Top of the league and a trophy now under his belt – life at Paris Saint-Germain has started well for Mauricio Pochettino. So well, in fact, that he’s already rebutted a common criticism levelled at him: his lack of silverware. This poses two interesting questions. How high can PSG fly under Pochettino, and is the true mark of a manager simply what they win?
Mauricio Pochettino and the Complicated Nature of Success in Football
More to Success Than Trophies
Following his exit from Tottenham Hotspur, debate raged about how to define Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure. Some waxed lyrical about how he had elevated Tottenham from a team on the outside looking in, to a team in amongst the best of them. Others simply did not want to look past the failure to convert this into silverware. They pointed to a Champions League final loss in 2018/19, finishing third in the 2015/16 season where at one point they were hot favourites, and even at a loss in the 2015 League Cup final.
This is indicative of the overly harsh nature with which many approach football – trophies or bust. It is a mentality which would lead to nearly all players and managers being resigned to the dustbin of history. Success is so much more than simply winning.
Success can be relative. Pochettino took Spurs to second in the league in 2016/17, their highest league finish in 54 years. Even the feat of taking Tottenham to a Champions League final is one that should be applauded. This is all without even going into how impressively he took several players to levels that may likely be the peak of their career.
Pochettino created an excitement that simply did not exist before he arrived at Tottenham Hotspur, by any fair measure he should have arrived at PSG as a manager with nothing to prove.
Pochettino Must Start With the League First
It is not outlandish to say that as manager of Paris Saint-Germain you are expected to win the league. For a case study in the worst-case scenario, look no further than Unai Emery in the 2016/17 season. Whilst it would be remiss to downplay quite how formidable a team Monaco had assembled that season, the damage that it caused Emery going forward was clear to see. The season, which also included a European catastrophe, saw Emery get tarred as a failure.
Thus, it is crucial that Pochettino does not fall at the first hurdle. Les Rouge et Bleu are top of Ligue 1 owing to their superior goal difference over Lille, but they do not exactly have a comfortable cushion. Not only is there a team level of points, but Lyon are also only two points behind. PSG are unbeaten in seven in all competitions but will need to stay sharp to win the league.
Relating back to the fragility of success, this is make or break for Mauricio Pochettino. Soon, criticism will move from ‘he hasn’t won anything’ to ‘he’s never won the big one’. If PSG slip up and fail to win the league, it may create a perception of Pochettino which will not be easily shaken off.
Great Expectations – Champions League Glory
Paris Saint-Germain make no secret of the fact that their ambitions stretch beyond the Ligue 1 title.
The Champions League has been something of a cruel game for PSG in many recent seasons. La Remontada saw certain victory against Barcelona be snatched away in 2016/17, and a last-minute penalty saw Manchester United come back to beat Les Parisiens in 2018/19.
The 2019/20 season saw PSG make it all the way to the final, only to be bested by Bayern Munich. The bar last season was set at the final, and there will be many who see it as Pochettino’s job to clear the bar and win it all. But this is unlikely to be particularly easy.
Namely, the Champions League was a different animal last season. One-legged knockout ties at neutral venues were the norm, which is unlikely to be the case again this season.
To go one better, PSG would need the perfect storm. A factor which should not be understated is that PSG would need their stars to find some form. Kylian Mbappé looks like a young man suffering from burnout, and any deep Champions League run would be reliant on him rediscovering the heights that he has previously hit.
Pochettino may well have arrived in something of a minefield. The PSG job offers little patience and sets lofty expectations. For a manager with a complicated relationship with ‘success’, this may pose a huge challenge for Mauricio Pochettino.