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Why Zinedine Zidane could salvage the PSG project

Zinedine Zidane could lead PSG to UEFA Champions League glory.
Zinedine Zidane could lead PSG to UEFA Champions League glory.
Mark Pitman
EXPERT COLUMNIST

Zinedine Zidane is reportedly close to becoming the next manager of PSG. The Ligue 1 giants are looking to cut their losses on current boss Mauricio Pochettino and salvage their investment in Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

Pochettino has failed to make any sort of significant impression at PSG. But he remains on Manchester United's radar as they continue their search for their next permanent manager while Ralf Rangnick steadies the ship. PSG may not stand in Pochettino's way. So a move for his replacement already appears to be a cause for optimism and excitement rather than necessity.

An impending end for Mauricio Pochettino at PSG

Pochettino inherited an eclectic mix of exceptional ability when he arrived in the French capital almost a year ago. The summer acquisition of Messi only added to the assorted buffet of talent available. However, big players come with even bigger egos, and the ability to manage individual characters carries more weight than the ability to coach individual players.

Failing to deliver the French title during his first season has done little for Pochettino's status and reputation, despite his popularity as a former player at the club. He is yet to deliver any silverware as the manager of PSG, where domestic success is expected more than it is celebrated. The UEFA Champions League remains their overriding ambition and return on their investment, yet it has remained elusive thus far.

Mauricio Pochettino has not impressed at PSG.
Mauricio Pochettino has not impressed at PSG.

PSG were beaten Champions League finalists in 2020 under Thomas Tuchel. Their former coach went one step further at Chelsea the next year. That serves only to highlight how deep-rooted the failings at PSG are. Desperately chasing a trophy they haven't laid their hands on, PSG have resorted to short-term plans to get over the line. However, their desire to become champions of Europe has turned into an unhealthy obsession.

Until PSG win the Champions League, they will not focus on any other short or long-term plan in their project. Just like Neymar and Mbappe, Messi was brought to the club as a statement of intent and the catalyst to changing their fortunes on the biggest stage. However, Messi does not share their passion, as his heart remains at Barcelona.

PSG talent show

For all the talent at his disposal, Pochettino has not been able to make PSG perform to their full potential. While they currently sit atop Ligue 1, nothing less is considered acceptable.

They are through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, but they finished behind Manchester City in their group. PSG have delivered results, but their performances have been inconsistent and generally lacked the spark expected from their much-vaunted front three.

Make no mistake, players hold all the power in the modern game. The days of Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger taking sole charge of matters both on and off the field have come to an end. There is a reason why players are often handed longer contracts than their managers.

Even final transfer decisions have been taken away from the manager's control. As a result, the manager has become a temporary position where success is decided solely on their ability to get the best out of the tools provided.

The arrival of Lionel Messi has increased the pressure on PSG to realise their Champions League dream.
The arrival of Lionel Messi has increased the pressure on PSG to realise their Champions League dream.

PSG have seen enough during the course of last year to know that Pochettino is not going to take the club to the next level. Before Messi and with Messi, the side continued to lack the confidence and belief expected from the volume of talent in the squad.

Frustrations on the field reflect a lack of respect for Pochettino. It seems his only hope of keeping his job at the end of the current campaign will be to lift the Champions League, although even that may no longer be enough.

Manchester United are in a different place to PSG. Despite things not going to plan in Paris, United see the Argentine coach as someone who can develop their younger players who'll play a big part in their future success. Cristiano Ronaldo is there for the short term. But players like Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho have a number of years ahead of them before they reach Ronaldo's level.

The elusive European crown

Manchester United is another story. Right now, the focus for PSG will be to replace Pochettino with the right man to deliver on their European ambitions. Their forward trio will only be together for a limited time. If they cannot become champions of Europe after boasting three of the best attacking players in the world, it is a crown they clearly do not deserve.

For that reason, Zinedine Zidane ticks all the right boxes. On paper, he delivered three consecutive Champions League trophies as the manager of Real Madrid (in 2016, 2017 and 2018). However, it is his work beyond the stats that separates him from his peers. That also makes him the perfect candidate to take the leading club of his country to their destiny.

Zinedine Zidane won three consecutive Champions League titles at Real Madrid.
Zinedine Zidane won three consecutive Champions League titles at Real Madrid.

As a player, Zidane was considered one of the greatest of all time. A controversial figure, Zidane had a poor upbringing in Marseille that shaped his character. For all the moments of individual genius he produced during his playing career, he will forever be remembered for his red card in the 2006 FIFA World Cup final. The final match of his professional career ended with a headbutt into the chest of Italian defender Marco Materazzi, yet he has no regrets.

However, as one of the greats, Zidane could sit back and observe the different managers he played under for both club and country, and understand how they behaved towards him. Separating the good from the bad, his experiences have allowed him to develop a unique understanding of how the greatest players need to be managed. He implemented that with the desired effect at Real Madrid.

With players such as Luka Modric, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Ronaldo in his ranks at the Santiago Bernabeu, Zidane initially benefited from the respect and status he held in the game.

However, he maintained that respect by treating those players as he would have wanted to be treated himself. He provided a platform to allow his players to perform without constraint. Moreover, his fluid approach to formations and systems did not compromise on his philosophy of attacking with tactical freedom in the final third.

Embracing the responsibility given to them by Zidane, Ronaldo and company delivered domestic and European success before the Frenchman decided to walk away. Leaving on his own terms in the summer of 2018, he returned less than a year later. However, the squad was not the same as the one he left behind. Nevertheless, he still delivered the La Liga title in 2020 before departing for a second time earlier this year.

A unique figure proven to deliver

Zinedine Zidane commands respect for his achievements as a player and manager.
Zinedine Zidane commands respect for his achievements as a player and manager.

Zidane is the same volatile free spirit as a manager he once was as a player. The only risk in appointing him as manager is that he could walk away when he decides it is the right time to do so. However, PSG need a quick-fix to their short-term Champions League ambition. Zidane is the proven winner who has the experience to effectively manage the biggest names in the world game to help achieve the success PSG yearn for.

A French football legend, there is no more fitting figure than Zidane to take PSG to the top of the European game. Many have tried and failed in the French capital, but Zidane is very different to those that have gone before him. His appointment offers no guarantee of success. But getting the best of PSG's current forward trio could be the key to achieving that European crown.


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Edited by Bhargav

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