The date is engraved in Mauricio Pochettino’s memory: November 19, 2019, two years from last Friday since he left Tottenham.
Pochettino is not one of those cautious managers who hides his true feelings under a harsh facade of emotional repression. He’s crafty in many ways, but his heart might as well be stamped on his sleeve, like a minor shirt sponsor.
‘Of course now, it’s the 17th [November]’he says, looking remorseful on a Zoom call from Paris Saint-Germain training ground on Wednesday. In two days is the anniversary, the two years since we left Tottenham. It’s in my mind. It’s really painful. ‘
Mauricio Pochettino has given Sportsmail a vision of his new life with Paris Saint-Germain
It’s like listening to a scorned lover who knows the precise date and time of his partner’s breakup.
‘To be honest, it was really painful at first to see the [Tottenham] games. Because when you feel at home in a club, it is not easy to part with this feeling. Of course, we feel lucky to have been part of the Tottenham family.
Five and a half years. It was an amazing trip. We were unable to deliver a trophy for the fans, for the club, a trophy that the players deserve, the club deserves, our president, Daniel (Levy), and of course the fans. We all worked very hard to try to achieve this and we failed. [it].
But the journey was amazing and we created something special between us all together. Of course, [it’s] always in our heart. But now when I see a [Tottenham] I play, it’s always with a smile and trying to support them because when you love a club, you always want the best for the people you meet. ‘
Pochettino has possibly the best squad in the world, but immense pressure on his shoulders
Too much for the past. Last summer it briefly seemed that there might still be a future for these hapless lovers, Daniel and Mauricio, as the Spurs searched for a new coach. Paris, however, remained the city of true love.
‘Being honest, [there were] many, many rumors, many things, ‘says Pochettino. ‘I am a person who does not like to take advantage of these things. That’s why I didn’t do anything, I didn’t speak.
The people, the media, not the club, criticized me here in France: “Why doesn’t Mauricio give his word to stay in Paris?” I say I don’t need to talk about those things. I don’t need to clarify things. And then you show that you are here and, of course, that I am at Paris Saint-Germain, trying to respect the club that signed me. ‘
It’s a lengthy explanation that seems to say that it was never a realistic possibility. His contract with PSG was agreed until 2023 in summer.
“We did not extend the contract,” says Pochettino. ‘When I signed in January, it was over a year and a half [an option] one year. And the club used this clause to make the option made. And now it’s this season plus one. ‘
This week he will return to England to face Manchester City in the Champions League and face his old adversary, Pep Guardiola. They met as players at Barça and Espanyol respectively in 1994 and their stories have been intertwined ever since. Pochettino also returned to London last weekend, but only for a family visit. ‘I saw the sun for a second! Amazing. Dark! But good, good people and good weather, “he says.
His wife Karina still lives in the family home in North London with their son Maurizio, who plays for Watford Under 23s. In Paris, approaching the first anniversary of his appointment, he remains installed in a luxury hotel. It cannot be hidden that it has been a difficult year.
Lionel Messi’s surprising availability this summer saw PSG build the most formidable front line in European football.
“It was difficult because Karina was in London with my son. It was difficult to find the right house. Now he has been living in the hotel for 10 and a half months. But I am in a good place. I find very nice people in the hotel. It is like a family. It’s amazing how all the staff treat me. ‘
He has his assistant coaches, Jesús Pérez, Miguel D’Agostino and Toni Jiménez, and his son, Sebastiano, with him in Paris. Emotional support is imperative and you may have both the best of jobs and the worst of jobs.
If you are lucky enough to manage the best player in the world, you will also spend a good part of your time and energy dealing with the global obsession with him.
So when Pochettino replaced Messi at halftime against Lille recently (PSG were 1-0 down at the time and won 2-1), post-match analysis didn’t care too much about the tactical nuances of a well-trained comeback. .
“That’s the challenge,” he laughs. ‘I agree with you, when you have this type of player in your hands, it is not easy. For us [he means his coaching team], we feel the same as when the name is different.
Messi and Pochettino did not agree when the superstar was substituted against Lille
“When you need to make a decision that affects the player, I don’t care if he is a big name or a player who is at the beginning of his career. Of course, afterwards, the consequence of the media or this kind of thing is completely different. I understand.
