conte, figures on PSG's shortlist of Emery replacements -- as sources have already told ESPN FC. The thought at PSG for some time has been that Emery will be replaced by Pochettino, with the only question being when a move will be made, and that time has now arrived.
Chairman and CEO Nasser Al-Khelaifi wants either somebody capable of commanding the respect of the players to produce better performances, akin to Real's Zinedine Zidane, or somebody offering fresh ideas, like City's Guardiola. Pochettino is in the latter category and, as well as having long-term potential because of his age, he crucially desires to one day coach the club for which he once played.
"My team is PSG -- I love PSG," the 46-year-old told SFR Sport last year. "I spent nearly three years there (2001-03). I spent some time, six months, with Bordeaux too but I was captain at PSG and that will always be special for me."
PSG need to capitalise on this and make the most of Spurs' failure to overcome Juventus to reach the Champions League quarterfinals by offering Pochettino the chance to fulfil one of his ambitions, but crucially to revitalise one of European football's most ambitious projects on the pitch.
The man from Murphy was perhaps a little naive during the Juve loss at Wembley, but has shown enough against the likes of Real (who were pushed into second in Group H by Pochettino's side) and Borussia Dortmund (who dropped into the Europa League) to confirm his status as one of the rising stars of the coaching world.
The former Espanyol and Southampton boss is young, dynamic, has a strong philosophy and would add some crucial identity to the PSG project, which has been missing since Blanc's departure and was perhaps even lacking before Le President was sacked.
Pochettino replacing Emery will not solve all of the club's issues, such as the future of certain overpaid and underperforming star names, as well as sporting director Antero Henrique and the alarming level of player power in the current squad, but it will get things moving in a different, more positive, direction. This summer is also a rare opportunity to preempt another European giant in snaring the coveted South American.
"PSG are only a group of players," Mediaset's Sacchi added on Tuesday. "The word 'game' may be abstract, difficult to describe, but it has made all the difference here.
"In Europe, you need the mentality but also the game. The game is like the score of a music and the scenario of a film. Music without a score is not possible. (Famed German playwright) Bertolt Brecht said that even the greatest actors need a director to express themselves fully."
If Neymar is the great actor, then Pochettino is the director to get the best out of the Brazilian and prevent QSI's ambitious dreams from descending into further nightmare.
Jonathan Johnson covers PSG and the French national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Jon_LeGossip.