If you lay out Thomas Tuchel’s accomplishments with PSG, but remove the team name, even the most casual soccer fan would think he was some sort of Belichickian legend. Two league titles in two seasons, last year’s domestic treble (league and both cup competitions), as well as a Champions League final appearance, where they lost narrowly to the best team in the world, Bayern Munich.
But when you add back in the “PSG” part of it, you know that the standards are simply ludicrous, if achievable at all. If Tuchel had won that one game, that final against Munich in August, he’d still be in a job today. Because that’s the only standard that PSG is judged by, and judges itself. The French championship is a given to PSG. The cups don’t matter. It’s still European domination that they seek, the affirmation of the Qatari project that they’ve never gotten.
So even the slightest dip sends off the red alerts around the Parc des Princes. PSG have had a wonky start to the season, for them at least. They’re currently in third, but only one point off the co-leaders Lille and Lyon.
And PSG had a different start than anyone else in Ligue 1, as they had to finish up last year’s Champions League in August and then dive straight into the season while carrying the huge disappointment of losing the final right with them. The malaise saw them lose their first two games, but have gone on to only lose one of their last 15 games in the league. Their Champions League campaign started a little iffy as well, losing to Manchester United and RB Leipzig, but recovering to beat both and top the group to move on to the last 16.
And yet that wasn’t enough to save Tuchel’s job. And entering stage left, reportedly, is the most prized coaching free agent in the world, one Mauricio Pochettino.
Pochettino hasn’t been seen since leaving Tottenham just over a year ago. Pochettino’s rep is built on completely revitalizing Spurs into one of the Premier League’s biggest and most exciting clubs, as well as turning Southampton into a self-aware production machine before that. He took Spurs to the level of title-contenders in 2016 and 2017, and then to a Champions League final in 2019. These were heights Spurs fans didn’t dare dream of even five or six years ago.
Pochettino played for PSG during his playing career, so there is a connection there. And he played in France for years, so he speaks the language. But, it still feels an odd choice given where he was rumored to top the list of candidates.
He has been connected to Manchester United since the day he left Tottenham. He was strongly whispered to be in line for the Bayern Munich job before Hans-Dieter Flick took them on their ridiculous run merely as an interim manager last season. He was waiting in the shadows for Real Madrid whenever Zinedine Zidane’s second stint as manager went too far off the rails.
It’s United especially that seemed to make almost too much sense. It’s a step-up from Tottenham, with all the money in the world, a talented roster, but a club that needs reforming in almost every way. It would be something of a project, though a born-on-third one. It would be the biggest challenge, but perhaps have the biggest reward. Munich, PSG, Madrid would just be about maintaining the highest possible standard. United offered something in his own image, a Klopp-ian type status. Fans of any of United’s Premier League rival (including yours truly) are breathing a sigh of relief at the news today.
But you can’t wait forever, and thanks to their recent run, United don’t look like they’ll be firing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer anytime soon (even if this is kind of his thing, a brilliant run just long enough to cancel out the horrid one that preceded it and the one about to follow it). And perhaps United’s truly baffling boardroom and operation turned Pochettino off from waiting for them.
And PSG might be something of a project? While they’ll always lord over the French League financially, changes are coming. Kylian Mbappe is almost certainly headed to Madrid next summer, especially if he tears a hole in the world during the European Championships. It’s possible Lionel Messi could rejoin Neymar in Paris, but it’s also possible that reconnection could go in the opposite direction. Either way, when Mbappe leaves, PSG will suddenly be kind of old. Aside from Mbappe, only Presnel Kimpembe is a regular starter 25 or under. Perhaps there’s a reshaping to come that Pochettino can’t resist, especially when it comes with an unclosable checkbook.
Still, Madrid probably require an even bigger overhaul, and would have at least provided Poch the challenge of dueling with Barcelona and Atletico, instead of a procession in the league. Zidane certainly doesn’t look long for the job, if only to save his own sanity. Whatever they might be at the moment, it’s still one of two of biggest clubs in the world, whereas PSG just likes to put on dad’s clothes and play business man, at least right now.
With both clubs though, how much patience there is for a “rebuild” is very much in question. You don’t get to back up for a season or two and keep everyone happy. With PSG, the trophies will still roll in even if the roster is shifting to a younger model. And Pochettino’s high-intensity, all-action style of play should keep PSG a prime destination for everyone, even if the league standard is below what other teams can offer.
Perhaps it’s more than that, too. While PSG is undoubtedly one of the most popular clubs in the world thanks to Neymar and Mbappe, there’s still no definable trait to them other than their stars and money. There is no known style to them, You know how Barcelona plays when you hear the name. Same for Liverpool or Man City. There’s an aura to all those clubs above the names. Maybe PSG’s owners think Pochettino can bring them that instead of just being known as a roving gang of loosely banded but well compensated mercenaries.
The task seems so simple at PSG. Win one more game than Tuchel did. And yet it’s an utterly mountainous one that no manager has scaled yet.