‘But our priority [as coaches] is never to change. The same priority that we had at Espanyol, Southampton or Tottenham is to protect the players, to try to protect the interests of the club and the fans.
“Sometimes you have to make some decisions that may make people unhappy. Or maybe people expect different things. But that’s our job. When you decide to be a coach, coach, you know this kind of thing will come. But for us it’s an amazing challenge. ‘
Of course, it is not just Messi. It is about Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé. Pochettino has three of the best players in the world at his disposal: Messi scored his first goal in Ligue 1 and Mbappé also hit the mark when PSG won 3-1 last night.
It’s a scenario not really seen in any club since Barcelona in 2015 or the heyday of the Real Madrid Galacticos in 2006. While it may sound like a coach’s dream, it has considerable complexities. When Pochettino recently suggested that Messi should win the Ballon d’Or, Neymar and Mbappé asked why not them. It is also a riddle.
‘[Either of] These three players can be the king of any club in the world. But you have three kings in the same club: three kings with different needs, who need different things. Mbappé needs room to run and a high pace in the transition. Neymar needs to have the ball, feel the ball and sometimes he needs to drive the ball, ‘says Pochettino.
And Messi needs perhaps another rhythm in the game. It is not easy to put all that together. That is why we are working on trying to find the correct way to play, so that Mbappé feels comfortable, Neymar and Messi feel comfortable and the rest of the team understands that sometimes we need to increase the level of the tempo of the game and other times. we can play in space. Sometimes we have to play more horizontally and develop slow possession. It is an incredible challenge, which we are enjoying.
“It is a beautiful moment for coaching staff like us, to have the opportunity to work with these incredible players. We know the demands and expectations very well ”.
At PSG, backed by the billions of the state of Qatar, winning the French league title is taken for granted, although Pochettino came last January and in the last five months of the season, although he won the Coupe de France, finished second in the league. to Lille.
They progressed to the semi-finals of the Champions League, eliminating Barcelona and Bayern along the way, before losing to Wednesday’s opponent Manchester City.
There is one trophy that matters more than any other. It has been 10 years since Qatar Sports Investment bought PSG and they have yet to win the Champions League. There is a feeling that a PSG coach can win everything but the Champions League and still be a failure.
Thomas Tuchel, Pochettino’s predecessor, won the League, Cup and League Cup treble, but lost the Champions League final in 2020 and was fired six months later.
‘To be honest, we don’t feel the pressure or the stress [any different to] when we were in Tottenham, Southampton or Espanyol ”, says Pochettino.
‘The only thing that has changed is the expectation. This season is huge. All people believe that we should win the games before we play. When you start again after a minute if you haven’t scored three, four or five goals, the disappointment is huge, but that’s just you have to manage the expectation a bit. ”
Good luck with that when you get the gear you have. Sergio Ramos gets closer to fitness after moving from Real Madrid in the summer. Georginio Wijnaldum underpins midfield and will soon have Marco Verratti by his side, when he’s fit. Angel Di Maria plays when one of the three kings cannot.
Even Italy’s Euro 2020 final hero Gianluigi Donnarumma sits on the bench as the No.2 goalkeeper, such is the shame of riches. When the new year rolls around, it will feel like Champions League or failure.
“I agree with you,” says Pochettino. “The feeling is to win the Champions League. And if not, you will feel that you have failed. For us it is different because we are not doing drama.
‘We know that if we are going to arrive with a chance to win, we need to build something special and with all the talent we have, that talent needs to work together.
We are capable and if all the players are committed to the project, we are sure to be close to winning the Champions League.
‘[But] people think that winning is an obligation. In football, if you play as if you feel that there is an obligation, it is difficult to be successful, to win.
‘We are competing with Chelsea, with Real Madrid, with Barcelona, with Manchester United, with Liverpool, with Bayern Munich, with Manchester City, with many clubs that are building projects to try to win, and Paris Saint-Germain is also trying. After 10 years [since QSI bought PSG], only in the last two years have they reached the final and semi-final for the first time in history.
‘By being close, you start to build your faith. And of course, in many respects you don’t just have to play well and be strong, but also have some luck to win.
‘For sure that in the future for Paris Saint-Germain, working in this way, it will come.
Maybe this season will come. I hope so, because it will be good for us! But you never know. Let’s try ‘.